Monday, October 27, 2008

Possible rift among Anglican conservatives

Thinking Anglicans reports that the Diocese of Sydney has voted to allow deacons to preside over the Eucharist. All other Anglican churches and most (maybe all?) mainline denominations only allow ordained priests to preside.

The Diocese of Sydney is very conservative as to the ordination of women and on matters of sexual orientation. They are also probably the most Evangelical diocese in the whole Anglican Communion.

For those readers who aren't Anglican, the Anglican Communion is a confederation of churches that embraces a diversity of theological viewpoints. One of the areas on which Anglicans disagree is churchmanship. High church Anglicans prefer liturgies very similar to Roman Catholic ones. Low church Anglican liturgy will incorporate many Evangelical elements.

In the US and Canada, the churches that have broken away from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have often splintered along lines of churchmanship. Continuing Anglican churches in the US, such as the Anglican Catholic Church, are high church. The United Episcopal Church of North America left the Anglican Catholic Church over alleged discrimination against low churchmen, although they have since reconciled. The Reformed Episcopal Church left the main Episcopal church because of concerns over the "loss of Protestant and Evangelical witness".

We may soon see similar fracturing among Anglican conservatives. I find it hard to be sympathetic, honestly. An article in Episcopal Life Online mentions that Archbishop Peter Jensen is reluctant to license lay people to preside at Eucharist at present because of his affiliation with GAFCON, a group of conservative Anglicans.

Interestingly enough, a number of liberal readers of Thinking Anglicans strongly disapprove of Sydney's move. My sense is that the majority of Anglican liberals in the US tend to be Anglo-Catholic (high church). I've come to appreciate high church liturgy, but my outlook is fundamentally low church. English conservatives, I believe, tend to be low church.

That said, my opinion is this. Jesus was not ordained and he was not a Christian. Jesus specified to the disciples that they were to break bread and share wine in his memory. The church specified requirements as to who may administer what sacraments. However, those requirements have the weight of tradition only. Tradition shouldn't be discarded lightly. Our friends in Sydney decided to modify tradition substantially in light of their own needs. The Episcopal Church decided to modify tradition substantially when it consecrated Gene Robinson. As such, we shouldn't condemn Sydney on this issue. We should condemn them for their homophobia.

Interestingly enough, while Sydney refuses to ordain women, they do license women as deacons. This is a step forward for women in the Diocese. And I hate to sound condescending, but even a small step forward is a step forward.

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