The liberals and the conservatives have come to a parting of the ways; all that's left is the division of property
Vancouver SunPublished: Monday, December 03, 2007
Vancouver's Bishop Michael Ingham has finally admitted that the Anglican Church is in crisis.
Previously, as thriving parishes left one by one -- St. Simon's, Emmanuel, St. Martin's, Christ the Redeemer -- he tried to shrug off each departure as a sort of "extreme decline in attendance."
Now, with many displaced Canadian parishes reassembling under two other Canadian bishops, Ingham is calling it a "schism" -- the religious equivalent of a divorce.*
It is a tacit admission that the two groups -- call them "liberals" and "conservatives" -- are peers, just like opponents in a divorce.
For most of the global Anglican community, they are peers and more. An archbishop from South America has accepted the Canadian bishops and parishes under his authority, and statements from huge "provinces" of bishops suggest that most Anglicans are inclined to treat the conservatives, rather than the old establishment, as the real Canadian Anglican Church.
To put the divorce in context, it is important to realize that the Anglican Church has been an awkward marriage of liberal and conservative streams from its very beginning.
The conservative stream was established when Bishop Thomas Cranmer assembled the Anglican Book of Common Prayer using ancient Latin liturgies and English monastic traditions. He infused Anglicanism with a profound biblical spirituality that remains at the heart of conservative practice. The liberal stream was there at the beginning as well, as Henry VIII used his new English church to sidestep Roman Catholic moral standards that threatened to cramp his lifestyle.
After centuries of rather tense coexistence, serious trouble developed in the last half-century. North American liberal Anglicans proved to be adept at church politics, gained control of the church hierarchy, and promoted a steady stream of theological innovations that assaulted the core beliefs of the conservatives.
Bishop Ingham, for example, has suggested that we should "stop thinking of ourselves as created beings" and stop thinking of Easter as "something understandable." Perhaps not coincidentally, Anglican membership has declined steadily in North America.
In contrast, the dominantly conservative "Global South" Anglican churches have been growing explosively. More than two-thirds of all Anglicans now come from Africa, Asia or South America. And they are now tasked with mediating the divorce of the North American church.
Can we assign blame in this ecclesiastical divorce? Was one of the parties "unfaithful" (pun unavoidable)? Liberal Anglican spokesman Neale Adams summarizes the liberal vision as: "a big-tent church . . . open to a wide variety of theologies, and we think that's good." To my ear, this is a bit like the cheating husband saying, "Ours is an open relationship, embracing a wide variety of extra-marital affairs."
The liberals seem to be genuinely astonished that anyone would have a problem with this -- saying, in effect, "You can teach that Jesus rose from the dead, if you like, but don't hassle us if we teach that he didn't."
(It reminds me of when I checked into a Halifax inn a decade ago and asked for a non-smoking room. The desk clerk stubbed out her cigarette with a puzzled look and said, "Sir, you are not required to smoke in any of our rooms." She couldn't comprehend why I would want a room with less choice.)
In vain the wife hauls out the marriage vows, the Bible and the Prayer Book, which clearly specify that the relationship is to be monogamous. "Oh," the husband replies, "forget that old stuff and be hip and cool like me."
The bane of abusive husbands is the community of faithful neighbours who offer shelter and encouragement to the battered wives. Without them, the wives would have no chance for healthy independence. Similarly, liberal leaders reserve their angriest words for the faithful worldwide Anglican leaders who shelter and encourage the conservative Canadian churches.
Rest assured that the conservatives will never forget how the global community supported us when we needed it most.
There are two stages in a divorce. Last week was the end of the first stage -- the end of attempts at reconciliation and an acceptance of the brokenness. Lots of pain all around. A sort of corporate depression.
Now begins the second stage: The division of the assets. Ingham has made it clear that he prefers the old 1950s-style divorce, where all church property reverts to the liberals.
It doesn't matter that the properties were bought, paid for, and lovingly maintained by the congregations of each church, whether liberal or conservative. Ingham aspires to be the 1950s husband, turning the wife out with nothing but the clothes on her back, holding up the deed to the house and saying, "See, it's in my name. Right here."
Modern society, of course, understands that husband and wife, as peers, both have property rights regardless of the name on the deed.
So let's be civil about this. This divorce (or "schism" as Ingham calls it) is a reality.
Anglican liberals need to be more liberal: They need to accept the conservatives as peers rather than vassals or chattel, and negotiate a reasonable division of assets.
This is the 21st century, for goodness' sake.
Michael Davenport was born, baptized, and raised in the Anglican Church, the son of an Anglican priest. He is a trustee of one of the Anglican churches now under the umbrella of the Province of the Southern Cone.