By Greg Jones
I do not gloat in saying this, but it appears to be true: ‘Conservative Anglicanism is splitting before the Communion or any of its constituent provinces.’ It may come as no surprise, but in the past six months or so we have begun to witness a divide emerge in what is usually called ‘conservative’ Anglicanism. To be sure, the word ‘conservative’ may not even be the right word here. But, in short-hand, we are seeing a divide among those Anglicans opposed to the ‘liberal’ innovations in the Episcopal Church/Canada and elsewhere vis a vis gay Christians. There is a clear division among those who are theologically ‘conservative’ on the gay issue – between those who are working actively to split the Communion as soon as possible, and those working to keep it together.
Of course there are differences among ‘liberals’ as well – i.e. some are traditional in most things except for the desire to include the maximum number of human beings regardless of how they were made (as we see it), and those who are basically ‘Liberal Protestants’ or ‘New Age’ or ‘Modernists’ or ‘Spong-Pagels-Crossan-Types’ who seem to have little love for the faith presented in the Quadrilateral at all.
The departure of Ephraim Radner from the Anglican Communion Network was heartening – in that he left that group when it became clear that the Separatists had full control over its agenda. We have likewise seen movement away from the Separatists in a number of otherwise ‘conservative’ dioceses – like Central Florida, South Carolina, Dallas, and elsewhere. As well, the Fulcrum group of evangelical ‘moderates’ in the Church of England, or the Anglican Communion Institute, or the Covenant blog collective have all made moves distinguishing themselves from the radical right or Anglican Separatist movement.
I say all this to applaud Dr. Michael Poon – heretofore a leading voice of conservative Global South Anglicanism. He has recently distanced himself from the latest phase of the Separatist movement – the so-called GAFCON – or ‘alternative Lambeth’ that is being planned by the leading anti-gay forces in the Communion.
Completely on cue, the Separatist blog-shills at Stand Firm have panned Poon.
What I wish more liberal Episcopalians would acknowledge is that many theologically conservative Anglicans/Episcopalians are taking a great deal of heat for standing up for unity, reconciliation and a comprehensive vision of Anglicanism – and they are not getting much credit for standing against the extremist Separatist powers busily at work attempting to render the Communion. The good news, to my mind, is that there are many Communion minded people who seek comprehensiveness and unity for true – and they are not all on the same theological page, as regards the inclusion of women, gays or on other questions challenging the wider body at present. They are not of one mind, but they are of one desire to remain in communion by virtue of baptism and a common identity as Anglicans.
As with Dr. Radner, I would argue that Dr. Poon deserves a great deal of respect for speaking the truth with integrity, and in a way that will cause him grief among folks he had been formerly allied with. It is interesting that he composed his letter on the feast of the holy blissful martyr Thomas a Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury who found himself murdered by errant goons.
It occurs to me that in a most clever Chaucerian way, Dr. Poon has just insinuated that the Separatist leaders (Akinola, et al.) are little more than the same sort who then as now are prepared to bring the sword to Canterbury.
The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (“Greg”) is rector of St. Michael’s Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.
Read Dr. Michael Poon’s remarks below:
I am saddened and shocked by the Statement on “The Global Anglican Future Conference, June 15-22, The Holy Land”, issued on December 26, 2007. Perhaps the Primates responsible need to clarify their views on the matter.
1. On what basis was the Statement “announced by Orthodox Primates”? What is the basis of orthodoxy? Historically, the Communion takes Canon A5 “Doctrine of the Church of England” and C15 “On the Preface to the Declaration of Assent” of the Church of England as the basis of its belief. This underpins Section 2 (“The Faith we share”) of the proposed Anglican Covenant. On what basis did the Primates of Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Southern Cone, and Tanzania declare themselves as orthodox primates?
2. Did the Primates at Nairobi act on their personal capacity or as primates of their respective churches that “represent over 30 million of the 55 million active Anglicans in the world”? It would be helpful if the Primates and bishops are able to have their Statement ratified through due process by their Provincial/National/Diocesan synods.
3. Has the Global South Anglican Primates Steering Committee endorsed this Statement? So far, it has remained silent on the matter. It is important to note that the authority of the Global South Anglican “movement” and of the Steering Committee arise from the South-South Encounter and most recently the Kigali Meeting in 2006. The Global South represents a broad spectrum of Anglican churches that hold onto the historic faith and ecclesiology informed by the historic formularies. It does not answer to the dictates of the radical evangelical wings within the Communion. It is regrettable that Asia, West Indies, and Middle East are glaring omissions among the “conveners” of the proposed Conference. Have they been consulted? Have they rejected the proposal? In their place, we find names of colleagues (with due respect) from a particular strand in the Northern churches. Why was this Statement issued with such haste? And without broader representation?
4. Was the Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem of the Middle East consulted? After all the proposed Conference takes place in Jerusalem? Furthermore, by holding it in Jerusalem, it makes it quite impossible for orthodox Christians from Muslim countries to attend. And yet, what is that insignificant minority in the face of powerful numerical blocs?
What should our discipleship be at this stage? Primates are pledged to uphold the unity and the faith of the church, and not their private judgments and personalities—even their interpretation of orthodoxy. Please be constructive in your decisions at this stage.
Michael Poon — Feast of Thomas Becket, 2007