Thursday, June 03, 2010

Anglican Smack-Down

As Viewed by Diana Butler Bass

Diana Butler Bass has posted an intriguing essay at Beliefnet: “Rowan Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori: Anglican Smack-Down.” Many of us have been focusing on the theological differences in the two letters and what they may signal for the relationship between The Episcopal Church (U.S.) and the wider Anglican Communion.

Butler Bass takes a different tack. She suggests it’s a conflict between two different views of what it means to be an Anglican Church. She sees it as a conflict between "top-down Anglicanism” and “bottom-up Anglicanism.” It’s an intriguing read on the dueling Pentecost letters.

She sets up the conflict:

While (somewhat ironically) attending a conference in Washington, DC entitled "Building Bridges," [my link here] Rowan Williams sent out his Pentecost letter to Anglicans worldwide which, after saying a lot of nice things about missions and diversity, pulls rank and proclaims that he's going to kick people off important committees whose national churches have violated a controversial document called the Anglican Covenant. [LF note: I believe his reference was to the Windsor Report (which is merely a report and not Sacred Writ), not to the Anglican Covenant which no province has yet adopted.] This includes the Canadians (who let gay Christians get married) and the Americans (who recently ordained a lesbian bishop in Los Angeles) and some Africans (who ordained some Americans who were splitting churches in places like Virginia and Pennsylvania).

In response, Katharine Jefferts Schori essentially, but in a nice sort of Anglican way, accused Williams of being a theological dictator–or, as she says in understated fashion, "Unitary control does not characterize Anglicanism." For non-Anglicans, trust me, those are fightin' words.

This is not a conservative/liberal argument (both Rowan Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori are theologically liberal). This is a fight between rival versions of Anglicanism–a quarrel extending to the beginning of Anglicanism that has replayed itself periodically through the centuries down to our own time.

Butler Bass even suggests this is an epochal event:

But once every few hundred years, the tensions explode. This is one of those times.

The argument isn't really about gay and lesbian people nor is it about, as some people claim, the Bible or orthodoxy. Rather, the argument reprises the oldest conflict within Anglicanism – What kind of Anglicans are we to be?

She observes that other churches/denominations are having similar conflicts.

Of course, given my pique toward the Archbishop of Canterbury, I do love the way she characterizes him:

But he thinks that he's in charge – and he'll be captain of his Titanic until the last.
It’s a good read, and a wholly different perspective than I’ve seen elsewhere in the blogosphere. Hie thee hence for the full essay.

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