Friday, March 28, 2008

Anglicanism in 2008: What is the Anglican Communion? Where is it going?

Without any doubt Anglicanism, as a form and expression of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is changing, being reshaped, and undergoing a series of crises. This causes great pain to some and joy to others, while many are confused.

The Anglicanism that we knew between the Lambeth Conferences of 1978 and 1998 is only visible as a shadow or as a memory. It is gone for ever.

Though we still speak of the Global Anglican Communion, this, at best, is more of an International Federation than a universal fellowship based on common worship, doctrine, and polity. Yet within the thirty-eight provinces there remains genuine Communion between some.

In her most important book , Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and their African Allies are reshaping Anglicanism (Princeton University Press, 2007), Miranda K. Hassett describes two competing definitions of “Anglican Communion” that she found repeatedly in her research, which covered the years 1995 to 2004.

The two are (a) Diversity Globalism, and (b) Accountability Globalism. I shall describe them and then suggest a modification of them in the light of events since 2004.

Diversity Globalism

First a quotation from the book:

“Moderate and liberal Anglican…leaders who planned Lambeth1998 shaped the Conference to uphold a particular vision of global Communion, characterized by acceptance of and engagement across differences of culture, experience and belief. This vision…of globalism posits encounter across differences as beneficial in and of itself, and the innate value of cross cultural encounter is often described as the central, motivating good to be obtained from striving for unity across difference.”

Since Lambeth 1998 progressive liberal bishops in the North (West) have developed the argument that if large parts of the Communion do not feel able fully to welcome diversity (especially in relations within and between the sexes), then the Communion should not seek to impose conformity. They make much of the autonomy of each of the provinces and that each province by its own canonical methods has a duty to seek for the truth in its own context and meeting local needs. To this they add that internationally the experience of meeting other Christians is a way of discerning truth together within the ambiguities of local tradition and culture. There is no clear, absolute, universal expression of truth, but there is “truth for me/us” in our context and experience and this we can share.

Accountability Globalism

Again, first of all, a quotation:

“One of the most central fixed elements for this conservative Anglican globalism lies in its leaders’ conviction that Christian doctrine and morality, as stated in Scripture, is normative for all the world’s Anglican churches. Conservative globalists reject the liberal idea that tolerance of homosexuality is a cultural value compatible with the Bible’s message…the issue of homosexuality is not a matter of acceptable cultural differences but of unacceptable straying from the gospel.”

While rejecting the idea that tolerance or rejection of homosexuality belongs to cultural differences, the minority of conservatives in the North and the majority in the South do place great emphasis on the positive value of cultural differences and on inter-cultural engagement, and a thus a common expression in their circles is “cross-cultural.” Yet in the differences there is a common agreement of absolute truth based on the Bible.

Where Lambeth Resolutions are seen as clear expressions of scriptural truth (as the one in 1998 on sexuality) then, although technically like all the many Resolutions on a great variety of topics they are non-binding, they should exert a powerful pressure for conformity in all the provinces. For they represent, the triumph of the universal over the particular and the global over the local.

In the work of conservative North American groups, along with that of the association of provinces and their Primates known recently as The Global South, this theme of accountability has been articulated over and over again, both before the appearance of The Windsor Report (2004) and then after its publication during what has been called “The Windsor Process.”


In 2008 as the Lambeth Conference in July looms on the horizon, it seems fair to state that these two global, Anglican visions remain in place but that a third has been added, not as a totally new creation, but by a division within one of the visions.

Up to late 2007 one can say that both the Diversity Globalism and the Accountability Globalism maintained their major differences but, nevertheless, were committed to a common center—the required relation to the See of Canterbury and through it to the Mother Church, the C of E., together with a general acceptance of the existence of, and need for, the so-called “Instruments of Unity.”

Since December 2007, it has become apparent that the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, along with their supporters in the North/West, have become committed to (or are seriously experimenting with) a wholly new form of Accountability Globalism. The outward and visible sign of this is the decision of the Bishops not to go to the Lambeth 2008 Conference and instead to organize a Pilrimage/Conference, based upon Jerusalem in June 2008. It appears—though details are only slowly emerging—that the revised form of Anglican Communion envisaged is one where there is no unique place for the See of Canterbury and the Mother Church, and where the present “Instruments of Unity” are modified or reduced. Finally, the membership is restricted to those provinces which are biblically orthodox and missionary-minded.

Thus at Lambeth 2008 will only be those Bishops, who subcribe either to Diversity Globalism or Accountability Globalism, but yet who believe that there is value in meeting together so that each side has the chance to convince the other of the rightness of its position. However, the advocates of Accountability Globalism (the reduced Global South association) will be without their former colleagues, including the bishops of the two largest Anglican Churches in the world, Nigeria and Uganda.

--Peter Toon


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