George Conger has written a piece today in which he asks the question: "Is this the end of the Communion?":
The long foretold crack up of the Anglican Communion appears to be at hand, as political wrangling and media posturing mark the final days before the start of the 14th Lambeth Conference. Though the programme of the 20 day conference in Canterbury is designed to avoid position statements or divisive outcomes—the agendas brought to the conference by the 600 some bishops present will likely push the Communion farther apart, effectively ending the Anglican project. [Please read the whole article.]
While I may wish that this were not true, I fear that Dr. Conger may be right.
Certainly, the Episcopal Church has been in a state of declining membership and increasing departures from historic, biblical Christianity for virtually the whole time I have been a member. But I always thought that the Anglican Communion would be the Episcopal Church's salvation, not that the Episcopal Church would be the cause of the Anglican Communion's destruction. I really never thought it would come to this.
Why did I think it would never come to this? Here are four reasons:
(1) I thought that efforts to renew the Episcopal Church from within, combined with the missionary imperative of the worldwide Communion, would overcome the pernicious influence of liberal theology and western decadence. Thirty years later, the missionary imperative still exists in the Anglican Communion, but only in the Global South and among a few constituencies in North America and Great Britain that are committed to world mission. But the overwhelming tendency has been for those in the liberal church structures of the Global North to subvert any parts of the Global South that they can win, seduce, or buy. I have seen countless times what 30 pieces of silver can pay for when measured in rice, maize, potatoes, clinics, schools, episcopal preferments, project grants, opportunities to study abroad, appointment to international commissions, etc.
I spoke just today with a candidate for bishop in a Global South diocese. I mentioned that it was odd that none of the bishops from dioceses in his province had attended GAFCON, when only a few years ago, his province was looked on as soundly orthodox. He said sadly that his was a poor province and its bishops were "easily bought." In the months prior to GAFCON, each of the dioceses in his province "had been visited." (It was clear he was referring to visits by representatives of the western churches eager to see that bishops there distanced themselves from GAFCON.)
The missionary imperative in the Anglican Communion remains strong. But that is chiefly the case in those dioceses and provinces that are associated with GAFCON, and these are being driven out of the Communion by an agenda with which they realize, for the sake of their souls, they cannot compromise.
(2) I believed that the leadership of the Anglican Communion, most particularly the Arcbishop of Canterbury, would resist and even rebuke the western churches for their departures from historic Christian norms in faith and morals. Why did I believe the ABC would do this?
(a) Because common sense demands it. When the bonds of fellowship have been strained to the breaking point, it is only logical that the one who has strained them should be restrained, disciplined, rebuked, etc. It is not logical that the well being of the whole should be sacrificed in order to indulge the misbehaviors of a few.
(b) Because it is expected. While liberal activists in the west would protest, no one could seriously claim to be shocked that the leadership of a Christian body would hold its members to the standards that Christians have always held.
(c) Because it is easy. The Archbishop of Canterbury only needed to have issued the mildest of rebukes to the western churches in his rhetoric over the past three years and to have disinvited those bishops who were responsible for the consecration of the present bishop of New Hampshire to have made sure that the Global South participated fully in the Lambeth Conference. If Rowan had disinvited a couple of dozen American bishops and the Bishop of New Westminster, Canada, the nearly 300 bishops who have stayed away from Lambeth would have come. A show of strength and conviction on the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury, while unpleasant for the moment, would have insured that American and Canadian churches were a great deal more respectful of the consensus of the Communion in the decades ahead. It would have been an exchange of short term pain for long term gain. It should have been a no-brainer.
(3) I believed that the leadership of the Anglican Communion would be sufficiently concerned for the survival of the Communion not to allow the advance of a controversial agenda that can only divide and weaken it. The (London) Times ran an article this week, which Stand Firm excerpted under the humorous title, "Perhaps the Bishops Are Eating Their Parishioners," which contrasted the decline of active attendance in the Church of England over the last 150 years with the increase in the number of bishops. A conclusion not emphasized by the article (but one that should be obvious) is that, if the current rate of decline continues, there should not be a single practicing Anglican left in England in another 50 years. (Although the signs are not yet as apparent, the situation in the American Church is not much better.)
While, for various reasons, there may still be some practicing members of the C of E in 50 years, it is nevertheless undeniable that the decline in membership and attendance has turned into a nose dive. Divisions within the Church of England over the lack of adequate episcopal oversight for traditionalists will only hasten the Church of England's demise.
Faced with such a graphic reminder of the tenuousness of the Church of England's existence, one might think that the Archbishop of Canterbury would make a greater effort to secure the survival of the Communion as a whole. Instead the same lack of leadership which has hastened the Church of England's demise is now threatening the survival of the Anglican Communion as a unified body.
(4) I thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury's role as the occupant of a historic see would have compelled him to act more strongly for the preservation of the catholic and apostolic faith in his own Church and the preservation of ecumenical ties with the other historic sees of the Christian Church. Instead the apparent sympathies of the present Archbishop of Canterbury have so weakened his loyalty to catholic teaching and practice that he refuses to utilize the instruments open to him (even that of the "bully pulpit") to secure the adherence of the Communion to the same catholic teaching and practice.
It remains to be seen what will come from this Lambeth Conference. But all indications so far are that the Archbishop of Canterbury will do nothing; the assembled bishops will decide nothing; the American Church's publicity steamroller will roll on; and the various churches of the Communion will follow the American Church's slide into apostasy--as, indeed, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales already seem poised to do. Somehow, I really never thought it would come to this.