Monday, 30 June 2008

Right FOCA

So on the theological right is FOCA, if this is the name: Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. I find the name odd, because it implies that they are a particular band of Anglicans rather than of the whole of Anglicanism. I did not predict this: I was expecting something like Fellowship of Global Anglicans. Well, such a particular name that they have chosen is realistic, but it does join the myriad of other names for other groups - for example, the Traditional Anglican Communion that wishes Pope Benedict would offer them a Uniate Church.

As part of my project this morning I was writing (in longhand, in the church) an opening session for a theology course (mentioned here previously). After outlining the basis of the course: the varieties of theology responding to the modern situation, it gets to two foundational points. One is a basis of ethical reflection, the me of me (self-understanding, self-worth, behaviour) and other mes with whom one has empathy given the self-same nature of the other - and to all this theology can rush in. There is the ethics of culture and critique of historical change and economic and social interests. The second foundation is theological method, and locales of sources for such reflection. The point made is that the Bible is increasingly one source for theological reflection: formed by various belief-communities, arranged for belief, and used for belief. There is the Christian vision and Christian identity, the development of doctrines and the critique of economic, social and cultural life. And then there are Churches.

There is the Reformed, with faith derived from the gift of the Gospel in Scripture; there is the Lutheran with a further emphasis on dogmas; there is Roman Catholicism with a stress of continuity and tradition, for which Scripture is seen as an exemplary maintenance; and there are Anglican theologies that (along with Scripture and traditions) emphasise culture, reasoning and the relativity or contingency of some dogmas. This is what makes Anglicanism different, particular.

Well, this is not so with the FOCAs, is it? They are an emphasis of the Reformed. They may not be Calvinist, but they are Reformed in a much more particular way - Thirty-nine Articles rather than the Westminster Confession.

Riazat Butt and Toni O'Loughlin are quite right to emphasise the scale of the potential intervention. I chatted with one of the liberal/ radical church members this morning, who had read about the GAFCON event in The Guardian, and I said imagine if our Bishop of Lincoln does have a small ceremony of prayers in his private chapel for a gay couple after a Civil Partnership (as he said he would: he supported a decision to refuse a much bigger ceremony). He is already called "revisionist" on some websites. Then say the (notorious) church in Stamford, to which people drive from miles around, decided it wanted alternative oversight. Unless he agreed, legally they would have to leave the parish behind if they wanted international so-called orthodox oversight.

From such events like this, therefore, comes a network of such ex-parishes and thus another Province in the making, that would presumably invent some sort of parishes of their own.

The basis of the orthodoxy of the Primates Council' would mean Common Worship (2000) is out of sync with the BCP. Are the FOCAs going to produce a translated into modern language Book of Common Prayer? Those who have reserve sacraments (like the church I attend) will be defying the Thirty-nine Articles, and of course we do not believe that the Bible does not contradict itself or can be read according to something called the plain meaning. For example (the point that my conversation partner mentioned before), Jesus entering Jerusalem in Holy Week could not have had palm leaves laid down before him because they come about in a later season of the year. Other gospels make adjustment. We know, of course, that Jesus's assertive incident at the Temple happens at different times in John's Gospel (and so on). Some Gospel statements put on to Jesus's lips are clearly those of the early Church and its theological development rather than by Jesus himself. There is no plain reading of the Bible and it is disingenuous to say that there is.

So the decision to call a local situation "unorthodox" is based on almost open criteria.

One prediction of mine that seems to be wrong, according to The Guardian article, is that of delivering some sort of ultimatum to the Lambeth Conference. It seems that the FOCAs have given up on the Lambeth Conference in advance. Certainly, it ruins Rowan Williams's attempt to create a more organic relationship between bishops and dioceses and his office as Primate of the mother Church. His policy of centralisation is finished, curiously by a set of centralisers.

Reformed Anglicanism is not Anglicanism as a whole. Perhaps with the Lambeth based centralisation ruined, the Communion might return to a more informal set of structures.Bishops are not alone in their Churches, under their own primates, Churches that will have to defend themselves from the encroachment of the FOCAs.

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