Why the Anglican Communion will never split

It should be apparent by now that the Anglican Communion, torn as it is by “heresies distressed”, will not experience a full-blown schism. It is not in the cards. Perhaps it never was.

Hysterical religion writers for secular newspapers ran headlines for years on the imminent demise of the Anglican Communion. It never happened and probably never will. (For the record, there is no such thing as the Anglican Church. There is the communion of Anglican churches that forms the Worldwide Anglican Communion.)

A no show by 230 bishops, mostly from the Global South, at the most recent Lambeth conference in Canterbury and the absence of a dozen Primates in Dublin does not a schism make.

Some attribute this to the genius of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, who we are told kept the Anglican Communion together by the weight of his intellectualism and his Hegelian methodology of looking for a synthesis between the conflicting thesis and antithesis of liberal and orthodox provinces.

It is this writer’s contention that such is not the case. Dr. Williams, in fact, failed to deliver the goods for either side. For his sins, Williams is getting out of Lambeth Palace nine years before he needs to, to go lick his wounds in academia.

He has pleased neither side. His former friend and colleague, Dean Jeffrey John, recently hammered Williams for being weak and ineffectual on the gay issue, on gay marriage and why he – Jeffrey John – an openly gay man has not been given a miter to wear. John even threatened to sue the church and take it to the international court in The Hague if he was not given a purple shirt..

The dean of St. Albans publicly attacked the Archbishop of Canterbury’s stance on gay marriage. The most senior openly gay cleric in Britain accused the Church of England of pursuing a “morally contemptible” policy on same-sex marriage, denouncing it for moving “in the opposite direction” to society. He also criticized Rowan Williams for changing his “public position” on the issue as soon as he was made Archbishop of Canterbury. Who needs friends like that anyway?

When Williams announced he was stepping down as ABC, the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh issued a blistering attack on Williams saying his sudden resignation announcement would leave behind a Communion in tatters: highly polarized, bitterly factionalized, with issues of revisionist interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and human sexuality as stumbling blocks to oneness.

The archbishop noted that when Dr. Rowan Williams took over the leadership of the Anglican Communion in 2002, it was a happy family. He is leaving it with decisions and actions that are stumbling blocks to oneness, evangelism and mission all around the Anglican world. Okoh went so far as to say that it was like being “crucified under Pontius Pilate”. Ouch.

But still Okoh, the leader of the largest Anglican province in the Communion, did not advocate schism.

The leader of the world’s most populace Anglican Province (20 million) said the lowest ebb of this degeneration came in 2008, when there were two “Lambeth” Conferences — one in the UK, and an alternative one, GAFCON in Jerusalem — that saw more than one third of the Anglican Communion’s bishops as “no-shows” at Canterbury. The trend continued recently when many Global South Primates decided not to attend the last Primates’ meeting in Dublin.

The Nigerian archbishop opined that because Williams did not resign in 2008 over the split Lambeth Conference, he should have worked assiduously to “mend the net” or repair the breach, before bowing out of office. Okoh also blasted the covenant proposal saying it was “doomed to fail from the start”, as “two cannot walk together unless they have agreed”. It never happened, Williams was too deeply conflicted himself over bedrock issues of sexuality and mission.

Okoh concluded his rip saying, “It is not good news here, until whoever comes as the next leader pulls back the Communion from the edge of total destruction.” Strong words indeed.

When the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) met in London earlier this year, they agreed that they would not break with Canterbury. No Schism was in the works despite a theological wall ten feet thick dividing liberal and revisionists. Orthodox Anglican leaders said they would work to ensure orthodoxy prevailed globally in the Anglican Communion. They rejected schism as an option.

What are we to make of events as they have unfolded in North America?

First, there has been no public schism within The Episcopal Church itself even though Dioceses, bishops, priests and laity have left TEC. Instead they have formed a number of Anglican jurisdictions with CANA and ACNA publicly recognized by the Council of Primates of GAFCON. The archbishop of this movement is Robert Duncan who is also the Anglican Bishop of Pittsburgh. Formerly orthodox Episcopalians are now orthodox Anglicans who have chosen to walk apart, never to return unless The Episcopal Church fully repents of its ways. That possibility grows increasingly unlikely as TEC mires itself deeper and deeper into apostasy with rites for homogenital persons now firmly in place and with a homosexual and lesbian bishop running dioceses. The fact that the Church of England cannot even agree to women bishops, let alone an openly gay bishop, should tell you something.

A distraught Rev. Rod Thomas of Reform believes that “a schism is inevitable”. That might be true in the Church of England, but the Global South has no interest in anything wider.

In a recent interview I conducted with Archbishop Okoh, he gave no hint that the Anglican Communion would split. He further noted he would do his best to work with whoever is the next ABC, including the possibility of an African in the person of York Archbishop John Sentamu.

This begs the question: With all that has occurred, why has there not been a split or schism in the Anglican Communion?

VOL posits that it not just collegiality or conciliarity or the Book of Common Prayer or even the authority of Scripture to which the global South holds tightly. Nor can one attribute it to colonialism which the British, read Church of England, still practices in spades; rather it is the long view that the historical positions of the communion with its high view of Scripture, the 39 Articles of Religion and the belief that time is on the side of the Global South, perhaps through GAFCON itself, will bring about the renewal the communion needs.

Africans are a very patient people, not so Westerners. We want it and we want it now. Nay, we demand it. Africans have a history of waiting. It took 300 years to get rid of Apartheid. Colonialism has ended for most of Africa; the nations are in varying stages of recovery, testing the waters of Democracy following a series of demagogic post-colonial African leaders. Add to this the Africans have much faith and great hope, not in Western change but in a God who is Lord of history.

Secondly, the Global South has time on its side. They are growing. With their numerical ascendency, they know that, one day, perhaps very soon, an African, who is thoroughly orthodox in faith and morals, will sit on the throne in Canterbury. The rejoicing will be heard around the world. They are also watching as Western pan Anglicanism is slowly disintegrating and dying; they can play a waiting game. Across the western world, liberal Christianity is dying with a lot of it on financial life support. They are living on money left them by its predecessors for mission (evangelism and church growth), money that is being wasted on litigation.

Thirdly, there is a loyalty to the See of Canterbury, but not necessarily to its occupant. The Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans are to the core Anglicans. Many of its leaders came out of animism, polytheism, Catholicism, and were converted by Church of England evangelical missionaries. They have no wish to become Catholics, Lutherans or anything else. All they know is the Anglican Way. The Ordinariate is a mere blip on the ecclesiastical radar screen and poses neither a threat nor a danger to Anglican cohesiveness or comprehensiveness. It may offer a small rescue vehicle to a few former Episcopalians and Anglicans, but the Global south is not remotely interested in it.

It is possible the Church of England, The Episcopal Church US, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church of Wales will die off in the next couple of decades. That will not affect the Global South’s loyalty to the historic See of Canterbury that leads back to Augustine and the Early Church. Anglicans are not Baptists; they have no use for the myriad North American Christian sects, however evangelical they might be. That has been the peculiarity of this continent’s right to worship the god of one’s choice. Africans have been consistently Roman Catholic, Anglican or Lutheran – all historic churches.

So there will be no schism. There will continue to be breakaway factions, new Anglican provinces and dioceses forming, an Anglican amoeba for sure, but there will always be an Anglican Communion even if there is no longer a recognizable Church of England or an Episcopal Church.

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