Saturday 26 April 2008

Packer Pucka

My own view about the latest words from J I Packer is that I have some measure of agreement with them.

He states:

Meantime in our Anglican Communion the principle of geographical exclusiveness for the diocese and its bishop has been breached in a way that cannot be restored.

It seems to me that where issues have become unbridgable there may well have to be a parting of the ways.

There are two choices: obviously there can be a situation where the Anglican Communion in effect becomes an Anglican Church, and one with rules that binds in some decisions as legitimate and excludes others. It reduces the extent and range of any innovation, even where that innovation is seen by some as loyal to the tradition as a whole.

Even at the moment the recognition that some Anglican Churches have for others is not uniform, and this relates specifically to the ministry of women as bishops and priests. Somehow this has been lived with, whereas the extension of the principle of inclusion to gay people has not been met with such a live and let live response.

Indeed the matter of homosexuality (gay clergy in relationships and blessings for relationships) is treated as a presenting issue for a far greater and central span of concern. Back to J I Packer:

I think that scripture stories are meant to prompt us to ask what God was doing. I ask the same question: what is God doing not to the Anglican Church of Canada but the disorder that only seems to grow in the old west (US, Canada, UK, Australasia). We pray for an end to it but we do not see an end to it. I continue to pray that out of all this God is going to purge the old west of its poisonous liberalism which is weakening and shrinking the churches. God's way of purging is letting a thing grow to its full stature so that its real nature can be seen so that finally it is squeezed out. I pray that that will be the outcome of the inflow of liberalism. God is preparing and toughening us for specially demanding conflict.

Now I think the substance of this is rubbish, but on the other hand if he and people like him do not want to worship and work alongside people like me I cannot make him, and indeed he is talking about a range of people far more comfortable with statements of orthodoxy than a clear liberal like me.

As for the oversight of Presiding Bishop Gregory Venables, this is probably illegal even on the internal rules of the Church of the Southern Cone. It develops dioceses in ministries in clearly defined countries, and the United States and Canada is not in the list. Its ability to change this list requires a going to the Anglican Consultative Council, and it either has no view or a contrary view to what Venables is doing. Packer's joy at this oversight and bald statements about retention in the Anglican Communion may be short lived. Such should be the case for illusions of taking a diocese from The Episcopal Church and dropping it into his Church.

Nevertheless Anglicanism is at a crossroads, and either it decides to find a point that satisfies the New Puritans, and institutes a new set of rules via an effective Covenant (likelihood - nil: not without seeing many Churches opt out), or it goes the way of multiple Anglicanisms in any one geographical area (which, with continuing Churches, is already the case).

In one sense GAFCON is meeting too early: it wants to set an agenda but it won't be able to react to the tendencies of Lambeth 2008. The likely action for an ending of geographical monopoly will come from there, whatever it says about not being a schism from the Anglican Communion. At the very best, what is likely is an outcome of a small Global Anglican Communion, more like a Church of say seven provinces plus adventures into others, and a Canterbury Communion that cannot institute a Covenant except on the weakest of terms - a failure, in other words, of Rowan Williams's policy and hopefully followed by his resignation. Alternatively there could be three, that is a GAFCON set of provinces and adventures, a Covenant that would make the likes of Fulcrum happy, and a rejection of such a Covenant either leading to another one or just fraternal relationships. Such a break up would also probably lead to Rowan Williams's resignation, as it would be better even for the Canterbury Communion to pass to other hands.

The alternative is to let GAFCON get on with it. Its members are not as successful as they would like think, and unlikely to be so. They have rubbed up too many people the wrong way, and it is geographically centred in Africa with adventurism among the New Puritans elsewhere. The Anglicans that are elsewhere, freer to innovate where possible, are those that could set up an autocephalous understanding of Churches, still meeting to discuss and compare notes at Lambeth every ten years. They might actually find a stronger unity between them on the basis of their autonomy, than forcing a unity that then leads to division - which is all that this Covenant will achieve.

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