Jerusalem in June, and Lambeth in July, 2008: powerful symbolism
I must confess that the last week or so, since the symbolic meaning of the calling of the Jerusalem Conference one month in advance of the Lambeth Conference dawned upon me, has been one of intense sadness and spiritual pain. I mourn for the former Anglican Communion, now falling into dismembered parts.
As of the week of the Feast of The Epiphany in 2007, it appears that the former Global Anglican Communion is no more, except in name. It is effectively split into two parts, one led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of the very large Province of Nigeria, and the other centered on the ancient See of Canterbury, whose present occupant is Rowan Williams.
Within the U.S.A. the line between these two parts is far from smooth, and more like a jagged edge, for it cuts into and through dioceses and organizations that count themselves to be orthodox in worship, doctrine and morality. Likewise, there is a division in what has been called for several years the Global South of the Anglican Communion, where a minority has not followed the lead of Akinola.
The present outward and visible sign of the division (which in biblical terms causes one to think of the division of Solomon’s kingdom after his death—a permanent division, see Kings & Chronicles) are the two Conferences planned for June and July 2008. The Lambeth Conference of July 08 has been in the planning since 1998 and the Jerusalem Conference of June 08 has been in the planning for only a few months, a year at most.
The reasons that led Akinola et al to call the Jerusalem Conference and strongly to suggest that attendance at Lambeth was either not necessary for bishops, or was merely an option, provide the clue to the reasons for this seemingly permanent division.
The Akinola side believes that the clear duty of the Church is to be involved in evangelism and mission, based on a clear commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior, is paramount. They see this necessary emphasis as being eclipsed and muddied in the prolonged so-called “Windsor Process” and the apparent failure of the Archbishop of Canterbury to discipline the American Episcopal Church, thereby allowing it to play fast and loose with truth and morality. So they have decided effectively to pull out of “the Windsor Process” (which for them includes much the agenda of The Lambeth Conference) and to stage their own Conference in order to rally support for global mission. They understood in doing this that it will of necessity be an event to divide Anglicans; but they hope that those of sound mind and doctrine will follow their lead and there will be a cleansing of the former 38-member Commnuion.
The rest of the Global South, together with many other Anglicans of orthodox intentions found in many Provinces, do not disagree that “the Windsor Process” is taking too long to reach a conclusion, and that the Archbishop of Canterbury has made serious mistakes. Neither do they disagree, but affirm, the need of the Anglican Churches to be fully involved in evangelization and mission in God’s world. Further, they can see the need for a Conference for Mission in late 2008 or early 2009, but not in June 08.
At the same time—and here is the disagreement with Akinola—they are clearly of the mind that the attendance of invited Bishops at Lambeth amounts, in the present situation of Anglican crisis and anxiety, to a moral duty on all these bishops, and especially on those who are the most critical of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his role. They have a clear duty to go, it is asserted, and, in as gracious a manner as possible, work for reconciliation based upon Gospel truth and unity based on repentance and grace. They believe that the absence of many West and East African Bishops at Lambeth will be a very major omission indeed, and will work against the (perhaps final, available) efforts to put the Anglican Communion back on track in the missio Dei. After all, Lambeth only occurs once every ten years and everyone has known that it was coming up since the last one closed in 1998. It is a part of the provision of the providence of God and ought not to be rejected.
Already long-time friendships and associations are being deeply strained and tested by this emerging division, and it is going to be extremely difficult to see how they can be maintained at their former level, because the division seems to go deeply into the very ethos and symbolic center of Anglican Christianity.
For traditional Anglicans the See of Canterbury is to the Anglican Way as Constantinople is to Orthodoxy, and Rome to Roman Catholicism. It matters not which particular occupant is seated in Canterbury—there have been good and bad, excellent and mediocre! In God’s providence this See is the symbolic center of the Anglican Way, of Ecclesia Anglicana.
For the Akinola-type new Anglicans the See of Canterbury appears to be merely a left-over of the British Empire and can be replaced by a revolving center, based on election and choice. Thus the important element of Tradition seems to be much downplayed in favor of pragmatic concerns.
I expect that the new Akinola-type of Christianity will be filled with new life and energy and quickly become a kind of special form of generic African Evangelicalism, molded by the experience of confrontation with Islam, overcoming tribal differences, and very much carrying the Bible with it wherever it goes. The (in numerical terms) very small American and Australian and British contingent in this movement will quickly feel a sense of cultural isolation and difference, for the massive superiority of African numbers and concerns will make the triumph of African ways to be inevitable.
It is much more difficult to envisage what will happen to the remaining part of the Anglican Communion. The possibility of disintegration is as likely as any other scenario. I hesitate to ponder it.
Again, for me this is not a time for rejoicing but for mourning, a time for putting on sackcloth and ashes and weeping for the fall of the Anglican Way! I hope that my analysis is utterly and totally wrong and there is real hope of Anglican Unity in Truth in the clouds and darkness of January 2008.
firstname.lastname@example.org January 10, 2008