Earlier this week The Guardian declared, “Justin Welby’s plan to split the Anglican Church tells us a lot about religion and politics.”
As English Bishop Nick Baines observed, the headline also told us a lot about the journalistic talent of some of the folks at The Guardian. Baines tweeted, “Can’t they read?” Evidently not.
Clearly, the Archbishop of Canterbury is not trying to split the Anglican Communion by calling for a global meeting of the church’s leaders. What he is trying to do, I suspect, to acknowledge the gridlock and alienation that is rife around the world and keep us all in conversation with one another, even if at a distance, by remaining in relationship with his office.
Welby no doubt watched what a wretched time of it his predecessor, Rowan Williams, had trying to hold the Anglican Communion together, and he has decided the only way forward is, at some level, to acknowledge what a mess we have made of Christian unity. His move is both understandable and a sad commentary on the state of our relationship with one another.
Welby’s move also tells us something about the future of Protestantism. The Anglican Communion is the canary in the mainline Protestant mine shaft and when it drops off the perch, other denominations will not be far behind. For no small number of Episcopalians, including some of my own friends, the failure to find a way forward is a matter of indifference, if not a positive development and I hear the echoes of similar sentiments among United Methodists.
Ironic, isn’t it? We agonize over how to describe Islam in light of extremist violence. We have said little or nothing about the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East. We struggle to preserve inter-faith dialogue, arguing that, in the final analysis, we all really believe the same thing. But we can’t figure out how to stay in conversation with other Christians who disagree with us about sexual orientation.
I wish I could be as sanguine as some of my friends are about the coming divide.
No, I don’t wake up every morning thinking, “I wonder what’s happening around the Anglican Communion?” No, I don’t believe that the differences around the church will be easily surmounted.
No, I don’t think that our goal should be uniformity of opinion. That’s neither possible or desirable.
And – no — I don’t have any easy answers.
But the faith that brought us together and made us one church is about a transcendent and universal citizenship that brings us together in Christ, in spite of our differences. And that is what a global church is all about. It is saddening and sobering to realize that we have so little to offer the world by way of perspective, as measured by our own treatment of one another, on the cat-and-dog fight that is globalization. It’s a dynamic that will shape the century ahead. and we have the opportunity — and profound theological reasons — for sorting through the complexities.
Right now, however, it appears that we will simply echo the polarized and polarizing influences that shape the politics of the early twenty-first century. God forgive us. With over two thousand years of experience, you’d think we would have a bit more to bring to the table.
Photo by cuteimage and used with permission from freedigitialphotos.net