No Communion in Anglican Communion?

PBandABC.jpgFacts are such pesky things. Every now and then one gets in the brain and just sticks there.

Earlier this week, religion reporter Jonathan Petre reported in The Telegraph that the global showdown of the Anglican primates might include some potent and poignant protests — in part centering on actions that will or will not be taken by U.S. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold (left) and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (right, in the photo). Here is some of that story, with the familiar politics-of-sexuality references trimmed since Anglican-beat watchers already know all of that:

Conservative archbishops attending Anglican crisis talks this week will demonstrate their anger with their liberal counterparts by refusing to receive Communion alongside them, The Telegraph has learned. . . .

Insiders say that Archbishop Peter Akinola, the primate of Nigeria, has warned him that the conservatives will boycott the daily church services during the conference if the liberals are there. The problem could become most acute when Dr. Williams presides at Communion — a sacrament supposed to symbolise the unity of the Church — as Archbishop Akinola is thought to represent up to half of the 38 primates.

Now this is what I call a pesky fact.

Every since reading this, I have been going to Google News and typing in the words Rowan, Griswold and communion, with few results that tell me much of anything. There have been, of course, daily reports from the conservative cyber-scribe David Virtue, the fiery activist who has, in his own unique way, done much to yank many private Anglican events into the open. Everyone knows where Virtue is coming from, sort of like the reports from the official Episcopal press.

This Communion story may seem like an “insider” detail. But this pesky fact concerns a symbol that is also a Sacrament and, well, they are supposed to call it the Anglican Communion for a reason. I will keep looking, even though I realize that the Brits are doing everything they can to lock reporters out of every aspect of these meetings.

Nevertheless, please let us see if you see MSM coverage of the Eucharist issue. On the theological level, it is more important than the on-paper resolutions.

On a related topic, check out the following BBC item. This appeal for web-based feedback has to have one of the most biased headlines I have seen in a long time. Here is the item:

Will Africa split the Anglican Church?

Leaders of the 70 million-strong Anglican Communion have been meeting this week near Belfast in Northern Ireland to discuss an ongoing crisis that threatens to split the church.

The 38 primates will consider the so-called Windsor Report, published after the consecration of gay bishop Gene Robinson in America and the blessing of same sex unions in Canada.

African and Asian leaders have started a campaign to restore order and to discipline an American Church which, they say, has departed from the Bible and Anglican tradition.

Would you back African bishops if they walk out of the meeting? Would you even ask the bishops to leave and create their own Church? Is the unity of the church not more important than disagreements over homosexuality? Shouldn’t the Anglican church modernise and accept that society is changing?

Let us know your views. . . . A selection of your comments will be broadcast on the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme on Saturday 26 February at 1700GMT.

Note the assumption: A stand to defend the ancient doctrines claimed by the overwhelming majority of Anglicans worldwide may split the church, not the innovations approved by the relatively small churches in North America. Why not stay neutral and say that the sexuality conflict might divide the Communion?

UPDATE: On the Google watch, there are two or three reports online with new information. One interesting detail: Williams made a strong appeal for unity, in an Evensong service that did not, of course, include Communion. There is quite a bit of new information in this fresh Church of England Newspaper report. Here is the money quote, from the leader of the American church:

Bishop Griswold entered the Primates’ meeting in a defiant mood, delivering a thinly veiled defence of his decision to consecrate Canon Gene Robinson in a sermon in Belfast Cathedral. He used coded theological language to compare the American Church’s action to the ‘White Martyrs’.

“We find ourselves overtaken by a compassion, which because it is of the Spirit and not the result of our effort or imagination, knows no bounds and can enfold all persons and all things. It is a compassion, which in the words of St Isaac of Syria, embraces not only humankind but the birds and the beasts, the enemies of truth, those who wish to do us harm and ‘even the reptiles’, which may be seen as representing those slithery aspects of our own humanity which we are loath to admit to the company of our ‘better’ selves and therefore often displace on to others as evil.”

I wonder if the “reptile” quote will be unpacked in the MSM.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Xenophore

    This appears on the same Web site that refers to the Terri Schiavo matter as a “right-to-die case.”

  • ECJ

    By why does it matter what the CoE or the ECUSA think in any given matter? They are both irrelevant churches in terminal decline. Average weekly attendence for the CoE is around 900,000 in a country of 66 million people. The average age of an Episcopalian is 57 years. Together they don’t make up one third of the Anglican Church in Kenya. CoE and ECUSA have pride of place, money, and little else. After 50 years of liberal leadership, they have been reduced to little more than shells. They are like board eaten by termites – all form, but no substance.

    But such desiccated churches do serve as a useful tool for secular opponents of orthodoxy. For these churches model themselves after the ways of the world. And secularists have no trouble with religion that confirms them in their behavior. But they hate the uncompromised Gospel, and they will seek to oppose it at every opportunity. So the story-line is already being written: “Intolerant Troglodytes Destroy Anglican Church.” Yes, well … the revolution needs martyrs for the cause.


