Saturday, June 28, 2008

By Schisms Rent Asunder

There’s schism in the air.

A lovely word, that. Schism. Makes you think of armies of angry men wearing helmets and carrying pikes while battling against each other back and forth across the countryside for the sake of their Christian faith.

Only this one is happening in the 21st century, not the 16th. The battle is a bitter one, even if it is bloodless this time around.

On Monday, according to the Times Online, the Anglican Church will divide into two separate bodies. The issue is a doctrinal dispute that pits conservative and mostly third-world bishops against their liberal counterparts in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain:

The shield of the ECUSAThe Anglican Communion will be split tomorrow [Monday] when conservatives representing more than half its total membership will announce the formation of a new orthodox body to be a stronghold against liberal views. It will be schism in all but name.

The new global Anglican fellowship will act within the legal boundaries of provinces such the Church of England that make up the existing Communion but, in North America, it will declare its independence from the ultra-liberal Episcopal Church and from the Anglican church in Canada.

A slight quibble here: the Episcopal Church, on average, is ultra-liberal, but a significant portion of it is still traditional and devoted to an authentic Christian liturgy. Some of the dissent is geographically concentrated, so that whole dioceses in various parts of the country are likely to jump ship and join the rebels.

The fellowship represents a direct challenge to the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Primate of the US Episcopal Church, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Millions of Anglicans and entire provinces in the Global South — an Anglican grouping of 20 provinces that embraces India, Africa, the West Indies and the Middle East — want nothing more to do with their former colonial masters who have adopted a theology that they find too liberal.

The new fellowship represents the most severe blow to Church unity in the West since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.

The big difference between the earlier schism and the current one lies in the market share of Christianity that can be claimed by the Anglican Church. In the United States and Canada, Anglicans represent only a tiny slice of the population, and an effete metrosexual one at that.

The crisis in the 16th century tore the social fabric of England apart. Up until that point, the Church of Rome was the only game in town, and the results of the schism were written in fire and blood and slaughter for generations afterwards.

This time the general public can hardly be expected even to notice the Great Schism. If it weren’t for the phrase “homosexual bishop”, the story would gain no attention whatsoever.
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It will shake up the structures of the Anglican Communion and could force it, in order to survive, to become a federation of provinces — a model that has been fiercely resisted by Dr Williams who is staking his archiepiscopacy on retaining unity under the present worldwide Communion of 38 provinces with him as “primus inter pares”, or first among equals of the primates of each province.

Archbishops and bishops, mainly from the Global South provinces of Africa and Asia, have been meeting in Jerusalem to draw up plans to deal with an unrepentant liberal wing of the Anglican Communion. Jerusalem was chosen for the founding of the new Anglicanism as a place that represents a Christianity older than that of Canterbury.

One province, Nigeria, has already deleted all reference to Canterbury from its constitution.

The 300 bishops and archbishops in Jerusalem, of whom more than 100 are boycotting the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury in July, claim that they do not want to form a separate church and have no plans to “walk away” from the 80 million-strong Anglican Communion.

Instead, they insist that it is the liberals in the churches of the West who have broken unity by walking away from Biblical truths and the teachings of orthodox Christianity.

Legal structures in provinces such as England, where the Queen is Supreme Governor of the Church, and in Australia, make schism practically impossible. Any parish that chose to leave would sacrifice property and recognition.

So instead fellowship policy is to reform from within, and to attempt a take-over of the Church by evangelicals working inside existing structures.

Evangelical Anglicans! Until very recently I considered this phrase to be an oxymoron, but Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali has changed my mind.

Significantly, the new fellowship will include many churches that have split from the Anglican Communion in the past over earlier doctrinal disputes.

Those meeting at the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem include bishops from the Church of England in South Africa and the Reformed Episcopal Church in the US. It also includes bishops such as Martyn Minns and David Anderson, consecrated by the Church in Nigeria to serve conservative US parishes but not invited to the Lambeth Conference by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Ironically, this means that the new fellowship will enhance unity by bringing back into the fold many of those who have left or, as they would see it, been forced out.

