Friday, 4 July 2008

Let a church so fond of division test its worth in the marketplace of belief

Those eager for small talk with Gordon Brown should try Scots Presbyterian schismatism, on which he is remarkably well informed. British rulers since the days of Trollope have found the politics of religion an absorbing relief from the trials of office. It usually means someone in even bigger trouble.

But the show has always stayed on the road through the remarkable tolerance of the Anglican community, "broad of church and broad of mind, broad before and broad behind". From Anglo-Catholics to happy-clappies, old codgers to gays and lesbians, the ever benign Church of England embraced them all, no questions asked.

Now those versed in these things tell us that the elastic has stretched too far. The church is on the brink of snapping apart. Need we care?

The scenario is near unbelievable. At a meeting last week in Jerusalem a dissident body called the Global Anglican Future Conference summoned 300 bishops and archbishops from round the world to set up a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, within or without the "70-million strong Anglican communion". So-called Gafcon and Foca might be from the satirical film Life of Brian. We read that Lagos is threatening to denounce Canterbury. Sydney is at loggerheads with Ottawa. America is threatening to create a "new province". All and sundry are castigating the saintly Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, for failing to show "moral leadership"; if he did, they would certainly refuse to follow.

Meanwhile, 1,300 English clergy are about to defect if gays or women are given equal rights (or rites), while 800 more are forming "a church within a church". St Bartholomew the Great is told that it may "disagree but not disregard" Lambeth Palace in blessing gay unions. Journalists must pore over the Book of Common Prayer to see how a blessing relates to a marriage, or an ordination to an enthronement. Read more
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