Rumors of the death of the Anglican Communion are premature, but relevant?

Once again we return to the media myth that the doctrinal wars in the Anglican Communion were caused by the 2003 election of the first openly gay and noncelibate bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church, the tiny Diocese of New Hampshire, to be specific. Yes, it would make religion writers’ lives much easier if that were true.

However, sometimes professionals who write about complicated news events have to wrestle with complicated information that may require – brace yourselves – the addition of an entire sentence or two of background in a news story. It may even require talking about doctrinal issues other than those directly linked to sexuality.

So, once again, let us return to what your GetReligionistas have long called “Anglican timeline disease.” The latest episode is linked to the announcement by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby that he is inviting 37 archbishops – note the specific number – to a January meeting that he will host to “discuss key issues face to face, including a review of the structures of the Anglican Communion.”

This news led to waves of speculation, followed by a truly fascinating tweet from the Lambeth Palace press office. 

The New York Times is to be commended for getting the crucial element of this story near the top, in the third paragraph:

Among those invited was the leader of the Anglican Church in North America, a conservative alliance that broke away after the decisions by the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada to ordain openly gay people. The Anglican Church in North America is recognized by conservative provinces in the Communion, but regarded by others as an illegitimate splinter group.

After years in which the leadership of the church had sought to persuade those of different views to work together, the convening of the meeting suggests that Archbishop Welby now believes a new strategy is required to confront divisions and prevent the worldwide Communion, in which 38 provinces are formally joined, from splitting apart.

And then we reach this story’s reference to the Anglican timeline:

The event that precipitated the conflict was the election in New Hampshire of V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop, in 2003. The Episcopal Church affirmed the election but suffered when some of its churches, priests and members – and even a few entire dioceses – departed as a consequence.

Now, let’s be precise. It is accurate to say that the Anglican Church in North America came together in its current form after the New Hampshire election. However, its formation simply combined the networking efforts of conservative Episcopalians that had been happening for years, if not decades. When telling its own history, the ACNA notes:

Distressed churches and entire dioceses began to disaffiliate from the established provinces in North America and seek episcopal oversight and spiritual care from Anglican Provinces and leaders in other parts of the world, including the primates and churches of Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South America and Uganda. Beginning in 2000 with the Church of Rwanda, these leaders have responded by accepting orthodox Anglican parishes and dioceses in North America into their care.

The key, in this Times report, is the use of the verb “precipitated.” Look that up online and you get:

precipitate —  cause (an event or situation, typically one that is bad or undesirable) to happen suddenly, unexpectedly, or prematurely.* … “the incident precipitated a political crisis … “* synonyms:bring about/on, cause, lead to, give rise to, instigate, trigger, spark …

There is no question that the Robinson election turned up the heat under the Anglican wars. It would be accurate to say that it was a kind of “last straw” event, but note that this would require recognizing the many straws that came before it.

So what are the events that must be mentioned?

Read the full story at GetReligion. Reprinted here by permission of the author.


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