More reports and news coverage will be coming and I do not intend to try and keep up with it all. This just came out, however, so here it is. Conservative Martyn Minns takes a very practical approach to the whole matter.
Martyn Minns, who moved his Virginia parish from the Episcopal church to the more conservative church of Nigeria, asks: “Who’s going to stop us? We don’t have ecclesiastical jails these days, there’s freedom of religion, there’s freedom to associate and freedom of religious expression.”
5 thoughts on “NPR Report – “Anglican Conservatives Step Back From Split Threat””
I have a serious problem with the kind of “might makes right” attitude that Minns is exhibiting here. No matter how “practical” it may be, it still violates some fairly basic Christian principles. As an American, he certainly does have the right to the freedom of association, but he should not be using that freedom as an excuse to break rules of Christian polity that have been in place for centuries. And I have a serious problem with him and others seeking to change the what it means to be Anglican just because they have have the numbers to do so.
By the same token, I was also deeply troubled by the Presiding Bishop’s response to the GAFCON statement. She ended by saying that she looked forward to “constructive conversation” at the Lambeth Conference, but I found her remarks to be anything but constructive.
I have been following the Anglican issue, but I have not been commenting on it much in my blog. I watched the Southern Baptist Convention get torn apart by a similar issue in the 1980s. I listened to the same rhetoric by both sides then. In that fracas, the conservative won by sheer numbers. They changed the meaning of what it meant to be Baptist and forced the liberals out of the denomination. The same thing looks like it may happen here.
As a Baptist back then, I fought tooth and nail to hold onto a definition of what it means to be Baptist that would allow both sides to fellowship together, but the conservatives had the majority and were not interested in fellowship except on terms that they dictated. They fact that we believed in the same Gospel didn’t matter. They said we also had to agree on minor issues of doctrine.
In the end, I lost, so I left the Baptist church to join the Episcopal church. I was told that Anglicans believed in ideas like the Elizabethan Settlement that allowed us to worship together even if we didn’t agree on minor points of theology. But it turns out that if you have the majority, you can ignore the Elizabethan Settlement just as easily as you can ignore traditional Baptist polity.
I have the same feeling of helplessness now as I did then. This time, however, I simply don’t have the will to go through another losing struggle to hold the middle ground.
Kevin, I appreciate and share much of your sentiment, but I have to disagree with your implication that the conservatives are the ones who are using the “might makes right” argument. All of your criticisms that there are those seeking to use their majority, changing what it means to be an Anglican, and ignoring the Elizabethan Settlement apply most accurately to the liberals/progressives. (Sorry about the labels, not sure how else to tell apart the players.)
For the last 20 years the liberals have kept the debate going, waiting until they had enough votes in the General Convention to change thousands of years of church teaching and tradition. In fact, on many occasions (as in this latest statement) the Presiding Bishops has literally said that those opposing these progressive changes only represent a small percentage of Anglicans and should thus be ignored. That sounds like a “might makes right” argument to me.
While the liberals (I agree that the labels are not particularly helpful) have used their majority in the US to change the rules on homosexuals, to me that does not constitute changing what it means to be Anglican. They changed the rules following Anglican procedures and maintained Anglican polity throughout (except in a few cases where they violated some canons, and in those cases I disagree with their actions). I don’t see how they could be said to have ignored the Elizabethan Settlement.
What it means to be Anglican is to worship and work with others on the basis of our faith in the Gospel, regardless of whether we agree on anything other than the most basic theology as expressed in the creeds. Although the can certainly be rather arrogant and condescending at times (the PB’s recent statement stands as an example), liberals have never required conservatives to practice they way they do. No church has been forced to accept a female priest. No church has been required to hire a gay minister. Some churches have had to accept a female bishop over them, but I would argue that is the price of being a part of a “big umbrella” denomination that does not base its unity on theological conformity.
One of the articles to which you linked in a previous post discussed the large influx of Evangelicals into the Episcopal church over the past few decades. While this is, in large part, a positive thing, it also brings with it some problems. Evangelical polity is different from Anglican polity, and many of the points of conflict I have seen can be attributed in part to these new Episcopalians trying to apply an Evangelical polity to the Episcopal Church. Evangelical fellowship is based on theological agreement; Anglican fellowship is based on our common worship. The fact that most of the churches in Africa were started by evangelical missionaries from the Church of England means the same thing is happening on a global scale.
I say this as someone who was raised Evangelical and attended an evangelical church until I was 30. Like the Evangelicals in the article I mentioned above, I became an Episcopalian. But when I did, I left behind my Evangelical polity. I did not expect the Episcopal Church to adapt to my polity; I changed to accept its polity. It seems that many Evangelicals have not done this.
A recent Christian Century article described the situation in Chicago where an Episcopal church split over the issue of homosexuals. The resulting conservative congregation split again, and on and on it went. That is the kind of thing you expect from Evangelical polity, not from Episcopalians. It is part an parcel of Baptist life, but until recently has not been common in the Episcopal church. I think the failure of Evangelical Anglicans to assimilate to Anglican polity is one of the big underlying causes of the current problem.
Kevin I suppose you are right, the liberals did not ignore the Elizabethan Settlement since it too was fundamentally a power play. But with all due respect you seem to be reducing what it means to be an Anglican with following due process. Part of being an Anglican surely has been to preserve Anglican teaching and tradition. What we are doing, of course, is dancing around the fact that the real problem is that we do not, in fact, have any clear annunciation of what our doctrine or teaching is. Wait, that is supposed to be the Book of Common Prayer, but now I am told that is not really binding in any significant way. And so it goes on. There has been a revisionist movement that has fundamentally altered how people understand Anglicanism and its teaching, elevating “via media” to a doctrine and nearly reducing the creeds to “historical documents.”
I am also someone who came from Evangelical background to join the Episcopal Church, but for very different reasons from your own (and from a Presbyterian heritage). There really is no such thing as “Evangelical polity” so while I am sure that the presence of folks like us has helped to impact the church I don’t think it is from or influx. In fact, in the UK and elsewhere I would wager the vast majority of Evangelicals are “home grown,” cradle Anglicans. Certainly I think their theological convictions are informing their response, far more so than their view of polity. It is a question of priority. Is polity more important than the view of Scripture?
Certainly the strength of the Anglican Communion has been that, like the Roman Catholic church, they have remained united while remaining diverse. But as I noted in an earlier post, while the RC church has the Pope and means of enforcing (when it wishes) conformity we have no such mechanism. We have an episcopacy with no real authority beyond the diocesan level (and even there it is often weak), we have diversity but no discipline. I am not calling for people to be excommunicated or stripped of their positions, although I do think those powers ought to reside somewhere in the church (1 Cor.) but what I am saying is that we cannot appeal to polity since our polity is now and has been fundamentally broken, we just haven’t bothered to acknowledge it.
Anglicanism must be something more than structure and procedure if it is to survive. What do we believe? How do we worship? These are the issues at hand and we seem ill equipped to deal with them in any means other than shouting and that means that the loudest (or longest) voice wins.