Monday, July 23, 2007

Responding to Ephraim's Radner's Essay of July 13, 2007 on The Network and The Common Cause—some initial observations from Peter Toon .

I always read my friend Dr Radner's essays with care, and I highly respect him even though we belong to different forms of Anglicanism—he fully embraces women priests and I fully reject them, even as I also affirm the great value of the ministry of godly women. His expressed concerns at the direction of the Anglican Communion Network are to be taken most seriously, which I do. Having read his essay, these are my thoughts.

What may be called Episcopalianism and/or Anglicanism in the U.S.A. is in one big mess. All this has come about initially (but not completely) through the faithlessness, heresy and apostasy within the Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. since the 1960s. Secessions from PECUSA have occurred continually—by dribs and drabs and occasionally in brief intensity—since the days of the civil rights rallies and marches. Thus the most recent secessions primarily over the new doctrine of sexuality in this Church are part of a long line. The practical difference between the secessions since 2004 and the major ones of 1977 (which created the Continuing Anglican Church[es]) is that major players in the Anglican Communion are involved in the recent ones, even to the extent of gathering the seceders into their arms as shepherds and making them part of their provinces. And thus it is that very little attention is paid by the most recent seceders to those who preceded them, and so they cannot even learn from them and their experience of extra-mural Anglicanism—its pros and cons! I note here that only rarely does Dr Radner mention the traditional Continuing Anglicans in his essays.

The recent seceders are usually united in fellowship to some PECUSA dioceses in the Anglican Communion Network and to other Anglican groups ( e.g. AMiA, Reformed Episcopal Church [dating from 1873] and CANA) in the Common Cause movement. And the Network seems to be drifting towards the Common Cause movement and making its cause that of the Common Cause.

The general impression I gain from observing what is going on is that there is an implicit commitment in the leadership of the Network and Common Cause to creating or being part of a new Province of the Anglican Communion on American soil. It as if the ball is rolling down the hill and it cannot stop—the movement towards a hoped-for province is what energizes these two groups. Yet there is a certain vagueness about the future for so much depends on the actions of overseas Primates in giving their imprimatur to such a reality and they are not producing blueprints as yet. And, let us be clear, if such a Province were ever formed it would most likely belong to one half of what would then be a divided Anglican Communion, and in the USA it would not include all conservative Anglicans ( i.e. only a tiny proportion of the original 1977 Continuers would be involved and also several "conservatively disposed" dioceses of PECUSA would not be involved).

Dr Radner is right to call for a slowing down, for taking a deep breath, for consulting more openly and graciously; but I fear that he may have called too late. The powerful centrifugal forces in American religion must be taken into account. Further, the impatience of African Archbishops and their inability to wait for Lambeth 2008 before taking drastic actions must also be taken into account. If the Lambeth Conference does not take place with all Provinces present then it will be a failure before it begins, and the problems of the Anglican world will increase from this point beyond what they are now—and they are in intense crisis right now. And if there is an alternative Lambeth Conference in Africa or Sydney or Singapore then we are in really big trouble as Anglicans.

As things stand in July 2007, the scenario, in my view, that is most likely to happen in the USA is not that there will be the old PECUSA (as a Unitarian Liturgical Church) doing its own thing on its own, and a new "orthodox" Province in the USA, part of a 38 member Global Anglican Communion, proclaiming orthodoxy alongside the degraded old PECUSA. A more likely scenario will be that the old PECUSA continues with a few (by comparison with the liberal majority) conservative dioceses; that several African Provinces have dioceses or networks in the USA (overlapping each other and sometimes competing one with another), that there are all kinds of associations and links of parishes with other overseas bishops; that the number of small jurisdictions of continuing Anglicans of one kind or another continues and increases, even as a few of them unite with one another; and that an increasing number of Anglicans in frustration either cease to be church goers (as happened in a massive way in the 1970s with the introduction of the new liturgies and women priests) or go to Rome or Orthodox or various forms of Protestantism—especially interdenominational churches. To create a new Province in the USA will be exceptionally difficult for it will need in the USA powerful (but rarely experienced) centripetal forces and from overseas all kinds of diplomatic, theological and constitutional help and advice. And the wrath of the old PECUSA will work to make it not happen!

We all know too well in the USA right now that politicians and statesmen of differing political affiliations have this in common when it comes to trying to find a solution to Iraq's present chaotic situation. They all say that there is no simple or single solution and that every possible solution has high risks and problems attached. No one seems to envisage a good outcome!

I submit that the situation of American Anglicanism/Episcopalianism is similar in that there is so much chaos, confusion, crisis, division, schism and dysfunctionality (happily no bloodshed except metaphorically) that to find a way out is impossibly difficult. And, and, unless the God of all grace and mercy actually intervenes in ways, that are difficult or impossible for anyone even to envisage, then the future looks bleak indeed for the Anglican Way. The very character of the Anglican Way normally requires one province in one geographical area and once this principle is let go, and there are competing groups in the one territory, then it seems the Anglican Way falls apart, and does so with a great tumble like Humpty Dumpty, whether those involved count themselves as orthodox or heretics, conservatives or liberal progressives.

Kyrie eleison (thrice)

(Dr Radner's piece is at the website of the Anglican Communion Institute and has been circulated by Fr Kim.).

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