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Thursday, February 22, 2007

What Happened in Tanzania?

First Things: Jordan Hylden is a junior fellow at First Things.

“We came very close to separation,” said Archbishop Gregory Venables of this weekend’s meeting of global Anglican leaders, “but Biblical doctrine and behavior have been affirmed as the norms in the Anglican Church.”

It could have gone the other way, and for a time it looked as if it would. But, in the end, Anglican conservatives everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief on reading the strongly worded statement issued unanimously by the Church’s thirty-eight primates, which bluntly called on the Episcopal Church—the province of the Anglican Communion in the United States—to reverse its course or face expulsion. Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not the liberal American church will decide to comply. But by avoiding schism and enacting meaningful discipline upon one of its errant members, the Anglican Communion proved itself to be a reality with substance rather than the failed experiment many feared it had become. Today, concluded the theologian Philip Turner, “Anglicanism remains a credible expression of Catholic Christianity.”

Those who follow the story know that the current crisis stems from the Episcopal Church’s decision in 2003 to consecrate a non-celibate homosexual as bishop of New Hampshire and to allow priests in several dioceses to bless same-sex unions formally. Global reaction was swift and sharp, with multiple Anglican provinces (notably Nigeria and Rwanda) immediately declaring a state of “broken” or “impaired” communion with the Episcopal Church. Tensions were high even within the Episcopal Church itself, as numerous conservative parishes began leaving or threatening to leave—with the national church office suing or threatening to sue all who tried it.

Although on its surface it all seemed to be an argument merely about sex, on a deeper level it was a crisis of unity and authority. Five years prior to Gene Robinson’s consecration as bishop, the 1998 Lambeth Conference (a gathering of all Anglican bishops, which meets every ten years) had upheld the traditional Christian understanding of marriage and sexual ethics. Anglicans, who lack a central executive authority, have long depended on its thirty-eight member churches to abide by the decisions made together in council. The consecration of Gene Robinson called that expectation into question—and thereby the very idea of Anglican unity and authority.

Since the earliest times of the Christian Church, bishops have acted to represent the unity and authority of the global Church to the local diocese, and the local diocese to the global church. So if Gene Robinson did not believe what the Church believes, then how could he represent the Anglican Church in New Hampshire? The same problem presented itself on a church-wide level: If the Episcopal Church did not believe what the Anglican Church believes, then in what sense does it remain an Anglican church? And what good is the Lambeth Conference if no one actually has to follow it?

6 Comments:

Blogger Jeffrey said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:02 pm  
Anonymous Antonio said...

“Anglicanism remains a credible expression of Catholic Christianity.”

I would like to beleive this, but in Tanzania there was a woman "bishop", and all the primates recognized her as a bishop, and that's completely un-catholic.

11:15 pm  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

Antonio,

Because she was there does not mean that everyone present accepted her as a bishop. She was 'elected' by the majority of representatives in the TEC but her presence does not mean all accepted her. Matter of fact, there were a number who didn't.

11:25 pm  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

John, If you read this, call me please!

11:43 pm  
Anonymous Antonio said...

Thanks, Jeff.
That is good to know.

2:47 pm  
Blogger texanglican said...

Indeed, should Mrs. Schori appear in our diocese (Ft. Worth, Texas) I am sure she would be received respectfully as "chief administrator" of the Episcopal church. But she would not, I am also confident, be treated as a bishop by our clergy or most of our people. I am sure she would not be invited to function sacramentally here. I rather suspect that was the attitude of many of the primates.

10:33 pm  

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