Tuesday, July 1, 2008

And now, it's schism time

True Discernment has been running a series of posts on an interesting development in the Anglican Communion.

The first post linked to this story:

Conservative evangelicals representing half of the world’s Anglicans launched a new global church yesterday, challenging the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and vowing to rescue people from the forces of “militant secularism and pluralism” created by a “spiritual decline” in developing economies.

The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, Foca, will sever ties with the main churches in the US and Canada, whose leaders they accuse of betraying biblical teaching. Foca architects will tomorrow go to the conservative evangelical church of All Souls, in central London, to discuss global Anglicanism and English orthodoxy.

But, interestingly enough, this movement originated in the Third World:

Great swaths of Anglican provinces, including Africa, South America and Asia, are furious with their counterparts in the northern hemisphere, accusing them of being in thrall to contemporary culture, with the ordination and consecration of gay New Hampshire bishop Gene Robinson acting as a turning point. The creation of Foca is a schism in all but name....

The Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, said the group would develop a protocol to “spell out the process of how to become a member.

“It is for people who are convinced of what we have done and are willing to move on with us. Much of the UK and Europe are under the severe attack from these [secular and pluralist] forces. The church has diminished greatly.”

When asked how far the archbishops were prepared to go to intervene, Akinola replied: “If you receive an SOS from anywhere in the world we will move in.”

Akinola said the declaration would strengthen the church in the eyes of the Muslim community in Africa. “Before now, Muslims and Christians have been wondering what sort of church this was.”

The Archibishop of Canterbury has responded:

The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday accused rebel Anglicans who have launched a breakaway faction within the global communion of lacking legitimacy, authority and, by implication, integrity.

Breaking his silence over the threat to the unity of the 77 million-strong communion, Dr Rowan Williams warned leaders of the conservative coalition that "demolishing existing structures" was not the answer to their concerns.

The Church of England faces further upheaval on a second front, with a group of clergy and bishops threatening to defect over the issue of women bishops....

In a statement last night, Williams responded robustly to the weekend creation of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (Foca), a global network for millions of Anglicans unhappy with liberal teaching on issues such as homosexuality and women priests.

"If they [the existing structures] are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than to improvise solutions that may seem to be effective for some in the short term but will continue to create more problems than they solve," the archbishop said.

The announcement of the new body came at the culmination of the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon), a rebel summit in Jerusalem that attracted more than 300 bishops.

Williams described the proposals as "problematic in all sorts of ways", saying he would "urge those who have outlined these to think very carefully about the risks entailed".

He focused criticism on the leaders of the new primates council, which is tasked with recruiting existing Anglicans into the network.

"A primates council which consists only of a self-selected group from among the primates of the [Anglican] communion will not pass the test of legitimacy for all," he said.

"And any claim to be free to operate across provincial boundaries is fraught with difficulties."

Church sources said there was no information on who had written the Gafcon document, how many primates had signed up to it or whether it was legally possible to set up an alternative communion.

"It is ludicrous to say you do not recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury or the see of Canterbury - they are the defining characteristics of Anglicanism," one Lambeth palace official said.

"By doing away with the role and the place, these people are becoming a Protestant sect."

But Austin Ivereigh, writing in America - the National Catholic Weekly, argues that this may not be schismatic:

This is not a split or schism. But it can be likened to a Reformation with far-reaching consequences, one that is set to reshape Anglicanism for decades to come – as did, in the nineteenth century, the Oxford movement.

Just as the Oxford movement sought to pull the Church of England back to its Catholic roots and ended up dominating it, so the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA) – created by the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCon) in Jerusalem which ended Sunday – is a new association of orthodox or evangelical Anglicans which is set to undermine and overshadow the existing Anglican Communion.

This is characterized as a three-party argument, with the existing North American Episcopalian hierachy pitted against FOCA, with Canterbury in the middle.

In the Gafcon view, it is the North-American Episcopals' refusal to repent of these moves, despite requests from the Archbishop of Canterbury underlined by the Windsor Report of 2004, which has forced the current crisis.

But rather than defend Canterbury's authority against the North-American Episcopals, FOCA is choosing to bypass Canterbury because of its refusal to expel them. The attendance of the US and Canadian Episcopal bishops at the Lambeth Conference which opens on July 16 makes a mockery of these "instruments of unity" of the Anglican Communion, say the Gafcon bishops, who will mostly be boycotting Lambeth.

And the Episcopal Church has responded:

Presiding Bishop responds to GAFCON statement
June 30, 2008

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has responded to the Global Anglican Future Conference with the following statement.

Much of the Anglican world must be lamenting the latest emission from GAFCON. Anglicanism has always been broader than some find comfortable. This statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism, merely another chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only true believers. Anglicans will continue to worship God in their churches, serve the hungry and needy in their communities, and build missional relationships with others across the globe, despite the desire of a few leaders to narrow the influence of the gospel. We look forward to the opportunities of the Lambeth Conference for constructive conversation, inspired prayer, and relational encounters.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Relational encounters? Well, if the Episcopal Church wants to maintain its relevance, perhaps inter-generational relational encounters should be encouraged.

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