Anglicanism gives way to Democratic Centralism

By Adrian Worsfold

Isn’t if funny how Anglicanism increasingly mirrors the world of Communism? We know that some of the idealistic Puritans, the first European settlers on America’s eastern shores were communists, but now Anglicanism seems to have this in the blood. Well – without the idealism, that is.

Already we have had an example of entryism, the religious Trotskyism of GAFCON and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. Back in the 1980s, frustration with the Labour Government being rather more moderate than its credal Clause 4 led a group of Trotskyites to organise within the Labour Party on its own secretive terms, to pre-arrange socialist outcomes, and influence by any planned means available a wider frustrated democratic socialist group of people. We have seen Western Conservative Evangelicals, frustrated with their minority status and little effect, organise themselves and use a new concept of international oversight – bishops from more compatible with them Anglican provinces in Africa – to push Western broader evangelicals and make Anglicanism doctrinally purist. A well funded strategy has been to isolate the most liberal and Western of Anglican Churches, and to pressurise elements in the rest. It took a Neil Kinnock to root out the party within a party, and allow Labour to go on as it was, a moderate party (indeed to later remove Clause 4 altogether).

Unfortunately, Anglicanism is currently headed by someone with his own international outlook: not an extreme evangelical one but rather a dedicated Catholic one, of bishops and himself, using so called Instruments. Instead of rooting out the Anglican equivalent of Militant, and restoring the diverse and culturally responsive nature of the Communion in its localities, Rowan Williams has played their game and fancies his own form of centralisation. He has allowed biblical fundamentalism to be the basis by which one Anglican Church might recognise another as valid or invalid, to then have a system of referrals up regarding complaints. Thus the extreme evangelicals have played a blinder.

And now we have his feature to bring harmony to this stressed and internationalised Communion called a Standing Committee. Doesn’t it just look like a Politburo! Democratic centralism is a means by which one layer of a party (which is infused into a bureaucracy) elects the next layer up, but we all know how that conserves a system. It also hands out edicts, from the top down. Properly speaking, democratic centralism is all about power. The only fully worked out, bureaucratic and democratic centralised religious system is in the Baha’i Faith, with its nine male only members in Haifa’s Universal House of Justice that determines Baha’i interpretation of the holy writings, produces plans and delivers policies. But whilst the Anglican Standing Committee, the Politburo, will not have power over autonomous Churches, it will have authority.

It works like this. Each Church agrees to sign a document that gives consultation across Churches and upwards the highest priority before it does anything that it suspects will cause controversy. Indeed it can consult to find out if an action will be controversial. The Standing Committee might have something to say on the matter early on too; after a Church acts the Standing Committee will have something to say and do about the matter. The Standing Committee derives from the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the latter being the only semi-representative element in all of this. The rest is very hierarchical. The Standing Committee does all the reasoning and recommending around an issue, and then makes a declaration, though action needs the rubber stamping of the Primates and the ACC. Yes, even the Soviet Union had parliaments (as well as committees), in order to rubber stamp party decisions.

Of course an Anglican Church could, with its autonomy, carry on with its own synodical or assembly led action. The result would be ‘relational consequences’ – that is, removal from one of more of the Instruments, surely the Primates’ Meeting and/ or the ACC, and certainly the key Standing Committee itself. On removal, there would then be efforts to bring the Church back in, presumably with pressure to reverse the decision in order to return.

At the moment the Standing Committee is already meeting in secret and passing resolutions, but there is no Covenant. Already the Archbishop talks about ‘The Mind of the Communion’ from over ten years ago, but a body of bishops at Lambeth every ten years has no actual authoritative constitutional existence. But these bodies would have authority if a Church signed up to the Covenant. Such signing comes with expectations: don’t sign something that cannot be met!

So what of the missing elements in the actual workings of the Covenant and the Standing Committee? Let’s be clear. The Archbishop will be free to roam around regarding the issues of the Standing Committee and add his weight behind it, and if necessary there will be resolutions passed among the body of bishops at Lambeth to uphold the centralised Anglican structure. Their outsideness yet overlap regarding the Standing Committee and the ACC and Primates Meeting just adds to the authority of centralisation.

So, pass the Covenant and know what to expect. It won’t just be the recent experience of entryism and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s willingness to roll over that will resemble authoritarian Marxist-Leninism, but there will be a new form of Anglican Soviet Union. There will be a Politburo expecting to have its secretly decided pronouncements met. It will decide from the centre. The Archbishop will have created his Catholic dream, and he will thank the extreme evangelicals for helping him achieve his vision of a worldwide Church, and he can then tell the Holy Father in Rome what it can achieve and what comes next.

Adrian Worsfold (Pluralist), has a doctorate in sociology and a masters degree in contemporary theology. He lives near Hull, in northeast England and keeps the blog Pluralist Speaks.

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