Wednesday 10 February 2010

Rowan Williams and Institutional Issues

There is, I think, a profound sadness and even resignation about Rowan Williams's speech to the Church of England General Synod on Tuesday. He surveys a number of issues, maybe too many, and Anglicanism is tackling too many, and in effect he wants people to approach the issues by people looking into the faces of other people with other views and interests and seeing the humanity of the other. This is very commendable and important; it should always be done in a religious community.

It's not centred around liberty or our culture, but about predicament and decisions. There are social goods and arrivals at decisions which mean that Churches have to very narrowly define places where they can discriminate (as seen from the public sphere). We now have a view that we cannot discriminate in the public sphere, and that is the setting. These are collective decisions, and perhaps Churches ought to see it as 'liberal' that they can continue to discriminate. Decisions favour some and others lose out: that is what a predicament involves.

Between what Sir Terry Pratchett said and what Rowan Williams said I favour the arguments of Sir Terry Pratchett about assisted dying. He tackled the objections. The Church of England can make its arguments, as can its Archbishop, but the predicament exists and a decision means either one of these positions loses out.

The predicaments in Anglicanism need answering in many issues. What is happening is that a revived tradition in Anglicanism, the Oxford Movement, is coming to an end. The Catholicism that will continue is the Lux Mundi synthesis between that movement and something focussed in Essays and Reviews earlier, if not those arguments as such. It might be called Liberal Catholicism but liberal might be the wrong word, as it is socially progressive, critical but whole tradition: liberalism is about selection and rejection as well as affirmation.

The inclusive is also another predicament for a decision, and around the world this varies radically - rejected or decided upon.

To maintain 'relation' with structures to keep discussion going (but the Covenant will be made to be a decision maker and excluder by the intent of many Churches and their leaders - that's what the Mouneer Anis and Angilcan Communion Institute business is all about) in the end is delay or a decision that produces so much complexity that principles within the decisions are lost. Rowan Williams changes his view on this: he now says the Covenant is about protracted engagement and scrutiny and listening. That is not a common view. This matter of three dimensionality is also about not seeing, hiding, from one angle, and then again from another angle a different hiding.

The decisions still need to be made. Rowan Williams also (at times) calls for clarity. The other approach is to simply accept that there are Anglican wars going on that need sorting through (with fewest casualties but never less there must be losers and gainers). There is also the ecumenical aspect, in that many Churches in the UK have a trajectory down to zero at about 2050. They might come into the Church of England and change it, and it might relate to the different parts. Some of the speciality involved is already the case around the world - the Church of England is too broadly spread.

The Gore Catholicism will continue, and so will Reformed liberals. But against them is the increasingly sectarian evangelical constituency that has indeed internationalised its impact as a way to bolster itself. The evangelical will face against the others, and there will be more predicaments and more decisions. But the same tendencies are in other denominations.

From the Reformation on there has never been one Church in one geographical area. The institutions represented the tendencies that were active at stages of institutional formation. This is what is happening now: the institutions represent old arguments whereas there are new arguments that are framing institutional change. Painful as it might be, this institutional change may be something that just has to be faced and sorted through as identities. After all, at least in England, no one will die as a result, even if some will be disappointed. People can still see the humanity of the other, and say we disagree and wish to organise differently. At some point these arguments produce decisions that will lead to such reorganisation, because in the end the rest is just institutional holding together for the sake of it, when Churches that were divided might come together whilst they also come apart. Just try to be as friendly as possible when tackling the inevitable.

I am not a Christian because I don't think the intellectual package stands up, and I believe in liberty and debate in coming to a view without present religious boundaries. Thus I've moved out and back to a Church that has the principle of non-credal evolving of views. I am quite sure that it has a future because it meets one of the ongoing arguments of the present, and the Internet has meant it is no longer hidden. If the Anglican wars go on unresolved, there will be spillages out in every direction, including in this direction. Many will go Romeward, as it makes it easier, and to Orthodoxy, and to evangelical Churches. Anglicanism has to grasp the institutional nettle so that it meets these arguments. My own view is that it will cover less ground, eventually covering something from the Open Evangelical at one end to the moderate Catholic at the other, and then there will be almost independent parishes and rump congregations here and there, some well moneyed and some defensive. But these changes are begging.

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