Holy smoke! What a headline!

CanterburyNuke3Again and again, we need to stress that newspaper reporters rarely, if ever, write the headlines for their stories.

I mention this because of a stunning headline in The Telegraph about the pre-Lambeth strategy meeting that conservatives are having right now in Jerusalem (after making a quick exit from Jordan, for complicated and perhaps political reasons). There are many complex angles to the Global Anglican Future Conference, or GAFCON, which is why this particular headline simply leaps off the page:

Anglican church schism declared over homosexuality

Say what? You mean that there are conservative Anglicans who have literally given up on the Anglican wars, declared a split and started a new Communion?

Well, actually, that would be a big “no.”

Meanwhile, I find it hard to blame reporters Tim Butcher and Martin Beckford for the lede of their story, because it doesn’t seem to be supported by their own reporting, either. So read this:

Hardline church leaders have formally declared the end of the worldwide Anglican communion, saying they could no longer be associated with liberals who tolerate homosexual clergy.

There are a lot of problems there, beginning with the fact that the fight over the ordination of noncelibate gays and lesbians is only one piece of a much larger battle that has been unfolding around the world for at least a quarter century (click here for a lengthy look at that).

However, if you read on you’ll see that the Telegraph report tells you what is new information and it also explains that the odds for a formal schism have increased. Yet the story — unlike the headline and the lede — does not veer into inaccurate finality. Here’s a piece of the new info, focusing on a document called “The Way, the Truth and the Life”:

The Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter AkinolaThe Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, states in one section: “There is no longer any hope, therefore, for a unified Communion.

“Now we confront a moment of decision. If we fail to act, we risk leading millions of people away from the faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures and also, even more seriously, we face the real possibility of denying Our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“We want unity, but not at the cost of relegating Christ to the position of another ‘wise teacher’ who can be obeyed or disobeyed. We earnestly desire the healing of our beloved Communion, but not at the cost of re-writing the Bible to accommodate the latest cultural trend. We have arrived at a crossroads; it is, for us, the moment of truth.”

Sounds final, yet Akinola immediately discusses the ways that healing could occur or that the damage of a split could be minimized. Anglicans are at a crossroads, perhaps, but not through the crossroads.

That’s the crucial point: The leaders of the Global South Anglican churches are still focusing on trends and events in North America and have not turned their full attention to the Church of England. In other words, there is no split yet. This story is simply another example of a reality I have mentioned many times on this weblog — no one knows, yet, where the Church of England will end up. Thus, no one knows the shape of any split.

In other words, no one knows if there will be a new Communion on the doctrinal left or a new Communion on the doctrinal right and no one knows how any of that will affect Canterbury Cathedral.

You can see this reality in this section of the Telegraph story about the document in question:

More than 100 of the traditionalists met yesterday at a hotel on the Jordanian shore of the Dead Sea to agree how it would be made public. There was some disagreement about whether it was a template for a schism, which could lead to a new “orthodox” wing of the church, or merely a realignment of Anglicanism’s power base away from Canterbury.

CenterburyNuke4In other words, there is no formal schism yet. There is no alternative structure or even a legal, public discussion of one, at this point in time.

If you want to report that makes this more clear, check out Rachel Zoll’s Associated Press report about GAFCON:

Organizers of the Global Anglican Future Conference say they will not formally break with the 77 million-member Anglican family when the meeting ends June 29. Even so, the gathering is a clear challenge to Anglicans who want their fellowship to remain unchanged.

“This is a show of force, unity and global significance,” said the Rev. Peter Moore, former dean of Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry, a conservative Pennsylvania seminary. “The Anglican Communion is in the process of breaking up. What will emerge from that, I don’t know.”

The event, starting Wednesday with closed-door sessions in Amman, Jordan, moves Sunday to Jerusalem for public discussions and visits to holy sites. About 1,000 attendees — including bishops, clergy, lay people and their families — are expected in Israel. The timing is key. The summit occurs one month before the Lambeth Conference, the
once-a-decade meeting of all Anglican bishops, organized by their spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Zoll also offers this crisp slice of history, which says more in a few sentences than many lengthy reports I have read through the years.

The Anglican Communion is a loose association of churches that grew from the colonial missionary efforts of the Church of England. Most Anglicans in Africa, Asia and Latin America embraced the missionaries’ traditional outlook.

