Anglican church law and the back story on the schism

by on December 13, 2008  •  In Religion

From Andrew Brown, writing in The Guardian:

* * * What we know happened was this: an unspecified number of bishops, priests and parishes, probably amounting to about 5% of the mainstream American Episcopal Church, announced last week they would set up a province of their own, to replace what they regard as the heretical mainstream church. This is a very much smaller proportion of the church than their propaganda had suggested. What a surprise.

Then, this week, five of the heavyweight African archbishops came round to Lambeth Palace for what has been described as "full and frank" discussions. This is normally the diplomatic description of an uninhibited shouting match, and the fact that nothing else whatever was said about the talks in public makes that interpretation pretty attractive. Five hours of shouting can only have been a failed attempt to get the Archbishop to recognise the new province. His position is that he can't do that. It is a matter for the various central committees of the Anglican Communion and they will take years. This determination to follow the letter of Church law has frustrated his liberal friends in the past: no one else takes the rules seriously. But Dr Williams does. I don't think he believes that the American schismatics are not Anglicans. In fact he has nourished their belief that they are a persecuted minority of true believers in the past. But he doesn't think they are a province.

This matters in only one context but that's important: part of the motive for the American schism, at least with the right-wingers who have funded and fomented it, was to bankrupt or at least weaken the main church in endless lawsuits, which would all turn, one way or another, on who was the real Anglican church in the USA. So long as the breakaway is not recognised as a province the legal advantage remains with the main church.

But the matter won't rest there. For one thing, if the requisite committees do agree to the formation of a new province, Dr Williams will go along with them. Whether they do will depend on whether they think that the precedent set by "poaching" in each others' territories, as the Africans have been doing, is more dangerous than the acceptance of open gays. As if to help them along, the diocese of Los Angeles reacted to the banning of gay marriage in California last week by publishing its "Service for the Blessing of a lifelong covenant", which may be used for gay couples as well as straights.


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