Friday, August 21, 2009

Anglican mess

A couple of weeks ago The Episcopal Church in America voted to cease their moratorium on ordaining partnered gay people as bishops.

This provoked reactions from all over, but most importantly from the Archbishop of Canterbury. As part of his response, the Archbishop speaks of a 'two-track' Anglican Communion. One Track would sign up to the proposed Anglican Covenant. The other Track would not. Both would be Anglican (though it is hard to see how this would be realised in terms of sharing ministry, sacraments and counsel).

Archbishop Rowan's remarks were amplified by the Bishop of Durham. Bishop Tom is much more blunt, and sees the Two Track approach as indicating the end to Communion.

Today, the Modern Churchpeople's Union (which really needs to change its name) has published a reply to both the Archbishop and the Bishop.

In summary, the MCU says:

  • Both blame the American church for rejecting a consensus that homosexuality is immoral. There is no such consensus; there is only their dogma.
  • Even if there were a consensus, the institutions of the Anglican Communion have neither legal nor moral authority to impose it on provinces which dissent. Their claim to have this authority is an attempt to introduce a new authoritarianism.
  • The controversy about homosexuality can only be resolved by open, free debate about the ethics of homosexuality. These papers, instead of engaging in that debate, seek to suppress it.
  • A great deal of scholarly literature has recently argued for a revision of the traditional Christian disapproval of homosexuality. These papers deny knowledge of it, thus implying that their position is uninformed.
  • Both papers appeal to an idealising theory of the church in order to argue that it cannot ordain homosexuals or perform same-sex blessings. These theories neither describe what is happening in practice nor express characteristically Anglican views of the church.
  • Both papers deny that they seek to centralise power in international Anglican institutions, while at the same time proposing innovations designed to have exactly this effect.
  • Both papers look forward to an Anglican Covenant which would create a two-tier Anglicanism, such that only those committed to condemning homosexuality would have representative functions or be consulted on Communion-wide matters.
The question of the Covenant is a very complex and difficult one. But what is most impressive about the MCU reply is its recognition that the question of sexuality are theological ones and can only be solved by theological work. A legal or constitutional response to a theological question will not answer the question. Most likely it will stop the question being asked.

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