In recent decades, as membership dwindled in liberal-leaning European and North American churches, the rolls of Global South churches, as they are known, expanded dramatically. The majority of Anglicans now live in developing countries and are scandalized by Northern views of Scripture. The leadership of the conservative summit comes mainly from these provinces.

So, the wars rage on and on. There have been new developments.

But Anglicans have a unique gift, a charism for compromise, negotiation and delay. That is what makes the Telegraph headline and lede so, well, unintentionally humorous. There may be a fork in the Anglican road in sight. But no one has come close to working out the legal and doctrinal details yet.

This could go on and on and on and on. World without end.

POSTSCRIPT: I should mention that the Telegraph report includes a reference to work by Canon Vinay Samuel, an Anglican theologian from India, who leads the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. That Centre is, in fact, linked to the Oxford Centre for Religion & Public life, which publishes this weblog. I need to mention that I have not been in touch with Samuel about GAFCON and, now that I think of it, I would bet the moon and the stars that he would disagree with many if not most of the comments that I — as an ex-Anglican — would make about recent events on the Anglican scene. So blame me for my own views about the media coverage of all of this, because they are my own (and I am pretty stubborn).

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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.

  • Joe

    I would like to see some media coverage of those who have given up, both the “You liberals are making a mockery of Scripture, so we’re taking your ball and going home.” camp and the “No Doctrine of Reason? Good riddance, but leave our ball, kthnxbai.” camp. Because ultimately, that’s what the Episcopal Church will look like, with some being more Roman than others. It would be nice for each side to represent itself to the public a little more clearly.

    The church property disputes seem to be pretty clear in their reasoning. Perhaps that would be a good starting point.

  • Pingback: Holy smoke! What a headline! GetReligion « A Blogspotting Anglican Episcopalian

  • David Palmer

    So tmatt: Baptist to Anglican to Orthodox. Me, I managed Anglican to Presbyterian.

    I agree the situation is incredibly complex. Sydney Anglicans are extremely low church, have almost half of Australia’s church going Anglicans, but legally are tied in with the Anglican Church of Australia. A formal schism is simply not on for them and regardless their own growth and corresponding decline of the remainder means they are set to control General Syniod at some stage in the not too distant future.

  • Bill

    Mr. Palmer

    If it is PCUSA I would not say that your situation has improved much.

  • Claude

    There is also a movement among laity in liberal Episcopal Churches and Canadian Anglican Churches to pressure their churches to leave the Anglican Communion (and to quit supporting it with their money) because of the positions of Akinola et al. Why is this not being reported on?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Great question. Do you have any URLs? The name of a key archbishop or leader that I can Google?

    The goal is more coverage. More information.

  • Claude

    I think the movement is laity-based with some individual clergy members, but no bishops. The hope is that the Anglican Communion will in effect expel the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Canadian Anglican Church. This would avoid a drawn out battle over Church property. Then these two Churches would be free to pursue their own policies, perhaps with some very loose affiliation with the Anglican Communion, but withholding the large sums of money the two churches now send overseas. The conservative churches could form their own alliances and be overseen by African bishops if they wanted to be. This solution is being discussed in a number of discussion groups, and sometimes surfaces in letters to Episcopal magazines. I haven’t seen anything written about it in the mainstream press.

  • David Palmer

    Hi Bill,

    I don’t know PCUSA, I’m PCA: Presbyterian Church of Australia and in the State of Victoria where I live the last liberal clergyman retired some years ago.

    Contra Claude, the liberals love property power and prestige and will hold on to the bitter end. Loss of people leaves more for those who remain.

    There will be no worldwide split any time soon, just a gradual falling away, a loosening of the bonds and for the GAFCON crowd (God bless them) a new set of relationships for future fruitful cooperation.

    As far as I know there has never been any relationship between Sydney Anglicans and American Episcopalians (Anglicans) – that is about to change.

  • Claude

    David, I don’t know what the situation is in Australia, but in the liberal circles in which I move, many of us are hoping that the Anglican Communion will expel the Canadian and US Churches, or put so many restrictions on them as to make it impossible to remain a part of the Communion. I find it absurd that large sums of our money (and taxpayers’ money in England) are going to support African bishops that are trying to manage our affairs or at least have become the frontmen for conservatives who have not been able to prevail within the denominations. I am all in favor of the Conservatives forming their own alliances, but I think mainstream Episcopalians should be able to as well.