Slow unravelling

Bishop John Broadhurst reflects on the unravelling of the Anglican Communion, and the causes of the current crisis in order and morals

 

In 19721 was elected to the very first General Synod. I was its youngest member and considered myself to be progressive and radical. To my intense surprise I found that I rapidly fell into the habit of voting 'No'. At first I found this problematic and it troubled me greatly. It took a long time for me to realise that the problem was in the parliamentary model that the General Synod had adopted. There is a real conflict between the view of a church subject to scripture and tradition and the parliamentary model. Is the church is a democracy or a theocracy?

The problem with the General Synod is that everybody's views are held to be equal. It is perfectly possible to make a major contribution with no theological understanding or education. I have often been amazed that reports or recommendations made by the Doctrine Commission, or the Faith and Order Advisory Group, or ARCIC, have been completely ignored or overruled by large numbers of the membership of the Synod.

The Synod believes that it is the custodian of the truth. Technically the Church is subject to its historic formularies but in reality the decisions of the General Synod define those formularies. We are in a kind of Alice in Wonderland world.

Michael Ramsey, in whose archiepiscopate the General Synod was formed, was not responsible directly for its initiation. He was responsible for a subsequent and ultimately even more dangerous development. For a period I was an elected member of the Anglican Consultative Council. When Hong Kong ordained women the Anglican Consultative Council had to deal with the issue. It was Michael Ramsey who decided and recommended that this was a local matter and was not to undermine universal and international relations. From that moment the Anglican Communion had a ministry which was no longer universal (i.e. catholic) but was in one sense simply local. Priests from one part of the communion were no longer acceptable in other parts of the Communion and indeed, even today when the Church of England has women priests, women bishops consecrated abroad are not allowed to function as bishops in this country. We had ceased to be a Communion and become in a sense a federation.

The consequences of this are not limited simply to the issue of the ordination of women. They affect the church in matters of faith and morals just as they affect the church in matters of order.

The issue of morals is one which is the cause of the second major crisis in the Communion. I have always understood homosexuality to be disordered, but I am not one of those who consider homosexual sin to be worse than any other. The crisis that affects the Communion is not around personal morality but rather around the assertion that the Church must conform scripture and tradition and its common life to contemporary social views. Civil Partnerships and other social developments challenge the Church's basic presuppositions.

I have attended two General Conventions of the Episcopal Church. They are extraordinary occasions. At one I sat in the Assembly as they discussed pension rights for gay partners. They were not at all troubled by a man coming to the microphone holding the hand of his boy friend pleading for such rights. This is a Church which is intensely intolerant of anyone who does not accept the contemporary social view.

I was also present at the meeting of conservative Primates in Kampala some years ago Here I found a group who had a very different view of the Church and world. The African and Asian Bishops have a much more robust view of the scriptures and tradition. Their view would be that individuals should conform themselves to the tradition and not the other way round. In a world of emerging evangelistic Islam, the attitudes that come from TEC put the Church under serious pressure in many parts of the world.

The African Church, moreover, is growing rapidly while the Church in the west is, in the main, shrinking equally rapidly. I find myself quite amazed that liberal Christians are unwilling to make the connection between liberal theology and decline. Sociological surveys have repeatedly demonstrated that this is not mere opinion but solid fact. But few liberals seem to be troubled in the slightest by that reality.

I have extensively visited America and Australia and in both countries find the Anglican Church in a very weak state. Large numbers of people have left the Communion. You only have to look in your church newspapers here to see that nearly every week congregations and clergy are leaving the American Episcopal Church. More recently, the Primates of Rwanda and South East Asia set up a group called the Anglican Mission in America. This group is mainly evangelical and again has taken a large number of orthodox congregations. Since its formation it has decided against further ordinations of women. Now we read of congregations seeking to join the Church of Nigeria and other overseas Provinces. What we have in America is a large number of dispossessed Anglicans seeking to continue faithful Christian life in accord with the Anglican tradition. In Australia and South Africa there are small but growing numbers in the Continuing Church and in Australia the Diocese of Sydney is extensively planting in the declining liberal dioceses.

The Lambeth Conference had asked for equal treatment for both sides in the ordination of women issue and for restraint on the issue of homosexuality. Though from time to time The Episcopal Church appears to respond verbally, all the signs are of increasing momentum for the liberal agenda.

Nowhere do we see common faith and order among those who call themselves Anglicans. In what sense is the Anglican Communion still a reality? I

Return to Home Page of This Issue

Return to Trushare Home Page