Liberal parishes that have embraced the “no-bodily-resurrection and no-Virgin-birth” theology of the late 20th century are failing, while evangelical, Bible-based churches such Holy Trinity Brompton, St Helen’s Bishopsgate and All Souls in Langham Place in London are bursting at the seams. For years they have been engaged in “church planting” — founding new outposts of conservative orthodoxy in the heart of dying liberal parishes. The programme is likely to be stepped up under the new fellowship.

More than 600 Church of England clergy representing almost as many parishes are expected to swear allegiance to the new body when they meet on Tuesday at All Souls, Langham Place, which is regarded as Britain’s evangelical flagship.

The fellowship was given a boost in North America on Friday when a judge ruled that a group of 11 parishes in Virginia could keep their property after breaking away from the Episcopal Church. Lawyers from the Episcopal Church will appeal, but the case is being watched closely by dozens of other parishes and at least three dioceses that also plan to break away.

I’ll have more to say about the Virginia parishes later on. They are in the diocese to the north of us, which includes Northern Virginia, i.e. the Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy. Our diocese, Southern Virginia, is bad enough, but the Diocese of Virginia is one of most liberal bastions of the Episcopal Church. To have secessionist parishes within it tears at the very heart of the denomination.

The trigger for the new movement was the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop, the Right Rev Gene Robinson, in New Hampshire and the authorisation of same-sex blessings in the New Westminster diocese in Canada.

But to the conservatives, these events were merely the logical conclusion to years of movement away from the Christianity of the Early Church Fathers — the writers and teachers in the first five centuries of Christianity — the Anglicanism of the Reformation and the enthusiasm of the 19th century revivals of Anglo-Catholicism and evangelicalism.

The prime movers in the new fellowship are the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Orombi, the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen and the Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Rev Benjamin Nzimbi, who led the committee drawing up the final communiqué in Jerusalem.

Bishop Gregory Venables has also played a leading role. His Southern Cone diocese encompasses six countries in South America and he has already taken one US diocese, San Joaquin, in California, into his province and is in negotiations with Pittsburgh and Forth Worth. Significantly, Bishop Venables is a close friend of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is understood to regard the Jerusalem proceedings with equanimity. Unlike many of the bishops at the Jerusalem conference, Bishop Venables will be at the Lambeth Conference.

Dr Jensen and Archbishop Orombi will be among the new fellowship’s leaders at the All Souls meeting in London on Tuesday to recruit England’s conservatives.

Dr Jensen said: “American revisionists committed an extraordinary strategic blunder in 2003. They did not think that there would be any consequences.

“Now if they did not believe that there would be consequences, that is an arrogant thing, I have to say. But I don’t know them, so I really cannot say. The consequences have been unfolding over the last five years. Now their church is divided; it looks as though there will be permanent division, one way or the other.

“All around the world the sleeping giant that is evangelical Anglicanism and orthodox Anglicanism has been aroused by what happened in Canada and the United States of America. It was an act of folly.”

The fellowship will draw up its own Book of Common Prayer, devoid of what it sees as the liturgical inanities embraced by many modern Anglican service books. Instead it will be loyal to the original formularies outlined by Thomas Cranmer, the 16th-century Archbishop of Canterbury and incorporated into the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

The fellowship will also decree an orthodox approach to reading the Bible and will draw up a universal catechism, a feature central to Roman Catholicism but lacking from modern Anglicanism.

These are marvelous events, ones that ten years ago would have seemed impossible. Three cheers for the post-colonial bishops, and the provinces of Africa, Asia, and South America!

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The big struggle in the current schism is over property, at least on the liberal side of the argument. The progressive portions of the Anglican Communion may not have the numbers, but they certainly have the money, and the Presiding Bishop in the United States took the issue of the secessionist parishes to court.

A lot of capital is tied up in the property and endowments of the dissident parishes, and there was no way the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori was going to let those plum parishes get away without a fight.

