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The English General Synod: The Centre Cannot Hold - Charles Raven

The English General Synod: The Centre Cannot Hold

by Charles Raven
February 9, 2010

If Lorna Ashworth's Private Members Motion 'That this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America' is passed by the Church of England's General Synod tomorrow, she will have done a great service to English Anglicans as well as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) because it is as much about the English Church as the Church in North America.

She poses precisely the sort of question that the Church of England's leadership wants to avoid because the ACNA represents a choice which must be made between two incompatible forms of religion - historic biblical Anglicanism and that pseudo- Anglicanism being promoted by TEC and its allies which derives its energy from the spirit of the age rather than the Spirit of Christ.

Unsurprisingly, the English House of Bishops has proposed an amendment, to be put by the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Rev Mike Hill, which will dilute and delay the original motion by asking Synod to recognise and affirm the desire of ACNA to remain in the Communion with the Archbishops being invited to report back to the Synod in 2011. While such prevarication is no doubt not his intention, according to the , Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Rev Michael Scott-Joynt the Bishop of Bristol's amendment is simply a recognition of the church constitutional reality that 'it is not in fact the role of the Church of England to make these kind of decisions, nor is it for Synod to make these kind of decisions'.

But in that case something pretty odd is happening - the Church of England through its Synod has considered itself perfectly competent to change fundamentally the Church's historic orders by assenting to the ordination of women to the presbyterate in 1992 and then proposing not only their consecration to the episcopate in 2007, but also attempting to force conscience by making no legal provision for those who cannot as a matter of principle accept the validity of female orders. Now the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, as chair of the legislative Steering Committee, has confirmed to Synod that any such provision has been ruled out. And yet it is held that a Synod which can introduce such drastic changes is not competent to express a view on what should be the much less controversial question of the recognising unquestionably orthodox Anglicans in North America who are being systematically harassed by official Anglican Churches with a increasingly implausible claim to orthodoxy.

Such inconsistency is characteristic of the Anglo -Saxon pragmatism which has reached its most highly developed and intentional form in the Lambeth inspired Anglican Covenant. This illusory middle way uses the language of orthodoxy to serve the interests of the increasingly apostate by postponing any closure to the far distant future. The resignation of the Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East from the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) on January 30th illustrates the point. Dr Mouneer Anis has been one of the Global South Primates most committed to the Windsor Covenant process, but now loyalty to the gospel has brought his loyalty to Lambeth to breaking point.

In his resignation letter of 30th January he described how he had been increasingly marginalised from Communion decision making and concluded 'my voice is like a useless cry in the wilderness' and warned that the Anglican Communion Office could not retain the confidence of the Communion if it continued to be 'an office in the UK that tries to run the Communion in its own Western way'.

This sense of unfairness caused by the abuse of ecclesiastical institutions is well illustrated by the background material to Lorna Ashworth's motion which details systematic bullying of faithful clergy and laity through the courts in both TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, claiming that 'An estimated $30 million has been spent on property litigation, and 491 clergy inhibited or deposed across the spectrum of church traditions' to Lorna Ashworth's motion which details systematic bullying of faithful clergy and laity through the courts in both TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, claiming that 'An estimated $30 million has been spent on property litigation, and 491 clergy inhibited or deposed across the spectrum of church traditions'

TEC has clearly been rattled, but an attempt to discredit Mrs Ashworth's evidence has been systematically rebutted by Rev Philip Ashey, Chief Operating Officer of the American Anglican Council as 'a willful and reckless indifference to the facts'. Tempting as it may be to collude with such evasion, the shameful treatment of Anglo-Catholics by the Church of England, as confirmed this week, is a warning to all orthodox English Anglicans that the ruthlessness of the liberal ascendancy in North America could cross the Atlantic. In those circumstances, it becomes all the more important to establish that being an authentic Anglican is confessional and does not necessarily turn on recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the increasingly discredited Anglican Communion Council (ACC). So recognition of the ACNA can be seen as not simply about support for fellow Anglicans in North America, but a mutual solidarity around a new confessional identity to which the ACNA bears witness.

This clarity is important because an illusory middle simply encourages more illusion. Hence, in response to this week's general Synod, TEC's Public Affairs Officer has produced a list of 'talking points' a briefing for its bishops designed to disarm critics. It is claimed that 'The Episcopal Church laity and clergy believe the Christian faith as stated in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. We call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible. We look to the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the understanding of the Scriptures'. Yet TEC is notorious for its syncretism.

For instance, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori reduced the Trinity simply to one particular human insight amongst others when she told Time Magazine in 2006 that 'We who practice the Christian tradition understand him [Jesus] as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.

Moreover, TEC claims that it is guided by the Holy Spirit in its interpretation of Scripture, yet promotes an understanding of homosexuality which overthrows the teaching of Scripture as affirmed by the 1998 Lambeth Conference and has led to profound rupture in the Communion (see also Virtue Online 'Presiding Bishop Spins 'Talking Points' in Order to Derail Upcoming Synod Motion').http://tinyurl.com/ybov84a

The reality is that the Lambeth centre cannot hold. The English Press is now talking about a 'mass exodus' of conservatives and it is very difficult to see how principled Anglo Catholics or Conservative Evangelicals can have a future in a Church of England with women bishops. And the resignation of Dr Mouneer Anis, following repeated failures to discipline TEC since the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003, is just one more piece of evidence that neither can the traditional centre hold the wider Anglican Communion together.

Liberals may be inclined to congratulate themselves on a strategy that seems very likely to consolidate their dominance of the Church of England, but the centre they are set to occupy is a centre that cannot hold. If Lorna Ashworth's motion succeeds tomorrow, it will not only encourage the ACNA, but also be a significant step towards English Anglicans' awareness of a new identity to be found in a genuinely global and confessionally centred Communion.


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