Thursday, August 30, 2007

The last stand of Rowan Williams

From Jordan Hylden at First Things:

. . . Things will come to a point at the September 19-25 meeting of the Americans, when the Episcopal Church’s bishops gather in New Orleans. Williams has been invited to give an address and answer questions. It could be the most important performance of his career as the archbishop of Canterbury.

As has been reported by the press, the Episcopal bishops last spring were given three requests and a deadline by the global Anglican primates. They were asked to stop consecrating actively gay bishops (meaning no more Gene Robinsons), to stop formal blessings of same-sex unions, and to provide space for those who dissent from the regnant liberal theology of the Episcopal Church. The deadline was September 30, so the upcoming meeting will in effect signal definitively whether or not the American church will decide to remain in step with the Anglican Communion or instead detach itself and go its own way.

Williams’ stance at the meeting will inevitably signal whose side he is on. The majority of the Episcopal Church’s bishops do not want to comply with the primates’ requests, as they signaled vociferously last spring. The question is: If they refuse, what if anything will happen to them? Will the American bishops get to come to Lambeth and participate in the other global conferences of Anglicanism no matter what they do, or will refusal mean that they’ll have to sit at home?

It’s an important question, because sitting at home would mean that the American church would no longer have any say in the decision-making bodies of Anglicanism. In effect, it would mean that the Episcopal Church would no longer be a fully onstituent part of the Anglican Communion—which, especially when viewed in light of Anglicanism’s history, would be a striking change. Many American bishops who
otherwise would support Gene Robinson would at the least be given pause by such a momentous choice.

Of course, it is just this choice that the Americans want to avoid, as, most likely, does Rowan Williams. . .

. . . Like any group lacking authority, Anglicanism thereafter will break apart into several factions. Many Anglican churches in the Global South will pull away, as some have already signaled they will do. This will not, however, be confined to the south, as Williams himself has publicly recognized—the dividing line will run down the middle of many Global North churches as well, such has already begun to happen in the United States and surely also would happen in England. And neither will the break be into two groups, one liberal and one conservative. Theological disputes over issues such as women’s ordination and the sacraments (not to mention old nationalistic and racial quarrels) will divide churches even further. Like the rest of Protestantism, Anglicanism will wind up as a confusing and quarrelsome alphabet soup.

Rowan Williams does not want this, and thankfully neither do most Anglicans, which is why this nightmarish (albeit plausible) scenario does not have to play itself out. Many Anglicans, desiring to avoid the demise of their church, are hoping for a better way forward; one characterized by mutual trust, promise-keeping, selflessness and community instead of pridefulness and autonomy. The solution to the current crisis in Anglicanism, as more and more have been coming to realize, is clear—walking together under the authority of the one Lord Christ Jesus as revealed to us in Scripture. . .

Myself, I think Mr. Hylden is being too optimistic about the Episcopal Church, but read it all yourself.

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