I’ve always been told that parish property reverts to the diocese when a congregation decides to seek a divorce. The disaffected church can leave, but only if the plant and the bank accounts stay behind.

But that was an ecclesiastical ruling, and hadn’t been tested in a secular court. The Most Rev. Dr. Schori decided to roll the litigation dice and put the issue to the test in the courts of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Unfortunately for her and the liberal rump of the church, the judge ruled against the ECUSA.

According to today’s Fairfax County Times:

On Friday, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia received another blow in its fight to retrieve eight properties from 11 congregations that recently left the church.

In early 2007, the 11 breakaway churches affiliated themselves with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a conservative missionary branch of the Church of Nigeria and other Anglican archbishops.

The breakaway was precipitated in 2003 when the Episcopal Church, which is the American branch of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, voted-in an openly gay bishop, Eugene Robinson, in New Hampshire.

[…]

In January 2007, two of Fairfax County’s oldest Episcopal churches, the Falls Church and Truro Church, made headlines by leading a secession of 11 parishes from the Episcopal Church, including the Church of the Epiphany in Oak Hill.

The group joined CANA, led by controversial Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, who has openly called for outlawing same-sex relationships in his own country.

The value of the eight properties in question is estimated at about $40 million. Both sides have already spent more than $2 million each in litigation costs.

As you can see, this conflict is not about trivial doctrinal differences like predestination or the transmigration of souls. This is about a truly serious issue, namely forty million bucks.

At the center of the litigation is the controversial Civil-War-era Virginia “Division Statute.” The statute (Va. Code § 57-9), provides that when a religious denomination or diocese experiences a “division,” member congregations may determine by majority vote which branch of the divided body they wish to join.

It also states that this determination governs the ownership of property held in trust for the congregation.

This past April, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows ruled that the congregations, which now comprise the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV), properly invoked the division statute, stating that church majorities are entitled to church property when there is a division within their denomination.

This past Friday, Bellows threw another bone to the breakaway churches, ruling the statute as constitutional.

The reporter let slip with a little editorial opinion there, didn’t he?

“Specifically, this court finds that the statute, as applied in the instant case, does not violate the Free Exercise or Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment, nor does it violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, nor does it violate the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment,” Bellows wrote in the conclusion of his 49-page ruling.

“Today’s ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Division Statute in Virginia is regrettable and reaches beyond the Episcopal Church to all hierarchical churches in the Commonwealth,” the Virginia Diocese said on its Web site on Friday. “We continue to believe that this Division Statute is clearly at odds with and uniquely hostile to religious freedom, the First Amendment and prior U.S. and Virginia Supreme Court rulings. We are unwavering in these beliefs and will explore fully every option available to restore constitutional and legal protections for all churches in Virginia.”

Actually, what the ruling is clearly at odds with and uniquely hostile to is the prospect of the Diocese of Virginia getting to keep the $40 million. Two million down the drain, and nothing to show for it.

The rump church is planning an appeal. Its pockets have historically been deep, so this may go on for a long time.

But the long-range prospects for the reactionarily liberal portion of the church are not good. Its congregants are failing to breed, and its watered-down politically correct theology appeals to very few believers. The ECUSA, at least in its current form, is a spent scene.

When the money runs out, what will be left?

At least the African bishops have the loaves and the fishes.


Note: The Times Online article linked and quoted above (by Ruth Gledhill, the Religion Correspondent) was altered several hours after I first accessed and copied the text. I’m including the earlier version here because it is longer and has more comprehensive information. The linked article is unfortunately now quite different, and there is no cached version available on Google.

Hat tip: K.

23 comments:

Zenster said...

The fellowship represents a direct challenge to the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Primate of the US Episcopal Church, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Boy howdy! I'll bet nobody saw this coming. The shattering of an entire church. What a splendid albatross to be hung about the neck of Rowan Williams. This race traitor deserves a much more substantial hempen necklace than any seabird was ever strung from.

Kirk Parker said...

"Race traitor"????

Dude, have you noticed the racial composition of the new, conservative body and its leadership? What the Archbishop of Canterbury betrayed was Historical Christianity, not some or other "race".

