Wednesday, July 02, 2008

All or Nothing

From Theo Hobson (note that he refers to the Gafconites as "Focas," a name attributed to this group by Andrew Brown) :

...So is this the long-awaited split in the Anglican Communion? Wrong question. In fact, wrong paradigm. The conservative Evangelicals of Foca have no desire to form a breakaway church. Their desire is to take over the Anglican Communion, and you don't achieve that by walking away.

And they look like succeeding. For the last five years they have been gathering force. They successfully pressured the once-liberal Archbishop of Canterbury into enforcing a ban on gay ordination. He got off the fence, onto their side. He agreed to give Gene Robinson, the gay bishop of New Hampshire, the cold shoulder (he didn't invite him to the Lambeth conference)...
It might look like they are succeeding. We can thank many of the press for that. But six gaffe-prone Primates and a bunch of disgruntled Westerners are going to replace Canterbury and the Instruments of Communion? Not likely.

Anyone thoughtful enough to read past the headlines can see that the pronouncements from the Gafconites contain much flury and bluster, but little truth. From the Bishop of Southwark:

...It is maintained that there is a North/South division. This is nonsense. The African primates attending Gafcon came from a narrow tropical belt. The majority of African primates were not there and the language of the manifesto would be anathema to other influential African church figures such as Desmond Tutu. Reading the manifesto, you would form the impression that the other Anglicans had moved away from the core beliefs of the Church, grounded in scripture. This, too, is nonsense.

What the Gafcon group seems unable to understand is that it is possible to take scripture seriously but not, in the 21st century, to interpret it precisely the same way as previous generations. Thoughtful holiness has been the hallmark of Anglicanism and we don't leave our brains, our newspapers or our prayers behind when we open our bibles.

Reading the manifesto, you would think that western Anglicans have capitulated totally to their culture. This, again, is nonsense. We are trying to relate the Christian gospel with its grace and challenge to the culture in which we are set. At an earlier Lambeth conference, when polygamy was a divisive issue, the conclusion was that we would trust the African bishops to tackle the issue in their own way, for they were best placed to do so. The cultures of east coast America or south London are not the same as in Nigeria. The Gafcon leaders should have the humility to trust church leaders ministering in very different environments to their own to know what they are doing...
If anyone looks closely, the real nature of this rebel group becomes quite clear. For instance, at a recent meeting in London, at which the Gafconites attempted to recruit new blood for their cause, three protester were forcibly removed from the gathering. One can imagine that the bouncers, who of course could not resist throwing a few punches as they performed their duties, were wearing brown shirts. I doubt if most Anglicans are going to find anything attractive in such behavior.

The Gafconites represent a desperate last gasp of a dying world view. It is difficult to find anyone under the age of forty who have any interest in their peculiar reading of scripture or the tradition, which they then use to justify bigotry in the name of God.

This is much ado about nothing, it seems to me. Fifty years from now, our descendents will look back on all of this and shake their heads in disbelief. The debate about women and gays as equals to everyone else in the kingdom of God will be a footnote along with earlier debates about racial equality.

This current debate is drawing to a close, it seems to me. Thanks be to God. I find little energy left to continue it. It is past time that we cease our inward focus. Our audience should be those outside the walls of the Church, who could care less about these debates. We've allowed ourselves to be distracted for too long. And our witness to the world has suffered as a result.

For me, at least, it is time to move on.

My thanks to Thinking Anglicans for pointing to these news reports.


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