Thursday 2 December 2010

What will the pattern of the Anglican Communion look like in 10 years time?

The Anglican Communion is being reconfigured at the moment. We who campaign for the full inclusion of LGBT people fear that in 10 years time we might find ourselves marginalised and excluded.

The narrative of those conservative Anglican bodies and individuals opposed to the full inclusion of LGBT people claim that it is the Episcopal Church that has ‘walked apart’. In practice, the groups that have walked apart and distanced themselves from the Anglican Communion are those which have failed to participate in the Councils of the Church – the Lambeth Conference, Primates Meeting and Anglican Consultative Council. There is a growing and, to me, bewildering array of these bodies and alliances – ACNA, Global South, GAFCON, FCA, ACI, CANA, AMiA, etc. These are also the groups which refuse to act on the parts of Lambeth 1.10 and the Windsor Report which advocate listening to and the pastoral care of LGBT people. The multiplicity of groups also shows dramatically that those who edge towards schism are unable to agree an alternative identity or strategy between themselves.

Strategies for dealing with the dynamic
People in favour of full inclusion advocate a range of strategies that might be adopted in response to this dynamic. Many ideas are posted in the comments on Thinking Anglicans. Let’s take a look at some of them:

• Form a new diocese of the Episcopal Church in England. This would need to create local churches where the pro-inclusion people could worship with the like-minded. I can’t see it happening and it isn’t what I want. Devizes already has 3 Anglican churches, one evangelical, one opposed to the ordination of women, one striving to be open and fully-inclusive. I want to be worshipping in a Church of England parish church that is properly Anglican in ethos – that’s the challenge, a challenge that my Rector is totally committed to engage with, as are the majority of the congregation.
• Create our own, alternative ‘liberal’ Anglican Communion, parallel with the conservative bodies. If the Church of England is a part of a liberal realignment, then the campaign for full inclusion will have been successful. If the Church of England is not a part of this new alignment, then it will be yet another schismatic Anglican Church and at the moment, that is most certainly not what Changing Attitude is campaigning for.
• Encourage TEC to withdraw from the Instruments of Communion and continue with its own polity in – isolation? That would be to throw another bone to the conservative forces (as +Rowan has repeatedly done, which may or may not turn out to have been a good strategy). The lesson is that the bones never satisfy them, of course. They will continue to scheme and chew away at any liberal, inclusive presence in the Church wherever they find it, CofE or Canada, Australia or South Africa, until they (in their fantasy) have destroyed everything which is against their reading of the Word of God.
• Campaign for a vote against the Anglican Covenant by the Church of England. For this to be effective, practical action must be taken now to canvass, lobby and persuade members of every diocesan synod to vote against when it is tabled for debate to ensure that a majority of dioceses vote NO before it returns to General Synod.
• With GAFCON withdrawing from the Primates Meeting and many Provinces not having attended the last Lambeth Conference, why shouldn’t those Provinces remaining fully committed to the Communion, including the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of England, sign the Covenant and work with the other Provinces who sign to reconfigure it to reflect Anglican polity more properly, deleting Section 4 entirely. Such a strategy is uncertain of success and is very unlikely to happen.
• Other individuals have moved out of the Church of England, either abandoning the Church entirely or their membership of a local congregation or moving into a different denomination – the Unitarian Church in the case of Adrian Worsfold, the Metropolitan Community Church for some LGBT Anglicans. Yet others continue to worship both in their parish church and with another congregation where they find a more open ethos and/or a deeper spirituality.

In 20 years time?
The outcome I fear most is that the mainstream denominations will have successfully opposed the full inclusion of LGBT people in 20 years time, and will have moved in the opposite direction, barely tolerating us, excluding us from ministry at every level and treating us as ‘intrinsically disordered’. Those LGBT people living in societies which have legislated for equality will by then, if they have any sense of self-worth, abandoned the Church.

A less extreme outcome would see a fragmentation of denominations, schisms and realignments into churches with either a conservative, reactionary ethos or a radical, inclusive ethos. This may well turn out to be the least-worst and only practicable outcome.

There is a third possibility. The global community is slowly, painfully slowly, being educated into knowing that LGBT people are present in every culture and every community. This largely secular movement will impact on faith communities everywhere, destabilizing their ability to deny the real presence of LGBT people WITHIN their own communities. Other signs give hope for a third possible outcome. The attitudes of the Primates who are announcing unilaterally the policy of their Provinces do not consult their bishops and priests and do not represent the views of their people. It’s impossible to know what their people really think because deference to those in authority inhibits their ability to think and speak freely - just ask Michael Kimindu in Kenya or Bishop Ssenyonjo in Uganda. Global South Provinces in the next 10 to 20 years may well change as the culture changes around them and this generation of leaders retires and lose influence.

One comment on Thinking Anglicans describes GAFCON as having no shame, capable of doing anything to further their ends, failing to stay true even to their own principles - demanding orthodoxy yet violating church order, lacking of integrity, plotting and planning, characterized by machinations.

Strategies for achieving change
How can those of us who are faithful to God and the Spirit and to the ethos of the Anglican Communion counter the conservative movement whilst maintaining our own ethos and without adopting their ruthless, unscrupulous tactics? I think the challenge is almost impossible, were it not for my faith that conservative, reactionary forces do not have unique access to the flow of God’s creative presence in the world and from my perspective, are actively working against the flow of the Spirit.

Changing Attitude is totally committed to full inclusion of all the baptized, including all LGBT people, in every Province of the Anglican Communion, and to the Anglican ethos of scripture, tradition and reason. We have demonstrated our commitment by being the only pro-inclusion group to have been present at the Lambeth Conferences in 1998 and 2008, every meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council since Nottingham in 2005 and Primates meetings since Dar Es Salaam in 2007.

The strategy of pro-inclusion groups has to be to oppose the Covenant if there is any possibility that it will be used to inhibit progress towards overturning Christian prejudice against LGBT people. Our strategy also has to be positive, committed to building relationships with bishops and Primates across Provincial boundaries and with the Instruments of Communion, being present and not abandoning territory to conservatives, working out what practical action we can take which will make a real difference to the outcome. I’m not an idealistic dreamer (well, not only). I am also always looking for the practical strategies that are going to affect outcomes favourably for us.

Say No to the Covenant has to be more than an internet campaign. Say yes to LGBT people has to be more than saying no to the Covenant or strategising for our own schismatic body. And however we campaign, we have to do it in a more Christian, Bible-centred, holy way than those who wish to suppress us.

Colin Coward

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you Colin. Prayer and support come from this tiny cell of dissent formed by inconditional Love and therefore incapapble fo exclusion. Una