Zenster said...

Yes, "race traitor". Rowan Williams is a traitor to the entire British race. The Anglican church, no matter how global, is also the Church of England and NOWHERE has this scumbag Williams done more harm than within the boundaries of his own country. That makes him a race traitor in my book any day of the week.

Rest assured that Williams also betrays Anglican flocks everywhere to their Islamic foe but the damage being done in England, the church's veritable seat of power, demonstrates a most vile willingness to rot this institution at its very core.

The British people deserve far better.

Homophobic Horse said...

We need a Michael Nazir Ali, he is so holy he makes even gaily coloured 16th century costumes look good.

"want nothing more to do with their former colonial masters who have adopted a theology that they find too liberal."

I read that article. It turns out that the post-colonial bishops don't want to follow that washed out liberal theology of blankness that demands their self-abnegation and destruction... Sound familiar?

Tregonsee said...

>>But that was an ecclesiastical ruling, and hadn’t been tested in a secular court.<< A glaring error in an otherwise excellent article. In fact, the "Dennis Canon" has been tested many times in many states, and prior to the recent VA ruling the rulings were going 3:1 or better against the parish keeping their property. The few exceptions were parishes so old they pre-date the Episcopal Church, and states which have division laws. CA has one, very clear as to law and precident, but a state appeals court overturned that in the case of a former Episcopal church, and it is going to the state supreme court.

Baron Bodissey said...

Tregonsee --

I accept your correction, but have any of those rulings ever been issued in Virginia?

My impression when I was active in the diocese -- and that was nearly 10 years ago -- was that there hadn't been any court tests here. The priests who told me that church property reverted to the diocese never actually cited any precedent.

If there had been previous cases, they were not well-known. On the other hand, it's also true that I don't hang out in legal circles, so maybe I just don't hear about such things.

spackle said...

I find the fact that Bishops from the third world are now missionaries to Western heathens absolutely delicious.

IoshkaFutz said...

Dissatisfied? Start a new Christianoid church... 30,000 and counting. I hope they caught the precise moment of "schism" (such a big word for "squabble")with an electron microscope.

The head of the Anglican Church, just bought her local MacDonald's outlet, Now that to me smacks more of sacrilege. After the Lambeth decisions and later additions (Divorce, artificial contraception, abortion and soon, rest assured, death-with-dignity euthanasia), well this Holy National Church spawned by Uxorcide and spread by Empire was - well - what was it that Chesterton said?

On the one side you have a marble statue and on the other an ice statue in all ways identical, practically indistinguishable... except - in time - rather mercilessly dependent on the weather.

There will always be an Ireland!

turn said...

Spackle-

Maybe that's because the Ugandans, Nigerians, Indians, etc., embraced their faith from a dynamic missionary system where they could directly experience pastoral work where it could make the difference between life and death.

We're so civilized here that the church is watered down and distracted by social issues.

I'm working my way through C.S. Lewis's MERE CHRISTIANITY, an amazing series of radio essays he read on the Beeb just three generations ago.

Felicie said...

No resurrection of the body and no Virgin birth? Wow. Do they no longer recite the Apostles' Creed:

"I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary...
... The third day He arose again from the dead..."

Has it gone so far? Why bother being religious at all if all transcendence has been flushed out of the church doctrine?

Felicie said...

On a slightly different, but not unrelated note, I just came home from a confirmation ceremony in the church (Lutheran). The two officiating priests, a man and a woman, were husband and wife, I was told. They fell in love and divorced their spouses in order to be together. I would have thought that a priest would rule out a divorce for himself. What kind of a message does it send to a congregation?

IoshkaFutz said...

Ciao Felicie,

"..........Has it gone so far? Why bother being religious at all if all transcendence has been flushed out of the church doctrine?........"

That is a million dollar question. Nothing sacred, nothing really worth defending. So we make an oath before God to stick it out through thick and thin... and very reasonable reasons are given why Mary's life with Bob is hell and why she deserves her own life. Very reasonable (today even rising to the level of self-evident(. The result? 75% divorce rates for "Mental Cruelty"... and the discovery that we are all cruel and cruelest of all are children (whom we can't simply divorce).