  • Terry Mattingly

    Once again, the goal here is not to debate the CONTENT of the Anglican wars. The goal is to figure out how reporters can frame this story in order to be accurate — accurate at the macro level, as well as at the micro level in places such as England and the USA.

    From the point of view of the USA (a small Anglican body in every way other than history, money and the number of people in purple shirts), Africans are splitting the church by declining to accept the modern and postmodern worlds.

    From the point of view of people of color in the rest of the world, it is the West that is splitting the church by imposing the doctrines and values of the modern and postmodern worlds.

    The goal for reporters is to cover both sides of that divide accurately, allowing each to state its views without the table tipping over way to one side (“Will Africa Split the Anglican Church?”). Thus, I proposed that the basic journalistic device be that the church may be torn apart by a controversy ABOUT the issue of sex outside of the ancient sacrament of marriage, as defined by the premodern church.

    Ah, but is THAT a biased statement?

  • Eric Swensson

    The series of questions on the BBC solicitation for comments on “Will African Bishops Split the Church” was very revealing, especially the one “shouldn’t the church modernize?”

    Did that show their lack of awareness of their own objectivity, was it a “leading question” or did it mean to flame opinion to get some juicy quotes. Either way, are they not doing something media is so good at, focusing at a lack of unity which is itself, divisive.

    In a slightly different vein, it seems to me that for some reason opinions on this issue are generally revealing of one’s worldview. In this story, it seems that the reporter is saying “C’mon, when are these people going to get with it?”

    Also, not ony does it show liberal bias, it has some racial bias. For one thing, it is not an African and conservatives in US and England only thing. Akinola leads block which includes Asian, Carribean, and Hispanic bishops, no?

  • ECJ

    Mr Mattingly,

    “The goal is to figure out how reporters can frame this story in order to be accurate.”

    Isn’t it much more important (and pressing) to understand why reporters manifestly do not want to cover this story in the way you suggest? They are in fact covering this story as a conflict between light and darkness. And there is absolutely no uncertainty as to which side they consider to represent light. They are siding with their allies in a conflict of world views. Appeals to fairness will not get very far under such conditions.


  • Stephen A.

    ECJ raises some good points, and they may very well relate to the coverage issue, and not just the issues themselves.

    I find it interesting that the liberals in the Western Anglican/Episcopal churches would be the first to decry a “Eurocentric” outlook when it comes to almost any other social issue, but are blind to the fact that they want the world to accept (in this church’s case) a Eurocentric view of sexuality.

    It’s also clear, as Terry points out, that the media is focusing on the most juicy part of the conflict to make the headlines scream.

    But I would make a slight revision by saying that the issue doesn’t seem to be sex outside of marriage, per se. Instead, it’s the recognition of homosexual sex to be on an equal level with straight sex and in addition, whether the Anglican Communion will allow wholesale gay marriages and an openly gay priesthood, thus effectively declaring straight and gay sex “equal.”

    Having witnessed this conflict at its epicenter here in New Hampshire it seems like a rather black and white issue, and like that other black and white issue, slavery, a house divided against itself would seem not to be able to stand together for long without a split, if not a civil war. The defiance on both sides would indicate that’s where this is headed.

    I also have to concur with EJC’s assessments of the merits of this case. These churches have gone far out of the mainstream (and not just one this issue) and their numbers have been dwindling dramatically for decades. It would seem that the African and Asian churches have been thriving, though. Wonder why?

  • Stephen A.

    Bear in mind that I was responding in my post to ECJ’s FIRST post, not his second, although he raises a good issue in his second one, too.

    That the media favors the more permissive approach in this fight would not at all be surprising, and the BBC question cited above is a small indication of it.

  • Eric Swensson

    You said to let you know …

    please tell us what it means ;-o

  • Stephen A.

    A Pearl Handled Revolver? Read this dire report from the BBC tonight about the fate of the North American Episcopalians:

    “The threatened split between conservative and liberal Anglicans over homosexuality is now almost complete.

    The leaders of the world’s Anglican churches have ended a four-day meeting in Northern Ireland with an ultimatum.

    They call on US and Canadian Anglicans voluntarily to withdraw their members from a key body, the Anglican Consultative Council, till 2008.

    The decision appears to buy time to resolve the split, but is widely seen as a victory for the traditionalists.

    The primates – senior bishops – who head the Anglican communion’s separate churches began their meeting, scheduled to last till 25 February, last Monday.

    Before dispersing they were due to brief journalists on their talks about the place of gay and lesbian Christians.

    But a late-evening communique announced they had agreed a day early to ask the North American churches to bow out for the time being.

    In a key passage, the communique says: “… We request that the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference” [the ten-yearly meeting of all Anglican bishops, due next in 2008].

    The ACC is a liaison body, with members drawn from each province or member church. To step down would mean a church was no longer a full member of the Anglican family.

    One observer said: “The primates have handed the North Americans a pearl-handled revolver.”

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