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Editorial: The great fudge at Canterbury

Published:Sunday | January 17, 2016 | 1:00 AM

What the Anglicans accomplished last week was a fudge, not, as being claimed, prevention of a schism. It would have been less stressful, and ultimately better, if they had embraced Justin Welby's pre-conference ideas for transforming their global Communion into an even looser alliance, with a relationship between each province and Canterbury, rather than maintaining the farce of adherence to a common doctrine and discipline.

In that circumstances, the Episcopals, the American Anglicans, and other liberal churches in the Communion could have continued, uninhibited by the tug of the conservatives, their trek up the moral high ground of facilitating the expression God's gift for the physical expression of love between human beings, regardless of gender.

Mr Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is nominally the spiritual leader of the world's 85 million Anglicans. He called the Communion's 38 primates together last week to debate, and hopefully settle, the ongoing rift in the church over changing perspectives on, and attitudes towards, human sexuality in some parts of the Communion. The Episcopals are the perceived primary stokers of these tensions, especially since their 2003 ordination of the openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, and, more recently, their approval of service to solemnify same-sex marriages. But they are not alone. While they have not formalised such actions, the Canadian Anglicans hold similar views and the church in Scotland has been edging in a similar direction.

The majority, though, led by the African provinces, view as close to heretical this more expansive appreciation and interpretation of how human beings can express love in covenant with God. Indeed, this group, operating broadly as the Global African Future Conference (GAFCON), has hinted at a breakaway communion.

 

WEAK CONCESSION

 

Last week's fudge, a suspension of the Episcopals for three years from representing the Anglican Communion in ecumenical and interfaith bodies and from decision making within its councils on "issues pertaining to doctrine and polity", was a weak concession to the conservatives that is likely to settle nothing - the efforts of Archbishop Welby's proposed task force, notwithstanding. Desire to "walk together" may be a worthy ideal, but it seems likely that the acknowledged "huge strains" of the "significant distance between us" may make it impossible to move in concert.

In other words, "while the Instruments of Communion" and the way in which Anglicans worldwide "express our historic and ongoing relations" may not be irreparably broken, it would seem that in the absence of a volte-face of either side - which would mean a repudiation of deeply held convictions and interpretation of doctrine - a fix is far from imminent.

Indeed, half a millennium of Anglican history, going back to the causes that underpinned the founding of the Church of England, as well as nine and a half centuries of another great schism, should have taught the primates a thing or two about the politics of religion and of the enduring nature of doctrinal differences. Three years for the settlement of this one seems highly improbable.

Our suggestion is that the churches accept the truth and agree to travelling different routes towards what all believe to be the same mission. In our view, the Episcopals have a head-start.