Monday, June 23, 2008

Schism? I think not.

Most of the world's 900 or so Anglican bishops are preparing to gather for the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference at Lambeth Palace in England. This will be perhaps the most important Lambeth Conference in the history of the Anglican Communion, as it will be the one time all (or at least most) of the world's bishops gather to discuss the recent headline-grabbing developments regarding homosexuality and the church, as well as the church's efforts to combat poverty and disease. No official policies will be set - this year's conference is a time for discernment and discussion, not decrees.

Unfortunately, despite extensive coverage of Lambeth and the recent Anglican squabbles over homosexuality and Scriptural interpretation, the mainstream media shows little regard for facts. The press obsesses over turmoil and the possibility of schism - a schism they have been calling imminent for at least five years. On Friday, The (RI) Providence Journal ran the headline "Episcopal Church Fighting to Survive". Time also had an article on Friday called "Are the Anglicans About to Split?"

The raw numbers show the answer to Time's question is a resounding NO, as I will explore in a minute. Time also suggested that if conservative bishops walk out on Lambeth, "The entire process could well result in the diminution of the power of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the titular head of the Communion and the closest thing the denomination has to a Pontiff." BALDERDASH! The Archbishop of Canterbury is absolutely nothing like a Pontiff. Within the Anglican Communion, power lies at the local level. Rowan Williams leads discussions and gives pastoral guidance, but has no true power: he does not decide doctrine and has no say over local ordinations. If Time can't get even this most basic of Anglican facts correct, how can we trust any of its religious reporting?

As for schism, reports of the death of the church are highly exaggerated. Prior to Lambeth, 280 conservative bishops are meeting at GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) in Jerusalem. These bishops are led by the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola. Despite the media's incessant bleating about schism, only 7 of the Communion's 38 primates (archbishops and presiding bishops) organized GAFCON, and the less than a third of the Communion's bishops are in attendance. These seven primates claim to represent 35 million Anglicans, mostly in Africa. That's not not even half of the world's 77 million Anglicans, and you know that many of these 35 million are more concerned with beating AIDS and finding water than they are with western sexuality. Even here in the United States, only one diocese out of 100 has actually tried to leave The Episcopal Church, with perhaps another half dozen considering it. These numbers tell us that at most, perhaps one third of the world's Anglicans are headed out the door. Where, then, is the evidence of this imminent schism the media keeps obsessing about?

Even if a split does happen, its effects would be minimal. The fringe bishops cannot touch the central theme of the Anglican Communion, common worship open to all. Our life together in the Book of Common Prayer would proceed as always, and the organs would play as beautifully as ever. We would find, as Scripture demands of us, a new way to reach out to the people of Africa, their self-important archbishops notwithstanding. Here at home, there are loyal via media groups established in every unstable diocese.

Most importantly, God would still hear our prayers and dwell in our hearts. Peter Akinola has no effect on my personal relationship with God or on the tried and true method of intertwining Scripture, tradition, and reason. So let him bleat, and let the media drool over every word. My church will be just fine.

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