Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Hopes and Fears

This is the day when some of us look over to the United States and share its combination of hopes and fears as it elects its next President. The amount of money spent has been breathtaking, but the good side of that has been a mass movement of raising the money in small amounts. One thing too that primaries and then the campaign does do - it brings politicians into contact with the electorate. It also allows a candidate to show that he or she is presidential. I was quite impressed with Hillary Clinton's street interview today, and the substance in her support for Barack Obama and what the new Presidency will mean - and it will be difficult indeed given the sheer wreckage (economic and military) of the worst Presidency in living memory. We wait here for the election results remembering what it was like on the evening of electing Tony Blair. We really did have to shift out that Conservative government but there was real nervousness until the skittles started falling. Of course it all ended in disappointment and betrayal ten years later, partly thanks to our lapdog ex-Prime Minister and the dreadful President.

Meanwhile, back in Anglican land, the likelihood of Obama winning has drawn out some of the worst entries to appear in the website of the misnamed Anglican Mainstream. It is dripping with venom, drawing on writings by those it supports in all its sexual and related obsessions. It is this utter extremism that must be offputting to Open Evangelicals, but rather than it being evidence of an organisation campaigning against Obama (and by deducation McCain) for the election, it is at this late stage rather a declaration of the hard Christian right and its behaviour after he is elected.

All of which raises the questions that seem to be gathering about this tiny pressure group and its associates and others that have gathered around the GAFCON camp. Many liberals, I note, seem to be thinking that GAFCON is a ridiculous alliance of those who cannot possibly get on together. Given Sydney's move to allowing Deacons to celebrate the Eucharist, whilst keeping its Presbyters in higher authority and excluding women from that station and those of bishops, some pretty significant cracks are showing in the GAFCON and related camp.

Peter Toon, who is of a Reform persuasion and of the Prayer Book Society of the USA, wants Sydney removing from GAFCON - and yet it is the location of the Secretariat of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans! The Anglo-Catholics also cannot accept this development. The Archbishop of Sydney himself seems to be the thin red line holding back full lay presidency of the Eucharist.

Here's the problem that is always the case at GAFCON as is presently constructed. It is that Anglicanism is both Catholic and Reformed, but to be both together requires moderation, because it needs give and take. In the current ecclesiastical situation, when the most extreme doctrinal types are getting beside themselves regarding sexuality and doctrine, many of these have decided that they can somehow restore Anglicanism as was once delivered (except it never was once delivered). The problem is that they are all so extreme and specialist that they cannot do it: the only reason Anglicanism was possible before was because the Broad Church party was a kind of dissolving place of these differences. The sectarian pressures on extremists in a post-Christian world mean that they peddle their own partial corners of Anglicanism.

Now, did they know this? I suggest that the few extremists behind Anglican Mainstream and those very close do. The lectures and talks tend to be muddled and inconsistent, and it could be peopled by partial idiots, but one has to admire the ability of these few in gathering up sufficient ballast of support as necessary to build up an organisation to effect change. However, this is how such groups work: you geton board those who will do what you want them to do. When they don't, you do the violence to them (of the verbal kind, we hope) and they are gone and feeling sore.

Let's look at Forward in Faith. What if GAFCON can set up bishops to start oversight to some congregations and extract them from dioceses like Durham, Lincoln and Chelmsford (to name only three) and that these offer male only in priests and run all the way up the chain to a Primates' Council? Would not Forward in Faith like to organise itself into such settings, if such is, say, a Province of the British Isles in GAFCON? They would - but as far as the core people behind GAFCON are concerned, this is a Conservative Evangelical operation, and one about authority and selective biblical literalism. My bet is that, for them, bishops are just means to an end and do not carry any of the sacerdotal qualities believed by Forward in Faith.

I rather think the Thirty-nine Articles are a means to an end too. The otivators behind GAFCON know perfectly well that they relate to a time and place and some articles cannot apply any more. This is the difference between the core group and say Peter Toon and those like him. The core behind GAFCON probably have little difference with, say, Presbyterians who show equal biblical literalism, nor have much difference with the range of Protestant fundies. It is one of the ambiguities in the Bible, and Anglicanism is but one vehicle that had a Reformed element emerge after the Reformation. The Jerusalem Declaration is itself a means to an end, and the end is always organisation. Anglicanism is about reach, and entryists always target vehicles that have reach.

All this has been done before. This is why when Andrew Goddard talks about trying to legitimise the coming North American province of GAFCON by applying a Covenant to it that would be applied to other Anglicans (as if), he is whistling into the wind. He ought to be treating the motivation and movement behind GAFCON for what it is - and at the very least having nothing to do with it. It needs throttling, not absorbing, because it is interested in a) wrecking existing Anglican structures by competition and replacement, and b) providing its own narrow power-centred authoritarianism.

There are always fellow travellers along the way: what matters is what happens and who is in charge. The sheer bile and venom that comes out of Anglican Mainstream should indicate everything one needs to know.


Anonymous said...

Tony Blair got this right, at least: to win a majority you have to take the centre. Obama has done that. Palin killed McCain by energising the centre against him as much as she energised the base for him.

So it is with the GAFCONs and Stand Firms and their ilk. Their purity of thought and single mindedness of purpose work wonders - but as soon as they do well (and, my goodness, they have done terribly well in the Anglican Communion since their coup at Lambeth 1998), they come into full view for what they are and what they represent, and then they lose the centre, and thus the majority, and thus - well, they lose.

I see another insight into the dynamics of the Anglican Communion from yesterday's voting in America. Proposition 8 in California, which eliminates the rights of same sex couples to marry, is on a knife edge, but looks likely to pass. The reason for this, according to exit polls, is that African American voters in California broke 70/30 against gay marriage. So, on the very day that liberals, including liberal gays, joined a massive and inspiring coalition that swept the first black president to power, black voters in California took away rights from gay couples.

Chris Sugden and his allies have exploited a wind of anti-gay conviction that comes from Africa. It remains to be seen where this will blow the Anglican Communion, but the harder it blows, the more likely it is that the liberal churches of the British Isles and North America will be faced, either with disassociation from the Anglican Communion (perhaps forced to this point by the Anglican Covenant) or with what the Bishop of Buckingham has in his blog characterised as "missional suicide" in its own countries, where discrimination against homosexuals is regarded as disgraceful.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

The point I would add is that if the Anglican Covenant has the effect of causing a range of Western Churches to become second class members of the Communion, it is the Covenant that will be finished.

Too many Open Evangelicals are giving Anglican Mainstream too much recognition, but it will only do them harm until they deal with it as they need - to throttle it rather than follow it.