April 30, 2012

Let the Confessing Anglicans Confess—Somewhere Else

Paul Bagshaw has been reading the FoCA tea leaves over on his blog Not the same stream. FoCA, of course, is the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, which has just finished meeting in London. The FoCA folks are the Calvinist fringe of the Anglican Communion, who mistakenly believe that they represent authentic (“orthodox”) Anglicanism.

Paul’s analysis is quite helpful, as it provides a flavor of what the FoCA crowd is up to, thereby saving you the painful task of reading the tiresome, repetitive drivel they turn out.

I was struck by this depressing observation:
Therefore there will be no schism in the sense of one organization separating itself out from another on a certain day, followed immediately by either or both bodies setting up new structures and legal identities.

Instead there will be a steady continued tearing of the fabric as distinct ecclesial units (parishes, dioceses and provinces as well as individuals) align themselves explicitly with the FoCA. The legalities will depend on the law of each country (property and pensions being governed by secular law) and on the ecclesiastical structure of each Church.
One can quibble about what is and is not schism. And one can speculate as to whether a formal break of FoCA from the Anglican Communion wouldn’t be good for all concerned. I suspect that FoCA sees some drawbacks to a clean break from the Communion. It would be easy for a Nigeria or Uganda to abandon the Communion, but what about a Diocese of Sydney? And what about individual parishes? Like the Anglican Church in North America, FoCA is parasitic and is trying to rustle as many sheep as it can wherever they can be found.

Nonetheless, people have been asking for quite a while whether some churches of the Anglican Communion will actually leave the Communion or whether, for all practical purposes, they already have.

I am inclined to view the Communion as having already split, and believe that it might be time to recognize the new reality. The Anglican Communion is not, in fact, the group of churches in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury (or, for that matter, the Church of England). England has communion agreements with other churches that have never been considered either Anglican or part of the Anglican Communion. But does it, in fact, make sense to have an Anglican Communion in which it is not the case that every church in it is in communion with every other church?

I don’t know that The Episcopal Church has ever declared broken communion with another church. We did not even do so when Southerners broke away from The Episcopal Church during the Civil War. But the situation is different with, say, the Church of the Province of Uganda, which claims no longer to be in communion with The Episcopal Church. Is The Episcopal Church in communion with the Church of the Province of Uganda nonetheless? Of course not. Being in communion is a symmetric relation. A in communion with B implies that B must also be in communion with A. The Episcopal Church cannot impose communion on its Ugandan counterpart. This is like friendship. I cannot legitimately claim I am Joe’s friend if Joe has publicly declared that I am not his friend and has acted accordingly.

The Episcopal Church should acknowledge the obvious: we are not in communion with Anglican Communion churches that have broken off communion with us. Moreover, an Archbishop of Canterbury who was interested in real, rather than faux, unity of the Anglican Communion would make it clear that a church cannot be in the Anglican Communion if it is not in communion with all the sister churches of the fellowship.

Let’s get on with the Anglican divorce, so we can get beyond the bickering with which the Calvinists have tied the Communion in knots in the past decade or so.


  1. FoCA is nothing more than the party fights since the 16th century. They offer nothing different than the ultra-Calvinists did then. Those Puritans ventured off to plant colonies in the US and then continued to do what they have always done: splinter around doctrinal fights. There are now a bazillion splinters all claiming the one true faith once received because they are the only people who correctly reading the Bible.
    More important, however, is that I disagree about not being in Communion with the Church of Uganda's people simply because their leaders declare it so. We must refuse to let the narrowness of leaders separate us from those at the grassroots who will celebrate bi-lateral friendships.

  2. Yes Mike R -- to just look at the blatherings of the leaders is to make a mistake about the unity of the Communion. Anglican Women continue to work together across Province and diocesan lines, Companion Relationships between congregations and dioceses continue, ER-D continues to work in disaster and relief regardless of POVs of province, many mission projects continue in all of the Anglican Communion. Divorce would leave a lot of children in the lurch (metaphorically and actually). So let us differ in love regardless.

  3. The Diocese of Massachusetts is working to build a hospital in Uganda, in a partnership which does require agreement on every issue.

  4. Lionel, I understand your frustration, because I feel it, too, but I would not want us to be seen as pushing people out. We don't want what the covenant offers, but if people leave, it should be by their own choice.

    What Mike R and Ann say, too. The leaders don't necessarily speak for all of their people. Relationships between dioceses and parishes continue despite the rhetoric of the leadership, as does the work of mission.

  5. My real point was that, if a church says it is not in communion with The Episcopal Church, then The Episcopal Church is not really in communion with it. In writing my essay, I perhaps went further than I intended.

    That said, I honestly think a division of the Communion is (1) inevitable and (2) ultimately beneficial. There is no rule that says that our church can only help people elsewhere if the local church is in communion with our own, though such a relationship, one presumes, makes assistance easier.

  6. In my post reacting to the FoCA meeting, "Can We All Say Schism Now?" I raised similar points. It is past time that we acknowledge the split.

    That does not mean we have to ignore or withdraw help from the people on the ground in communities like Uganda. Your readers may not be aware that already, some of our aid has to pass through Lutheran or NGO hands to avoid being rejected by, "bishops" who prefer to let the people suffer, over acknowledging our help.


  7. "The FoCA folks are the Calvinist fringe of the Anglican Communion" is not the case, I'm happy to say. Accepting for the sake of argument (only) the term 'Calvinist', FoCA are the separatist fringe of the Calvinist tradition in Anglicanism. Even at that it would be more accurate to say that 'some of FoCA are etc etc'. As you rightly point out, the diocese of Sydney isn't going anywhere even if the Episcopal Church is declared the Church England's new best friend. Many of those involved in FoCA are trying to prevent the separatists from hiving off, and will not follow them if they do. When the present unpleasantness is over, there will still be a substantial number of Calvinists in the Anglican Communion, as there has been since before Calvin began his career as a theologian.

    It's true that Evangelicals (a more accurate term) "mistakenly believe that they represent authentic Anglicanism", but everyone else who believes that they represent authentic Anglicanism is equally mistaken. Anglicanism has always contained the entire range of Protestant opinion, and since the 19th century has contained some Roman Catholic opinion too. It is the ability to stay in the same church as those one disagrees with that is the defining characteristic of Anglicanism. Urging others to confess their faith 'somewhere else' is not a very Anglican characteristic, actually. Although it can be tempting, I admit...


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