In Rome the revisionists have friends in high places. Pope Benedict XVI sees dangers for the Church in modern thought and lifestyles. He has used the rehabilitation of the schismatic conservatives, whose doubts on ecumenism and relations between the faiths he shares. Moscow, under its new hard-line leader, Patriarch Kirill, who believes that the interests of the Church and the state are one, is attempting something similar, though he seems more motivated by political power than by theological purity.
There is perhaps a lesson in all that for those in the Church of England faced with the dilemma of how to press ahead with the ordination of women bishops without alienating the traditionalists. Sometimes appeasing those who cannot accept the mind of the Church is only storing up trouble for the future.
I spent some time listening to contributions to the post-General Synod Additional National Assembly of Forward in Faith UK (FiF) on Saturday. Usually a clear theme comes through, but I listened to David Houlding, David Waller, and Jonathan Baker and I've no clue about what is their actual strategy other than not accepting a Code of Practice, but clearly a number think this is all but dead anyway. I've listened to others since too.
There seems to be a rejection of the workings and outcome of the General Synod and yet an effort to try and improve the outcome at the elections in order to prevent a two thirds majority. Then there seems to be a giving way that there will be women bishops, so long as there is a suitable outcome that is structural (a watertight non-geographical diocese or third province, or a Society that is effectively a third province) that isn't a one generation ark while they die off. There seems to be, however, a severe doubt regarding the potential of the Legislative Drafting Group and yet, again, a view that it may produce something better (all from the Forward in Faith point of view) because the General Synod did not receive a clear shape for any legislation. Some FiF would withhold the quota that goes towards paying clergy. Then, still, the whole stress on a universal Church seems to mean that this group, or members of this group, would go anyway, something that has been the subject of rumour about people leaving.
I'm a complete outsider here, but it seems to me that there are a number of Bonhoeffer moments approaching on a number of structural issues. This Bonhoeffer moment was something the Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned in 2006 in an interview for The Guardian.
Alan Rusbridger: at what point do you eventually stub against your irreducible, small "l" liberal principles and say actually "well there is an irreducible bit I can't negotiate over"?
Archbishop of Canterbury: Yes, I haven't got there yet, and if I could speculate about where those were, then it would be rather simpler now. It's - it's a dangerous comparison, because it sort of ups the stakes a bit, but I'm very struck by what Bonhoeffer writes in the middle-30s about the division of the church over the Aryan laws in Nazi Germany, where he says both that it's extremely important not to try and work out in advance every circumstance in which it would be necessary for the church to break.
On this, the Church of England will have to decide whether there will be a third province without women bishops and women priests, which divides up the Church of England (for its own undefiled, unpolluted Archbishop surely). It would build in schism and would also be a place for GAFCON to put its Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (or why not have a fourth province?). The decision, the real Bonhoeffer moment for the General Synod, would be to have women bishops and keep the Church as it is, which means a defeat for these traditionalists with or without a Code of Practice. This would mean FiF clergy resignations, leaving behind those individuals who at the last point decide to hang on (clergy not looking for another job) and perhaps do some ducking and diving to avoid being polluted by women as bishops and women priests and male priests ordained by women. Lay people might move to rented premises, or stay. It would, of course, leave what the FiF crew call Faux Catholics, those who retain a Catholic approach to liturgy but have a critical approach to theology and even ecclesiastical structures, and who accept the full ministry of ordained women. Such is the constituency represented by Affirming Catholicism.
The second area concerns The Episcopal Church and its coming General Convention. It is whether it should continue to observe the moratoria or not regarding no appointing of bishops in same sex relationships and no blessing ceremonies. The idea of continuing to do this would be to facilitate a Covenant and decisions to be taken probably now by the Primates Meeting rather than the Anglican Consultative Council about which Churches are in the Anglican Communion and which are not.
This is to continue something temporary so that another authority elsewhere can attempt to make it permanent, or as permanent as the final Church objection giving way. It is agreeing to something in order to export authority, which The Episcopal Church cannot do anyway - just as the Church of England cannot. Even some sort of moral authority (if moral is the right word) given away voluntarily would still have centralised institutions making decisions. And there might be a Faith and Order Commission too, that would take further this centralisation towards more like a Church than a Communion. All this and still there will be a different self-selective Primates Council approving and organising an Anglican Church of North America and other incursions.
It seems to me that it is time now to pull this charade to an end. We know what a Covenant would be now in terms of what it would try to restrict - it would restrict one of the central purposes of The Episcopalian Church in the United States and what will be done by others in time.
So coming up is, I'd suggest, its Bonhoeffer moment on this issue. If other Anglican Churches want a Covenant, no one is stopping them, but the US Anglican Church saying "no" may simply force the issue. It might find quite a number of other Churches unwilling to come under an international Covenant - or to see the point of it. Secondly, the Canadians aren't going to have second class relations with the Americans, nor will the Brazilians, Mexicans, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Hong Kong, New Zealanders - probably not even England either. There will be parallel communions at worst, and at best the Covenant will be binned.
On both issues, it is up to those who want to say no to these structural changes to organise themselves and carry through the necessary decisions. When a Church makes a decision to change - say have women bishops or extend categories included in the ministry - the Church should not organise its own schism. It might provide pastoral suport and deal with sensitivities, but it should also have its own structural unity as a body. Some do leave when there is change, and others find the ability to join because of the change.
It seems to me that the Church of England and The Episcopal Church ought to decide to be more inclusive regarding their leaderships. The Church of England's changes will make it more like The Episcopal Church, and thus will continue to follow where it has led. So it is up to The Episcopal Church to lead and its Bonhoeffer moment is not long off.