And then a beautiful thing such as a human life, becomes a "zygote" and deliciously funny comedians like George Carlin ask the perfectly logical questions: "Here's another question I have: "How come when it's us it's an abortion and when it's a chicken it's an omelet?" - "It it's so sacred, how come miscarriages don't get funerals?"

I mean, come on "get real" right?

Take out the stubborn sacramentalism, the sacerdotalism, the mystery... and it all becomes a riot. And indeed one wonders: "Why bother? Why cling to these funny institutions that require you to make a vow that can collapse at the first mental cruelty?

What kind of message does it send out to the congregation? Ha! That congregation was once all of Europe. The message is the NIKE slogan: "Just do it!" - and then the very good and rational and funny and hip reasons can be provided.

Jewel said...

I have seen this phenomenon from the late 1980s. I saw a sluggish mild and casual interest from the American church, evangelical, in this case, in the phenomenon of African missionaries coming to the US because of the apostasy within the church. As for losing the properties....lay not up for yourselves, brothers and sisters. There are a lot of empty churches, but houses full of worshippers. Consider it all joy!

Joanne said...

The Anglican Church does not uphold the Word of God; therefore, it is no longer a Church of God. Many people have fallen away from the Anglican Church - many who had been members for over half a century. I do not accept blatant false teachings of a church and neither should anyone else. Many Anglican Churches may go the way of the dodo bird, but this doesn't mean Christians have followed their lead; they have just chosen to no longer be a party to it and have chosen to follow God's teachings and not those of man.

Qualis Rex said...

Anglicanism is a theological joke. It attempts to bring adherents of catholicism, Calvinism, Pentecostalism, druidism etc all under one happy roof. But then, what else could one expect of a sect which sprang from the cod-piece of an obese, murdering, whoring, syphilitic tyrant?

RIP

Paul said...

I've got to agree with Joanne above. The $40mm is an empty shell compared with the content of the authentic Christian church.

I'm pleased the local churches have prevailed so far and are retaining their local assets. However, even if they did not, what they keep is of far greater value than a collection of buildings and plots of ground.

What liberal Episcopaleans and Anglicans miss is that the church is a living house, with the Spirit of God --- the Spirit of Christ living in the midst of authentic Christians. (He lives in the midst of his people, rather that in the midst of his buildings.) The fact that God lives and is most involved in this world, as he has always been, is the rub. Nothing has changed. Certainly God hasn't. But we as nations and societies certainly have.

The Church is not a cool social club for theologically enraptured liberals. So there is a knowledge gap. Modern thinking promotes relativism. Scripture teaches absolute truth based on who God is. Those who know their God can tell which is real; dodgy modern relativism or God's Spirit.

I'd say the Episocopal leaders from Africa and Asia, apparently, know something European and American ecclesiastical bosses know nothing about.

JacksonvillePat said...

Many left the Liberal Episcopal Church years ago because the Episcopal Church was drifting from the fundamental doctrines of Anglican Faith.

Many, of the latest group abandoning the failing Episcopal Church, seem primarily concerned about the church embracing homosexuality. However, there are other Carnal Sins that today’s Episcopal Church is willing to accept. Likewise, there are many other articles of faith abandoned by today's Episcopal Church.

The 1977 Affirmation of St. Lewis was the statement of principles to guide in the establishment of a new Anglican jurisdiction.


http://www.anglicancatholic.org/affirmstlouis.html

Dymphna said...

Jacksonville Pat --

If you're still in Jax, how is St. Peter's Episcopal Church doing? That was a lively church back in the '80's (I think) and did a lot of ecumenical work...

The Poster Formerly Known as Gordon said...

This isn't just about gay bishops. The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin in Central California also refuses to accept women in the priesthood.

Misogyny and homophobia may be the way to build a church in Africa, or among Christianist denominations in the U.S. But it doesn't work with most Episcopals.

