Imagine a fan boy so full of admiration that he takes your name and moves into your house. Your family has always tried to reach out to others and so you allow him to stay with you as an act of kindness. Weirdly, after this fan moves in he becomes quite critical. He decides that many of your customs are unworthy of the family name and begins to demand that you change them. Your own children stop coming home because the interloper has become so obnoxious. At that point, charity finally exhausted, you demand that he leave. He then barricades himself in his room, which he points out you have called “his room,” and refuses to leave. He calls you a false and hateful person who has missed the “spirit of the family.” Neighbors who have not followed the situation wonder why you are being so mean to a family member.
You simply wish that he would go form his own family and leave you in peace.
This story might help a neutral observer to understand Anglicanism. Over the last half-century, the American Church has become an embarrassment to the global Church. They ceased to be Anglican in any meaningful sense, or in some cases even Christian, and the rest of the Anglican world finally decided to clean house. Certain people hijacked the American Anglican “family name,” but had no real ideological connection to the historic faith.
Only the most narrow-minded person, whose vision of Christianity is parochial enough to see the Church as primarily European and North American, could be confused about the situation. The amazing thing is how patient the global majority has been with the struggling, shrinking American church.
Global Anglicans are a tolerant group, but are finally telling the liberal interlopers to go their own way and stop pretending to be Anglican. They are reaching out to the actual Anglicans that remain in North America and are working to rebuild the American branch of the movement. Worldwide Anglicanism is trying to save the brand!
This is not a family split, since the people being politely asked to leave are not really part of the global Anglican family. All of this is confusing to Americans, since what is left of the Anglican Church here, sadly decayed from its height, but still possessing great wealth inherited from long dead orthodox members, is in the hands of these Anglicans-in-name-only.
While the historic Anglican community has always been theologically diverse, these innovative interlopers had nothing to do with either the Evangelical Anglicanism of Wesley, the more Reformed Anglicanism of Cranmer, or the Anglo-Catholicism of Pusey. As a national church, Anglicanism was tolerant of diversity amongst Christians who were not Roman Catholic, but believed the Creed.
This polite spirit of theological accommodation, part of the English patrimony, was abused in America. Some people thought Christianity had to change, and quietly brought on this change in America by using old Christian words to describe very different ideas.
This is not to insult American innovators like Bishop John Spong. They certainly have important and interesting things to say, but as reformers they seem not very courageous. Luther, at least, did not pretend to be a Roman Catholic. Those who found Anglican beliefs, or even Christian beliefs, wrong should form their own religion and argue for it. We shall see how they do. It seems, at best, impolite to take over institutions founded on the blood and money of people who had the old beliefs, but this is what they have done. Still, global Anglicanism seems willing to let American innovators keep the money and the property, allowing them a dignified departure.
This is a sad thing, but it need not be a hateful thing.
Americans who wish a new religion that uses the name of Jesus, but little that the New Testament says, have a right to form it. Americans that don’t like Christian morality as it has been understood by most of the world have the right to form a church based on the morality they do prefer. Those leaving Christendom know that we shall miss them, would welcome them back, and will be fascinated to see what comes of this new faith.
Many of us will look forward to reading their books and engaging in discussions with them. Friendly, open, interfaith dialogue with pioneers of this new faith like John Spong can only benefit Christians.
Here is hoping that when the left that has controlled the American wing of Anglicanism is finally and politely asked by the rest of the world to leave off calling themselves Anglicans, they will bravely give up the buildings, endowments, and vocabulary and strike out on their own. That would be admirable and interesting.
Meanwhile, the rest of us look forward to ecumenical dialogue with Anglicans in the United States after clarity is achieved. The global reach of this renewed Anglicanism will go far in helping other Christians forget the sad parochialism that has so gripped the Episcopal Church in the United States for the last fifty years.
The competition of ideas is good for everyone and clarity and coherence in Anglicanism will enable that voice to once again be heard in the ecumenical debate. Those of us in other parts of Christianity in America can only benefit by a renewed, evangelistic zeal from that ancient and important church.