In praise of "corporate" communion

FinalCareyMassSo far, I think that a new editorial in the Telegraph should win some kind of prize for capturing the atmosphere at the Anglican primates meetings in Dar es Salaam. Here's the heart of the piece:

What on earth is going on at the meeting of Anglican primates in Tanzania? One virtually needs a doctorate in ecclesiology to answer that question. Hard-line liberal and conservative factions are threatening to walk out of the Anglican Communion (which really no longer exists, since they decline to take Communion with each other) unless complicated theological demands are met. The word "schism" is flying around Dar Es Salaam -- but it seems to mean something different every time it is used.

... Confused? If so, you are in good company. But there is one point on which nobody should be confused. If evangelicals or rainbow-coalition liberals reject the authority of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and place themselves under the jurisdiction of an overseas primate, they will have left the Church of England.

In other words, it is easier for Anglicans to compromise on issues of doctrine and sacraments (take marriage, for example) than it is for them to compromise at the level of structure and property laws. As always, the crucial question remains: When push comes to shove, will the powers that be in Canterbury -- the Archbishop of Canterbury and the staff that surrounds him -- back the Third World traditionalists or the First World modernists? In the end, whoever is in Communion with Canterbury gets to keep the keys to the nearest First World cathedral, seminary and endowment vault -- period.

So, what is at the heart of Anglicanism? Is it doctrine or a cultural tradition (I call it "NPR at prayer") rooted in property laws, music, architecture, ritual, structure and history? Is this a theological communion or a corporate one?

I have listened to people debate that question ever since the mid-1980s. In the end, there is no answer that provides unity because one side wants unity in doctrine and the other side insists that the only core, uniting Anglican doctrine is that there are no core doctrines that cannot be molded to fit the times. One camp wants dogmatic theology and flexible property laws. The other wants dogmatic property laws and flexible theology.

Can anyone who has written about the Anglican wars for more than a month imagine a scenario in which Canterbury chooses to offend the world of NPR and the BBC? What would people say in the faculty club at Oxford? The editorial board of The New York Times? Clearly, the only solution is for the resolutions and negotiations and amendments and dialogues to go on and on and on until the Third World cracks and is willing to compromise -- or flee. When you yearn for a modernized faith, all compromises move closer to the truth -- although some move faster than others. When you yearn for the ancient faith, all compromises move away from the faith of the ages.

So when covering Anglicans, reporters should always look for signs of private negotiations toward compromise led by the British. The odds -- and centuries of Anglican tradition -- are with you.

You can sense that this is the final soluation in a recent interview with retired Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey (pictured at his farewell Eucharist). This link is to The Dallas Morning News, but the interview was conducted by Kristen Campbell of the Press-Register in Mobile, Ala.

There are divisions in the Anglican Communion over issues of sexuality and the ordination. How would you describe the state of the Anglican Communion?

I now think that the global south and a lot of conservative churches in this country and in other parts of the world are going to pull away.

What would it take for the two sides to talk to one another?

There's a lot of sensible people on both sides who are talking and trying to resolve the situation. I do think, though, that the American church has been irresponsible with regard to this because the appointment of [openly gay New Hampshire Bishop] Gene Robinson has created division and wrecked mission in the church. We must care for homosexuals in the life of the church -- but there is an issue here of obedience to Scripture.

trinity chalice JPGCarey, of course, is an evangelical. Thus, he refers to this conflict primarily in terms of Scripture. Anglo-Catholics would care about Scripture, of course, but they would be much more likely to speak just as strongly about ancient creeds and church tradition.

This is another point of confusion. One reason -- other than a shortage of veteran, trained religion reporters -- that the MSM is tempted to think that this battle is only about homosexuality is that leaders in low-church and high-church Anglican circles have long been upset about trends in the global communion, but it took the consecration of a noncelibate gay bishop for these competing camps (plus the charismatics!) on the theological right to agree that a crisis was at hand.

Now everyone is waiting for a new Anglican covenant that is supposed to keep the extremes in check. The best story today on this topic is by New York Times reporters Sharon LaFraniere and the veteran Laurie Goodstein. They are clear that the First World, at this moment, is running the show in Tanzania. The wealthy Americans are doing quite alright.

By Friday, conservative Anglicans said they were starting to despair that the meeting here would produce neither of their goals: a condemnation and marginalizing of the Episcopal Church, or a new church structure for American conservatives who want to leave the Episcopal Church but remain within the Anglican Communion.

"Conservatives are very disappointed," said Timothy Shah, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, in Washington. "They have the feeling that the policy of the archbishop of Canterbury and the leadership of the Episcopal Church is one of indefinite delay in the hopes that aging conservative primates will retire and eventually be replaced by people who are more open to a negotiated settlement."

Liberal Episcopalians, on the other hand, were encouraged that the number of primates -- the term for the leaders of Anglican provinces -- who refused to take Communion at this meeting was only seven, about half the number who refused two years ago.

On that same topic -- unity in Holy Communion -- the quote of the day belonged to the spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church headquarters in New York City, who attacked the conservative archbishops for refusing to join the First World progressives at the altar for Holy Communion. The Los Angeles Times reported:

"There is an understanding that we come to the table of Christ to share in the body of Christ," said the Rev. Jan Nunley, the church's deputy for communication. "It's a symbol of our corporate unity, and for them to absent themselves from that is really sad."

Cynics might say that the word "corporate" in that statement could have two meanings. How can the body of the church be united if its bishops -- the defenders of doctrine -- cannot agree on basic doctrines linked to sacraments, the nature of God, salvation and Christology? Yes, sexuality is a big issue, too.

This much is clear. The schism at the altar is rooted in one reality -- clashing beliefs about the role of Scripture, creed, sacraments and tradition in the life of the Anglican Communion. Is the unity supposed to be rooted in doctrine, or property laws?

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