Analysis: Anglican Huff and Puff

By UWE SIEMON-NETTO, UPI Religion Editor  |  Oct. 17, 2003 at 5:26 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- Was this week's Anglican confab in London just Huff and Puff and then a good nap, as American theological commentator Christopher Hershman suggested Friday?

Was it a gentlemanly finger-wagging in the direction of the Episcopal Church U.S.A., followed by a daring step - handing the whole matter of homosexuality in the Church over to a commission for a one-year study?

Was it, as an observer told Hershman, a postmodern rendering of Luther's famous "Here I stand"? Was it something like, "Here I crawl. I can do anything. Public opinion help me. Amen"?

Well, according to David W. Virtue, chronicler of all things Anglican, there was drama all right. "In the lobby of the Novotel where I was staying, Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, a leading conservative spokesman, was rushed past me surrounded by an entourage of orthodox leaders and taken to a safe place," Virtue reported.

Then came the clanger: Virtue was told that Akinola's "life had been threatened. Akinola left ... under guard for the airport and his flight home."

Quipped an Episcopal prelate in America when he was told this story: "This just goes to show how versatile we Anglicans are: We make light of Scripture and are appalled. We sternly instruct a commission to study the matter within a year. We kind of threaten a primate's life, and then we all fly home happily."

On Nov. 2, the Rev. Canon Vicky Gene Robinson, a non-celibate homosexual and a divorcee, will be consecrated as bishop of New Hampshire, unless ... Unless what? Unless Frank Griswold -- head of the ECUSA and, despite some open talk from fellow primates at Lambeth Palace the pow-wow's evident victor thus far -- will persuade him to stand down.

But before heading back across the Atlantic, Griswold held his cards close to his chest. "I might do many things," he said. Virtue found Griswold sounded rather snide.

So now while a commission set up by the archbishop of Canterbury goes about its business studying human sexuality, and while Robinson receives his crosier and his miter, the Anglican Communion will not break up with a bang; more likely it will just crumble piecemeal.

As Atlanta's Rev. David Anderson, president the conservative American Anglican Council, told television interviewers Friday, it is 80 percent certain that some provinces will end communion with the Episcopalians once Robinson is installed. At least they will break with Robinson's diocese, or even with the entire ECUSA.

There are rumblings among the world's Anglicans about Robinson's "selfishness."

"Why wouldn't he stand down in order to save the unity of the church?" many of his coreligionists around the globe keep asking. And by "church" is meant not just the Anglican Communion, but the entire body of Christ.

Jeffrey John did so earlier this year when his nomination for bishop threatened a major rift in the Church of England - and yet John was a "celibate homosexual" and therefore presumably canonically eligible for the post. So why wouldn't Robinson follow his example?

Talk to confessional Christians from other parts of the world, especially the Global South, and they will tell you that the issue is a quintessentially American one. In the U.S. way of reasoning, any kind of "progress" is commendable, including "progress" in theology, even as the expense of scriptural truth.

This has been the point of friction between the theologies of American and - to some extent Western European - "progressives" and their colleagues in other parts of the world for a very long time. The latter consider this way of thinking as anthropocentric and therefore contrary to the Gospel.

Of course by no means all American theologians, Anglicans included, think that way. The Vatican knows that well. There are reports that Rome has sent a representative to the United States with the express mission of getting disgruntled Episcopal parishes to reorganize as Anglican-rite Catholic congregations.

United Press International could not verify these reports Friday, although they did sound reasonable. For if there is one thing that distinguishes Roman Catholicism from its Anglican relative it is this: As Pope John Paul II keeps reminding us by his very example every day, the Catholic Church does not huff and not puff.

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