JacksonvillePat said...

Dymphna

Although I have never visited St. Peter's Episcopal Church, I do have a sense that it has been a lively church.

When I transferred to Jacksonville in 2000, my family became members of Grace Episcopal Church; we met several former members of St. Peter's Church who were members of a large group that left after an event that was rarely discussed.

Within a few years Grace Episcopal Church experienced a profound schismatic event that drove most parishioners into a high school when the Dioceses ceased the Church's Property. This seems to be a pattern with many of the most active Episcopal Churches throughout North East Florida.

Dymphna said...

jaxpat--

I was born and raised in Jax as a Catholic. 12 years of schooling, which culminated in the long trip from Riverside to Bishop Kenny...

Going back there decades later to help my mother, I was married to a Va Episcopalian. On one visit, he went to Grace of a Sunday. Liked it very much.

I remember passing that church as a little kid and thinking it very different from the multitudinous Baptist churches I was used to...it seemed so, well maybe "solid" is the word.

No doubt some of the more conservative Episcopalians have moved over to Catholicism by now??

When I was a kid, Jacksonville was a cultural black hole, but it did have vibrant churches. Then the local wealth attained some kind of critical mass and JU sprang up, along with a symphony, etc.

It still seems to remain one of the most segregated cities in the US, though. That's surprising for the south.

You say you "transferred" to Jax ... so are you military or insurance? My guess, because you go to church, is military. Someone should do a social-cultural history on the effect of the military on that town.

JacksonvillePat said...

Dymphna

Most of the Conservatives from Grace Episcopalian stayed together and celebrated Sunday Services at the Orange Park High School. The congregation managed to buy land on Rout 17 (near the old Tyson Chicken Processing Plant). The new Church is almost finished and it looks very similar, but much larger, than the church they left.

I was spared most of this painful breakup after I was sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina were I served for 3 years as a Navy Medical Officer for the 2nd Marine Division.

During my time with the Marine Corps, I was influenced by three, former Baptist, Anglican-Catholic Navy Chaplains,; and a Pious X Society, Roman Catholic Psychiatrist. I soon found myself attending mass at the Anglican Catholic Church in New Bern, North Carolina.

After returning to Jacksonville, Florida, I realized that the church which I had left was an Anglican Protestant Church and that I had become a catholic. I finally was able to find a Continuing Anglican Church in Orange Park and even convinced my family to come with me. I generally see new members come to the Anglican Catholic Church alone or as couples.

I have heard many comments about Jacksonville being a segregated city, which seems odd because there seems to be much more tolerance in Jacksonville than in some of the Northern Cities where I have lived and visited.

Dymphna said...

You mention many places that resonate so deeply with me...

In Orange Park, I spent my summers at St. Mary's Home summer place on the St. John's. It doesn't exist anymore.

I don't know much of the history of the place and I need to find out as the chapel on the property (it's now a community theatre) figures in many of my dreams. There was a persimmon tree by one of the windows...the fruit though, would never ripen in time before we went back to the city to start school. Often, rather than paying attention to the Mass, I would watch the birds nesting in that tree.

My two oldest children were born in Cherry Point. We attended Mass in Havelock, and I recall distinctly a black priest named Jerry Lewis (of all things) visiting there. Some people refused to take communion from him, but not the military contingent, I'm happy to say.

New Bern was really the only "civilized" place to go out to eat as I recall.

Yes, Jacksonville is more tolerant than many northern cities, but less so than many southern cities. It's kind of an anomaly.

You can drive way out Duval St and see what I mean.

I found a wiki on Jacksonville. It mentions a few things you might not know...like the town being named Cowford originally. And it gives some history on the race hatred...I remember being called "nigger lover" just for suggesting that what the Gospels said applied equally to black people.

Hard to think of Orange Park as part of Jax. I remember when past Ortega, or maybe the base, it was "Here be Monsters."

A friend of my mother's was the CO at Cecil Field at one time -- our links with the Navy were long and deep. Hard to escape them in Jacksonville!