This week the Sydney Morning Herald:
Church is split, declares Jensen
AUSTRALIA’S leading conservative Anglican has pronounced the global church officially “separated” after the Archbishop of Canterbury conceded it may have to break apart to survive the fractures over gay clergy.
The Sydney Archbishop, Peter Jensen, aligned with rebellious evangelical prelates in Asia and Africa, said it was a historic, if not sad, moment for the church torn apart by gay clergy and gay marriage. “To use an analogy, partners have separated although they have not divorced,” Dr Jensen told the Herald yesterday.
But the Australian primate, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, said Australian Anglicans should not despair. The Anglican Communion’s long journey was “worth it, because the Anglican faith is worth it”, Dr Aspinall said. “The Australian church has never shied away from the real difficulties caused by the sometimes great differences in certain parts of the Anglican Communion.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, conceded in a statement to the 38 national churches, representing 77 million Christians, that he could not fix the fractures over sexuality. But he offered a new model, a two-tiered structure, with churches that refuse to toe the conservative position becoming associates.
Churches willing to sign a covenant of shared doctrinal beliefs would form an inner sanctum of churches with full membership and presumably voting entitlements.
Dr Jensen said the statement by Dr Williams was late recognition of an irreconcilable split that had begun with the US church’s ordination of the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in 2003. But he doubts the workability of the model. He said the Australian church would find it hard to sign such a covenant that could force it to give up its hard-won autonomy.
He sees the global church evolving into a loose federation where geographical boundaries are eroded and networks of alliances develop between dioceses.
The Canterbury statement is unlikely to have any immediate implication for the Australian church because its 2004 synod resolved not to proceed with the blessing of same-sex relationships or the ordination of openly gay bishops in respect of the church’s “ongoing conversation”.
Nor, Dr Aspinall said, would the statement instantly fix the church. “While the Canterbury document is a way to get the international church talking, it isn’t a list of instant solutions or demands, nor are the ideas floated new.”
The Archbishop of Perth, Roger Herft, a leading liberal, says Dr William’s model recognised the church’s structure. But he disputed Dr Jensen’s comparisons of the church to a marital split.
“Jesus said, I choose you, you did not choose me,” he said. “If, in fact, God chooses us, I don’t think we have a choice of who we live with or disagree with.”
The call by Dr Williams for a looser federation came after the American church failed last week to meet the demands of conservatives to repent their ordination of a gay bishop or risk their expulsion from the world church.
“There is no way in which the Anglican Communion can remain unchanged by what is happening at the moment,” he said. “Neither the liberal nor the conservative can simply appeal to historic identity that doesn’t correspond with where we now are.”
The 37 primates will discuss the model at their February meeting.