September 1, 2008

Good Grief!

In my August 11 post “Mistaken Primate,” I reproached Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams for speaking of the “Anglican Church”:
In his second paragraph, Williams uses a phrase about which I constantly chide reporters, “Anglican Church.” What does the archbishop mean by this? Because he wants the Anglican Communion—a fellowship—to be a real, unified, worldwide church, he speaks as though it is. Well, it isn’t.
Williams’ use of “Anglican Church” was dismaying, but not surprising, as the archbishop seems to have it in his head that greater centralization within Anglicanism is the key to moderating conflict.

It is more distressing and damaging when “Anglican Church” appears in publications from The Episcopal Church, as it does in the essay by layperson Nelson Smith “Get off the sidelines: With teamwork if not affection, the Anglican Church can be a force for peace and justice” that recently appeared on Episcopal Life Online. In addition to its use in the subtitle, “Anglican Church” occurs three times in the body of the piece.

“Get off the sidelines” is a plea to Anglicans to do the work of the Christ’s Church even in the face of internal conflicts. We should be addressing poverty, injustice, and stewardship of the environment now, the author asserts. In particular,
Let the bonds of common mission and necessity carry the day for now over the “bonds of affection.” I have faith that God will be present throughout the process and may even help with the affection part. The sideline is no place for the Anglican Church—it must be “in the arena.”
This is, I think, a fine and timely message, except, of course, for the “Anglican Church” part.

Clearly, Smith is referring to the churches—note the use of the plural here—of the Anglican Communion. He is neither asserting the existence nor advocating the establishment of a monolithic “Anglican Church,” and he is likely unaware that Episcopalians as passionate as himself might be anguished by his use of the term. The editors of Episcopal Life Online should have required Smith to drop “Anglican Church” in favor of “Anglican churches,” “churches of the Anglican Communion,” or something similar.

I am not advocating censorship; “Anglican Church” is simply an erroneous designation that could mislead some, while giving aid and comfort to those insurgents in The Episcopal Church who, unable to get their way through the normal deliberative processes of the church, are conspiring to do so by converting the “Instruments of Communion” into instruments of coercion. In fact, I would not object to Episcopal Life Online carrying an essay advocating centralization of authority within the Communion. I do object, however, to the failure to edit material so as to avoid undermining the church gratuitously.

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