Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Why This Rumour Matters

A rumour was highlighted at Inclusive Church that Rev. Dr Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream will be consecrated bishop. When I first heard about this, I suggested buckets of ice cold water because it is a juicy rumour that will run on little evidence.

Since then Chris Sugden has written a piece for his own so-called Anglican Mainstream website that I think makes this rumour more likely not less. It is not a very substantial article, and not out of keeping with much else, and full of hyperbole and bias, but it does in effect act as a Tract for This Time. I think this is so much twaddle, but it hardly matters what I think. This is the effective bit:

Globalisation as the judgement of God

In the view of a senior Anglican bishop, globalization is an effective judgment of God on the idolatry of the nationalism of the Anglican community.

He does not say who this senior bishop is (odd really, as they are in agreement), but raising something to "judgment" is important evangelical-speak. Now of itself this might be an approval of setting up a system of prelates to make each national Church go the speed of the slowest in order that this somehow keeps the Anglican Communion together. Then it would be in accordance with the Covenant process, though it is now concerned itself about handing too much power to bishops at an international level. The argument, though, isn't about this. It is about:

Orthodox Anglicans are also forming global networks with those who share the universal biblical gospel. Different networks are now sharing the same geographical space.
In other words, as in the United States, it is about African Anglican bishops consecrating Americans to be under them rather than the home Church to be under their control and uphold orthodoxy as they see it. It is also a justification for this being Africans of different Anglican Churches all in there together, and having to co-operate so there is less fragmentation of this claimed orthodoxy.

The last part of this article to highlight is this:

Those who share a common biblical faith in the Communion are building new international networks, relationships and coalitions through which God is building an Anglican Communion for the 21st century.
In other words this is not confined to the United States. Canada is now actively being considered for the same treatment.

To return to the rumour. Chris Sugden has worked closely with the Global South schismatics at Tanzania in February 2007. He was there at the alternative headquarters where messages were passed to and fro and was a crucial setting for the negotiations that turned a largely positive Windsor Process report on the The Episcopal Church (USA) into a directive and hostile Communiqué of the Primates with a 30 September deadline.

It is my view that if, after 30 September, with Rowan Williams's invitations to Lambeth 2008 staying as they are, and The Episcopal Church having not met the conditions set (an overisght system for internal dissidents with international oversight - not acceptable; the House of Bishops of TEC must state that all it’s members will unequivocally not authorise or allow any same-sex blessings nor consent to the consecration of any person as a Bishop who is living in a same-sex union - neither can be done effectively as these are matters for the General Covention in 2009), the Global South will act or look like the biggest case ever of a Grand Old Duke of York marching troops down again. Incidentally the Global South boundary crossers are suposed to have paused their actions, but they haven't.

One act will be setting up a Not the Lambeth Conference for 2008, probably somewhere down the road. Already, the Archbishop of York (Canterbury is having three months off) has said this is in effect schism, but another act will surely be around the failure of the Archbishop of Canterbury himself in inviting those who consecrated Gene Robinson in 2003, a bishop in an active gay relationship, whilst not inviting the boundary crossers consecrated by various African Churches. Plus the rather fundamentalist Diocese of Sydney is suggesting an alternative meeting. The Archbishop of York says that invitations to Lambeth can be withdrawn if Americans show no willingness to engage in Communion strengthening processes. They have shown such willing, and do so even though they cannot meet the Tanzanian requirements. The Archbishop of Canterbury, fresh from his break, will visit the American House of Bishops close to the apparent deadline of 30 September. He may regard their position as inadequate, but may continue to invite them to Lambeth as willing to engage. The boundary crossers will also meet beforehand.

There is some suggestion that Rowan Williams, on the basis of an accusatory lack of backbone, will be bullied into withdrawing the invitations to The Episcopal Church bishops. On the basis of York's statement, this turnaround itself would force a schism. He may also be bullied but less and invite the boundary crossing bishops as well as the TEC ones. This might keep one big meeting going. He is, though, aware of the bullied charge, asked about it in a Time interview, and may just stick to his guns. His belief in patience is why TEC should still be able to attend Lambeth, despite the distance regarding Tanzania, but this will not satisfy those, including Chris Sugden, who helped engineer the Communiqué.

So September 30 is a big day, for these Africans and boundary-crossers, and let us assume that the troops are not marched down the hill again. There will be declarations of failure in the Archbishop of Canterbury, that England will be seen as out of step too. There is also plenty for the Global South to go on about the compromises the English Church has made with gay equality legislation (that produces such muddle in the Church of England that its middling approach still gets it found guilty of discrimination as in the John Reaney - Bishop Priddis Diocese of Hereford tribunal). My view is that Chris Sugden is a prime candidate by association for consecration as an African bishop to organise so called orthodox Anglicanism the UK.

Now there is a case already of such a consecrated bishop. This is Sandy Millar in 2005 in Uganda. There is a difference, however, and it is this:

Archbishop Orombi stressed that the Archbishop of Canterbury had requested him to appoint and consecrate Sandy Millar in August 2004.

Permission was granted. The Bishop of London approved. Sandy Millar stands at the production and marketing head of the Alpha Course, so he is something of an organiser, but it is not hostile. The difference with Chris Sugden in such a case as after 30 September is that, after all his work, it would be a hostile act against the existing Anglican Communion and against the Church of England.

Chris Sugden as African bishop would be be to organise sympathetic congregations, these apparently big ones with plenty of money. It would be to identify areas with more liberal congregations and set up hostile church plants. It would connect with Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and Oak Hill, London as ministerial training colleges. The General Synod would be greatly unimpressed, seeing some congregations change allegiance, a new Covenant (there is one ready - scroll down and add the Theological Statement), diversions of monies, competition with existing bishops. There would be civil war in the Church of England.

So the in effect Tract sets up the intellectual basis for this post September 30 act. God's judgment, it claims. Well you can get higher than God, and you can't get more determined than having a judgment (a fantastic hotline from the divine give to these Conservative Evangelicals!). The Tract is preparation.

It seems to me that the juicy rumour needs a little less in the way of ice cold water. The evidence for it is the same - except this Tract-like article. The troops are amassing at the top of the hill (and this article is another justification for them) - the only issue now is, after a meeting of the Generals in September 2007, what they are going to do. They have already met in preparation for the coming meeting!

Incidentally, as an add-on to this, some associated with these, like Ephraim Radner of the self-named Anglican Communion Institute, are getting cold feet. They realise that the actions of some of the Global South archbishops and bishops, plus others like Chris Sugden, will in effect hand the Anglican Communion to a stronger proportion of moderates and liberals. They are saying slow down, because the idea is to remove TEC, not remove themselves. Funny, really, this late in the day realisation that schismatics cause schism. However, the Global South grouping is perhaps fed up with too many compromises, and what they really wanted (and have wanted all along) is them to call the shots and refashion the structures their way.

If they do, the main Anglican Communion can become a much more tolerant entity again, of Churches autonomus and interdependent, able to be more inclusive, less reliant of the illusion of Covenant devices (what would be the point of one?) and able to be diverse in theology and make some litergy more progressive. Once the break is made, the gap gets wide quickly.

Let's see what happens.

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