A.S. Haley contemplates the Bare ruin’d choirs of Anglicanism

This week’s meeting of the primates in Canterbury will change little in the life of the Anglican Communion, A.S. Haley reports

Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, the meeting starting in Canterbury today is not a meeting of the Anglican Communion. It is not even a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, because it includes the Most Rev. Foley Beach, primate of the Anglican Church in North America — and ACNA is not a constituent member of the Anglican Communion.

But it will be a milestone in the demise of that Communion. 

In a sense, the times have passed the Anglican Communion by. It is no longer equipped with structures that are able to deal with the circumstances facing Protestant churches in the twenty-first century. The Primates’ Meeting, as we see, is being bypassed in favor of a gathering of primates; whether another Lambeth Conference will be called is doubtful; and no one particularly cares whether or not the Anglican Consultative Council continues to meet, because it has lost its constituencies in the debacle over the Anglican Covenant.

In short, the fabric of the Anglican Communion is torn, exactly as predicted by the primates in 2003 before ECUSA took the step which the Communion asked it not to take, and consecrated V. Gene Robinson to the episcopacy. It is useless dreaming to hope that the fabric will ever be mended. The real question is: what, if anything, will succeed the Anglican Communion?

To begin with, it is entirely safe to say that birds of a feather will flock together. ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada are joined by apostasy, and will never repent or confess error. Even while being instrumental in its death, they will continue to trumpet their membership in “the Anglican Communion.”

Likewise, the GAFCON primates are united by their traditional orthodoxy. ACNA is part of GAFCON, and will continue to be. They, along with a majority of the 38 provinces of the former Anglican Communion, may organize under a different name, but one which still has the descriptor “Anglican” in it. Or they may continue to meet, without either the apostate provinces or the Archbishop of Canterbury, and still consider themselves the true “Anglican Communion.” Only time will tell.

The remaining provinces will stay with ECUSA and ACoC, but some only for as long as financial support continues to flow in their direction from those churches. If their overhead and trips to group meetings cannot be subsidized, they will cease to attend.

The big question is: what will the Church of England do? For as long as the Queen of England governs the Church, it will follow the Queen — but she may not continue to govern it for long. And if Parliament forces the Church to offer same-sex marriages, then the Church will splinter, and parts of it will become disestablished. The Church of England as we know it will (especially under King Charles III) cease to be.

And without a Church of England, how will it be meaningful to speak of an “Anglican” Communion? Churches using derivatives of the Book of Common Prayer may continue to call themselves “Anglican”, but as each proceeds to revise its BCP to remove the last vestiges of commonality, the term will lose meaning as a descriptor, and will remain only as a marker of history and origin. Over time, “Anglican” will come to mean about as much as “Accadian” does today.

This is the future the Gene Robinsons and Mary Glasspools of the church have ordained for us. For them and their identities, it is simply a matter of justice — that is to say, full equality of treatment and opportunity.

But what does the larger picture tell us? Full equality, to be sure — but at what cost to the Anglican Communion, if full equality entails its extinction? Does that not point to the heresy that was the Communion’s undoing?

To those who would say “Better that the Communion perish, than that it perpetuate inequality and injustice”, I respond: “What you call ‘inequality’ is a confusion of categories — it is true that apples are not the ‘equal’ of oranges, and that only oranges may make orange juice. God, not man, made oranges that way. Likewise, the inability of apples to make orange juice is not a form of ‘injustice.’

“Scripture makes it clear that a bishop is to be ‘the husband of one wife,’ and those terms do not admit of your modern redefinition of them, any more than an apple can be said to be an orange. Throw out Scripture, and you have doomed the Church to extinction. So your demand for ‘full equality’ is really a demand to throw out Scripture, and hence to wreck the Church. And I would say that thus far, you have been doing a pretty good job of it.

“If you had been content to be a sinner among all other Christian sinners, the Church could have continued to do what it was meant to do: to show God’s love and forgiveness for allsinners — so long as they repent and try to keep from further sin. But you wanted more. You demanded that, in the name of equality, the Church bless your sin and perpetuate it — and in the process, blaspheme our Lord. The Church that agrees to do that seals its own fate, as we are witnessing this very day.”

For ECUSA and its followers, the Church’s continuation has become inextricably intertwined with their identities, so the above line of argument (or anything similar said to them by the GAFCON primates) will not cause them to repent or even change course. That means that, as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow over Canterbury, so it will soon set on the breakup of the Anglican Communion.

At the risk of misplacing the object of my worship, I may still turn to Shakespeare’s Sonnet LXXIII for consolation:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

(Illustration: Ruins of Holyrood Chapel by Louis Daguerre 1787-1851)

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