Tuesday 5 August 2008

Thirty Seconds

Theo Hobson keeps predicting the death of liberal Anglicanism. Liberals became: "meek before the rise of evangelical orthodoxy, " he says. He thinks that Rowan Williams has achieved getting liberals on his side:

Liberal Anglicans have to follow Williams onto the high wire, to some extent. By staying within an institution that has taken an anti-liberal turn, they collude in his act. In other words, liberal Anglicans have been Rowanised. They buy his long-range hope for reform that the church as a whole can accept.

I was in a church group this evening, and I said a couple of times about how I want to be out of communion with Rowan Williams. I want nothing to do with his grand designs.

I think there are bishops who are forced into what looks like collusion, and I think some will feel extremely uncomfortable. This is not just maintaining good relationships between bishops on the basis of excluding a social group, a minority group: this is about an attempt to build a Rowan Williams fantasy of a Catholic Church out of a Communion on the basis of excluding a minority group.

It is a kind of madness, and the issue is whether he will achieve it. Well he won't, and here is why, and why Theo Hobson is wrong.

For this to work, the Faith and Order Commission, if it happens, would really have to work; at a minimum, for this to work, the Pastoral Forum must work, and this is being set up quickly. This will do the job of the Covenant before even the Covenant exists.

The Pastoral Forum is structured on international intervention. It is not based on consent at all. It is about taking a view about an ecclesiastical minority and putting them into "safe space" no matter what the parent Church thinks. It is about working with Primates and the ACC.

Such is not acceptable to The Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada. These have the right to organise their own space, to arrange methods of oversight, even if those include invited flying bishops - as when the Church of England organised its own alternative oversight.

It will also not work because GAFCON now has a life of its own, and far from some seeking safe space, they are going to join a Province of GAFCON and there shall be further interventions. Furthermore, GAFCON has its own statements of belief and may even produce its own preferred Covenant. It has already made it clear that the St Andrew's Draft of the Covenant is not acceptable. It wants a Primates Council to make decisions, and we saw how this Faith and Order Commission would swing back to Primates from the St Andrews' Draft move away as more effective interveners.

There is no way this will draw in the North Americans towards acceptance, nor will it attract in the Welsh, Irish or Scots. The Brazilians (subject of intervention), the New Zealanders, and Mexicans, won't accept this. Even if England could be pressured to go along with this, England itself cannot legally accept direction from outside. Theo Hobson forgets the recent shifts by the English Synod regarding female consecrations and how that produces a much more defined, if narrower, more pro-liberal Church.

In other words, Theo Hobson's analysis would only work for thirty seconds equivalent in ecclesiastical time. It is on to the wire - and off the wire.

If the two North American Churches go their own way, to establish only Covenants of Fate, then others will fall in with them. And let's be clear: the non-GAFCON Global South is already going its own way, wanting its own more rigid definitions and its own regional autonomy.

There is no doubt that the liberals have to be stronger in what they do: their tendency to inclusivity always means they are softer and longer term in outlook (always jam tomorrow). They're not buying into Rowan Williams's fantasies, however. Things are just going to be organised differently from what he would like. The power bases are in the Churches, and they make the decisions, not some proto-Church that Rowan Williams would like to build. The more it does, the more it will be rejected, and as quickly as he sets up institutions of intervention.

I can think of some bishops now caught between a rock and a hard place: but they haven't had all the options yet. Rowan Williams stamped his impression on the Lambeth Conference: but that was but one option, and there are others coming.


Kurt said...

I think that Theo is wrong. He’s just too pessimistic. Liberal Anglicans do have to organize, however. We have to make our presence felt, not only in the bastions of liberalism (such as they are), but also in places like Nigeria, Sydney, and the Middle East. These conservative, evo areas must have at least some disaffected liberals who can be organized, aided and supported. So, let’s do it!

Rowan Williams has Lambeth, the evos and right-wing catholics have GAFCON. One thing that we liberals should do, I think, is to have our own international network focusing on liberal Anglicanism. Perhaps call our own international conference. A good place to have it would be in South Africa. Canada, the USA, Japan, most of Latin America (except for the Cone), Scotland, New Zealand, Australia (minus Sydney) etc. would probably make a good showing that there is a liberal Anglicanism that is accepting of all people. It would, I think, be helpful to organizing the liberal “faction” within Anglicanism.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Liberals also have to be confident in their own definitions and existence. If you take the conference in Oxford, called Affirming Liberalism, it is no more than a small academic talk with Keith Ward as its main speaker. The website takes ages to change, and there is hardly any activity going on.

We have to see how events turn out. The centralisation effort by Rowan Williams is only one intention, and too much has happened to make that even likely. If Anglicanism does balkanise, then there will be a basically liberal Anglicanism - one that still observes the Nicene Creed and the rest nevertheless (that would be expected).

The alternative is a far wider liberal movement that overlaps with Anglicanism. Well, there will be an ecumenical impact anyway, because liberalism and fundamentalism are affecting all the main Churches now in degrees. So splits are followed by ecumenical joins.

Another model (before you get to the more creative and specific Liberal Catholics) is provided by a small group that is the Open Episcopal Church. It is completely socially inclusive (blessings, ministry, the lot) and locates itself with the liberality that was in British Old Catholicism just before the Liberal Catholic breakaway. Such might be a model and it (unlike many Liberal Catholics) retains the Nicene Creed too but has liturgical flexibility.