But now the Anglican Communion is dead
Andrew Brown’s blog Guardian/UK 30 October, 2013
While yet another evangelical rebellion over gay clergy was gaining zero publicity, a more significant schism has occurred. What, you gave a schism and nobody came? When six people hold a press briefing and three journalists attend, you know the story is over, and on Tuesday morning that is what happened when the evangelical wing of the Church of England announced – yet again – its plans to rebel against any open accommodation with gay people.
There were two retired bishops. There were three vicars and one of their wives. They talked to three journalists for an hour about their experiences at a conference of conservative Anglicans, called Gafcon, which met in Nairobi last week. This was set up as a protest against the reluctance of the official Anglican Communion to expel the Americans (who pay for it) as a punishment for their enthusiasm for openly gay clergy.
Once upon a time, this would have been a story. We heard threats to withhold money from the central bodies of the Church of England, threats to ignore the authority of other bishops, threats of defections to their grouping from the mainstream of opinion here. All these things will no doubt happen, as they have been happening in a small way for the past 20 years. What's new is that no one any longer cares. The split has happened, and it turns out not to matter at all.
This is in part because the movement of public opinion on sexuality has completely overwhelmed that of church politicians. Congregations by and large have moved on, too. They are part of the public, too. But until very recently the conservative evangelicals in the Church of England lived in a bubble of self-importance, whose boundaries were respected by Rowan Williams. And from within the bubble, the outside world could not be clearly seen. Only, the fight about gay marriage made it apparent to the main body of the church – and to Justin Welby – that their attitudes were repulsive and immoral to the majority of people in this country.
The conservatives still don't really see this. To them, anyone who disagrees with them is wrong about God. They dress up their lack of influence here in wonderful titles from abroad – the two retired bishops were respectively "an adviser to the Primates' Council" and the other – I love this – was representing "The Anglican Mission in England", which is an organisation founded in Rwanda.
They feel they are part of the global, "orthodox" mainstream of Christianity. But almost the only decisive act of Rowan Williams' time in office was the rejection, by a clear majority of committed churchgoers, of his "covenant" – a plan to bind the Church of England into the structures of the rest of the Anglican Communion. No one here wants to be told what to do by the Church of Nigeria, however many Anglicans there are there and however sincerely they seem to hate gay people.
Welby understands this very well, though I think it came as a shock to him. He turned up before the Gafcon meeting in Nairobi and praised the courage of the Christians there. But he did not tell them they were right, and he was not officially present for the gathering. Instead, he went to Iceland, to talk about credit unions.
So what we learned yesterday, which was news, was that the Anglican Communion is now quite dead. There will not be another Lambeth Conference. The next act of the schism will be played out in this country, but we still don't know whether anyone will care.