It's the doctrine, stupid

imgp1198 1As you would expect, the Anglican wars receive quite a bit of attention in the major newspapers today with the announcement by conservatives that they are forming the Anglican Church in North America, as opposed to the U.S. Episcopal Church. There is much to debate in the articles, if you are a partisan on the left or the right. Once again, journalists are struggling -- oh my, do I not envy them -- to describe this puzzle in words that are accurate at all four levels of Anglican polity, which would be local, diocesan, national and global. This announcement, of course, establishes a parallel organization and the national level, which then throws a wrench into the proceedings at the local and diocesan levels.

What happens at the global level? Well, as I have been saying, the issue is whether the final decision is made by the Church of England (which is just as divided over doctrinal issues as the churches in the U.S. and Canada) or at the global, Communion-wide level. My bet? They call it the Church of England for a reason. The symbolism of Canterbury still matters, in a Communion that, in the powerful, rich, west is united by aesthetics and culture more than doctrine. Think of it as NPR at prayer.

Or is the battle about doctrine? The mainstream coverage today includes some shockingly blunt use of the L-word that looms over these wars. No, not that one. I mean, "liberal." More on that in a minute.

I also would be interested in knowing what GetReligion readers think of the many references to the formation of a new "denomination." Isn't, in Anglican polity at all levels, the proper word "province" since the framing word for Anglican unity is "Communion"? Here's a typical lede, from veteran Laurie Goodstein at the New York Times:

WHEATON, Ill. -- Conservatives alienated from the Episcopal Church announced on Wednesday that they were founding their own rival denomination, the biggest challenge yet to the authority of the Episcopal Church since it ordained an openly gay bishop five years ago.

OK, then later we read:

In the last few years, Episcopalians who wanted to leave the church but remain in the Anglican Communion put themselves under the authority of bishops in Africa and Latin America. A new American province would give them a homegrown alternative. It would also result in two competing provinces on the same soil, each claiming the mantle of historical Anglican Christianity. The conservatives have named theirs the Anglican Church in North America. And for the first time, a province would be defined not by geography, but by theological orientation.

I know that this is a tricky equation and the Times is not alone in blurring the lines between these terms. But a province is a piece of a larger whole. A denomination is its own church, its own frame of reference. The conservatives are claiming that they are a legitimate piece of the larger whole. The liberals would say that this new body is a splinter, a new denomination on its own. These words matter.

Most of the articles have appropriate quotes from leaders on the left and the right. Most of the articles, to some degree, offer variations on the familiar Anglican warfare timeline (please click here, I dare you), which says that people have been fighting for a long time, but that the real issue was the selection of a noncelibate gay bishop here in America.

Over at the Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein took another shot at describing the conflict in terms of a wider, clearly doctrinal agenda. Frankly, this is really close to getting at the heart of this matter in -- oh my, what a thankless task -- a matter of a few sentences in a public newspaper.

In the lede, we read:

Conservatives from the Episcopal Church voted yesterday to form their own branch of Anglicanism in the United States and said they would seek new recognition in the worldwide church because of their growing disenchantment over the ordination of an openly gay bishop and other liberal developments.

Like I said, the word "liberal" is a fighting word and, until recently, you rarely saw it used like that. Then, later we read that conservatives are upset about the 2003 consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, "the role of female clergy, the church's definition of salvation and changes to the main book of prayer."

Now, this article and many others dealt openly with the fact that these conservatives have -- within their new province -- pledged to agree to disagree on the issue of ordaining women as clergy. That's a story in and of itself. But, later on, Boorstein takes another crack at the wider doctrinal divide:

In the past year, four U.S. dioceses have broken from the Episcopal Church, citing Robinson's ordination and brewing dissent over issues such as the necessity of Jesus for salvation and the literal truth of the resurrection. In Northern Virginia, more than a dozen churches voted to break from the Episcopal Church. That split has cost millions in legal fees and remains in Fairfax County District Court as the two sides fight over church property.

rainbow vestments 05Note the frank statements about salvation and the resurrection.

This is "tmatt trio" territory, of course, so let me end there. This battle is, ultimately, about ancient faith vs. modern and even postmodern faith. It's about clashes over doctrine. Honest. Thus, journalists can ask these questions and, by listening carefully to the many variations on the answers, find out who is who and who will end up kneeling where:

(1) Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?

And then there is my special Anglican wars bonus question!

Should churches in the Anglican Communion ban the worship, by name, of other gods at their altars?

Stay tuned. This will not be over for a decade or two. Maybe.

First photo: If you can name most of these men, you are an Anglican traditionalist.

Please respect our Commenting Policy