Thursday, February 28, 2008

Anglican Identity in 2008

On the Importance of Primary Metaphors in Stating and Forming Anglican Identity

Within those who call themselves “orthodox Anglicans,” sharing a common commitment to basic dogma and ethics, and who believe that The Episcopal Church has gone off track and is heading into apostasy, there are differences of opinion, leading to distinct schools of thought and forms of action, which in some cases leads to some hostility.

I want to suggest that each of these schools of thought is held together by one or more basic and powerful metaphors; and around this metaphor there is what cognitive scientists call “frames” – that is mental frames, which govern the way one sees, understands, communicates and acts. A common American way of referring to the presence of a “frame” is “mindset.” (How “frames” are created and how they are changed is not under consideration here, simply the fact of their existence not only in religious faith and affiliation but also and especially in political ideology and affiliation.)

Here are what appear to be the dominant (but not the only) metaphors guiding the individual “orthodox” Anglican groups.


Let us start with the first major secession from The Episcopal Church [TEC] in living memory. Those who exited in 1977 were united in their determination TO CONTINUE what they believed was the true and authentic religion of TEC, the religion that was being abandoned through major changes to such central things as Liturgy, Marriage, and Ordination. To this day their successors desire to be called “The Continuing Church” because, though sadly divided into sub-groups, they really believe that they have preserved and are continuing the real Anglicanism of the original TEC—thus they use the classic Prayer Book, have strict canons on remarriage after divorce, and have no female clergy etc. The major metaphor is CONTINUING – continuing the true faith – and without this Metaphor their identity would be in question in their own ranks. From this metaphor, they derive strength and determination to stand where they stand despite all problems; and it has a great influence on how they see not only TEC and the See of Canterbury, but also the seceders from TEC who followed them twenty or more years later, and are now in competition with them.

Existing for Mission

Well before the crisis caused by the election and consecration of Gene Robinson, and without reference to sexual innovations within TEC, the AMIA (the Anglican Mission in America) was founded with the consecration of Chuck Murphy and John Rodgers by the Archbishops of S E Asia and of Rwanda. The vocation of these two Bishops and those who joined them was to take the Gospel to the thousands of Americans who had never either heard it or received it. This movement came into being to be a means of evangelism, mission, outreach and church-planting in the Americas, and it works not through dioceses but networks and is now a missionary arm of the Province of Rwanda. It exists to propagate the Gospel and thus to grow; to reap the ripe harvest that exists in the Americas. So EXISTING FOR MISSION is the dominant metaphor and decisions of all kinds are made within this controlling idea and intent.

Staying in the Communion

With members both within and without The Episcopal Church, that which calls itself The Anglican Communion Network is united in two basic themes:-- first, opposition to the very recent innovations and developments in TEC; and secondly, a determination to stay within the Anglican Communion even when all links with TEC are severed. In practice, this approach has led to a forging of ties first with various African Provinces and then also with the Province of the Southern Cone of S.A. Further, this commitment to staying in the Anglican Communion via this connection has meant a change in the way in which “Staying in the Communion” is being understood by leaders of ACN. It is no longer defined as requiring being in communion with the See of Canterbury but, following the lead of African Provinces, it dispenses with Canterbury altogether. Instead the Anglican Communion is said to consist in being in communion with those Provinces, which are deemed to be orthodox, and which also support the June Conference in Jerusalem known as GAFCON. So what began a few years ago as a determination to be in the Global Anglican Communion, through acceptance by African Provinces, is now reduced in scope to being in communion basically with the Provinces known as the Global South.

Comprehensiveness has given way to narrowness but the dominant metaphor, STAYING IN THE COMMUNION, is still in place. What this group fears is becoming like the Continuing Churches of 1977 vintage and not being in the official Anglican Communion at all.

Sharing a precious inheritance

The Convocation of Anglicans in North America [CANA] is an extension of the large Anglican Church of Nigeria into the United States. It began solely as a mission for Nigerians, living in the U.S.A., who desired to retain the faith and worship of their home churches rather than those of TEC. But under Archbishop Peter Akinola, and in the crisis of American Anglicanism, CANA became much more – a planting in and sharing of Nigeria’s strong evangelical, biblical form of Anglican worship and mission with the U.S.A., where TEC was judged to be opposed to such ethos and commitment. So quickly CANA acquired bishops and, while ministering to its original Nigerian membership, it is now creating a fast-growing national organization of churches and congregations. The Nigerian Church shares her faith with the people in CANA, and these people in turn share with fellow Americans, and at the same time congregations from TEC and elsewhere also apply to join in this SHARING.

Participation in the Process

All the groups considered above do not regard attendance by invited Bishops to the Lambeth Conference as a moral, or even important, duty. Yet, in contrast, there are those within TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada who seek to be orthodox, but are also committed to the (long) process of reform and renewal begun by the publication of The Windsor Report of 2004 and the implementation of its recommendations. This means taking most seriously the presence and work of the “instruments of unity” of the Global Anglican Communion (i.e., The See of Canterbury, Lambeth Conference, Anglican Consultative Council and Primates’ Meeting) and working to create an Anglican Covenant, as a means to bind provinces together in true worship, faith and morals and to provide for internal discipline where needed. Such participation requires much patience and a willingness to persevere and be as tolerant as possible in negotiation and dialogue. In general, those of this persuasion will not attend GAFCON because they see it as taking away from the importance of the Lambeth Conference a month later. Further, they stand by the present Incumbent of the See of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, even if they fault him for his leadership, for in their estimation the See of Canterbury is necessary for Anglican identity and continuity.


Practically, those who are “Continuing” have little to do with those involved in “Mission,” “Staying in Communion,” “Sharing the precious inheritance,” and “Participating in the Process.” There is some rivalry between those in “Mission” and those “Sharing the precious inheritance;” and there is some hostility between the latter two and “Participating in the Process” because of the motions created by the setting up of GAFCON and the open criticism of the Archbishop of Canterbury by the GAFCON organizers.

Let us be clear that all these groups work with the same Holy Bible, the same inherited Anglican Formularies, and many of the same traditions of worship, doctrine and devotion. However, due to various important factors and reasons in their own situations, they present their Anglican Faith and its implications in different ways with differing priorities and emphases. The dominating metaphor in each case is important for its sheds light on what essentially they are all about, what it is that they think they are doing, and what is their “frame.” It does not give the means to evaluate one over against the other in the light of the divine purpose.

Dr Peter Toon February 28, 2008

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