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Justin welby

Today’s news, for those of us with a religious interest, is dominated by the Anglican Communion. We’re told that the Archbishop of Canterbury is suggesting a looser arrangement for the world-wide Anglican community. The strain of running a Church which includes Ugandan Bishops who treat homosexuality as a sin and a crime, and American women bishops for who homosexual marriage is a human right, must be great. As someone who has a good deal of interaction with the C of E, I’m always sorry to hear it is in trouble. As someone with a healthy distrust of the press, I wonder, though, whether this is right? As I understand it, the Anglicans more or less get on with it wherever they are, and a bit like the Commonwealth, have as a bond only the head of the organisation. It looks rather like what’s going on here is that the old Lambeth Conference is coming to an end. The strain of having Anglican Bishops with such different views in one place is so great, that not even calling the meeting by Zulu names (Indaba) has worked:

The African churches have come to the consensus that they are not persuaded by the claims of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada in favor of gay blessings – See more at: http://anglicanink.com/article/indaba-dead#sthash.Lk8IZoJy.dpuf

Sceptical as ever, this report is not quite accurate, either. Not all Canadian and American Anglicans are ‘persuaded’ by the claims of their presiding bishops either. We see much the same in the Catholic Church, where Cardinal Kasper has commented:

“Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo.”

We see the same slippery attempt at work. If this was not an issue on which the vocal offendotrons of the Left felt strongly, they’d be first out of the trap shouting ‘racism’. The attempt here is to say that Africans are ‘different’ (aka backwards, not as civilised as us, but you can’t say that except in code) but will catch up. It ignores the plain fact that there are many Christians in Europe, the UK and the USA, who hold to traditional Christian teaching. The same rhetoricians also spin it to claim that many of us who do are also ‘backward’ (perhaps we’re all Africans now). This won’t do at all.

The Anglicans are, as ever, the canaries in the mine. For a couple of generations now, the Anglicans have tested the limits of fudge and mudge, taking language to the outer limits of flexibility. Every formulation of words which can be read in more than one way has been tried. The Catholic Church really should take note. This is what it is doing at the moment. Rambling Pope Frank fires off salvos which need an army of interpreters, none of whom appears to be capable of telling us precisely what he means. That’s how it goes. The the time will come when an historic understanding is so undermined that the miners will say ‘but surely that is now old hat – you lot did not protest when Pope Francis said x, y, or z’.

We’re called on to love one another, and that we must do. The Anglicans have struggled with this schism between those holding to a traditionalist view and those holding to a contextualist (things change, it’s not the same as it was back then, the context has changed, we must change) view. Even it cannot now, it seems, hold them together in the same church. For a church which came into institutional existence (and complainants please note the wording) because a king wanted a divorce, the time has come for another divorce. It might be better for us all if there were two churches – one for those who believe in traditional Christianity, and another for those believing in some modern riff off it.

This is not, begging the pardon of many learned commentators, about ‘different cultures’, it is about understandings of the Gospel message. For many of us there are non-negotiable bits of Christianity. We don’t all agree what those are, but we do agree they are there, and the irreducible minimum is the Creed and what it says about the Trinity and the Incarnation and the Resurrection. With those who believe that, I always have something in common. Beyond that we are, to me, and many, into a land where words get used in ways I distrust. The Resurrection means Jesus rose bodily, not that the Apostles had an ‘experience’ which revived their faith; the Incarnation means God the Word came in the flesh without ceasing to be God, but assumed our humanity to redeem it. There’s a pile of stuff which may well be ‘cultural’, but we either believe something, or we don’t. The Anglican Church has reached the point where its many African members are able to support its many English and American members who agree on that, and Archbishop Justin is probably wise to recognise that sleeping in separate beds, if not a divorece, is on the cards.

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