- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2006

Peter J.Boyer of The New Yorker has a remarkably balanced and well- reported piece on the potential rupture of the worldwide Anglican Communion (the article is not online, but check out this useful Q&A; with the author).

Boyer, an ex-evangelical liberal Episcopalian, makes clear that the 2003 consecration of homosexual bishop Gene Robinson is only cosmetically the source of conflict for the denomination.

More profoundly, it is about the conflict over basic Christian orthodoxies like the Virgin Birth, bodily resurrection, biblical inerrancy, etc.

Conservative American Episcopalians such as Pittsburgh Bishop Bob Duncan, though outnumbered in the post-Christian West, have tentatively allied themselves with ultra-orthodox Global South archbishops Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda and Peter Akinola of Nigeria.

Writes Boyer:

The conservative strategy turns on an audacious twist on the old concept of religious schism: forcing a divide within the Episcopal Church that would render the main church, rather than the dissidents, the schismatic party. This depends on convincing the worldwide Anglican Communion that the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, or ECUSA, as the national body of the church is called, has already departed from the faith, and that an alternative body of orthodox Episcopalians should be recognized as the true church in America. The old Episcopal Church, it is envisioned, would drift away into irrelevance, a shrinking sect of aging white liberals.

Locally (and personally) I can see the makings of the schism in the Georgetown church where I was married and the northern Virginia church I attend now. To be honest, as someone who grew up thinking that vestment-clad priests of any denomination - as opposed to pastors dressed more sensibly in suits - were ceremonial magicians, I find the schism perversely entertaining.

The extreme Episcopalian left is perhaps best exemplified by retired Bishop John “Jack” Shelby Spong, as well as his forerunner, the late Bishop John A.T. Robinson.

The latter, Boyer writes, once asked, “Now that we have rejected the ancients’ view of God living in a material heaven above the actual sky, what does God’s existence mean?” And Spong, who publishes a pricey E-mail newsletter, has tried to fashion a post-theistic Christianity.

Spong is frequently obnoxious but he’s no fool. Hence I can’t help wondering why he goes to such lengths. Why bother? Why not simply admit, like Bart D. Ehrman, that he’s lost his faith? What, after 30 years’ effort of making Christianity more palatable for modernity, do the likes of Spong have to show for themselves, besides empty pews?

As Dave Shiflett argues, the numbers are not on the side of postmodern Christianity, not in America and certainly not in Africa, South America, and Asia, where, Boyer writes, orthodox Anglicanism “continues to grow even as it recedes in Britain and the United States.”

The conservatives, it seems to me, are in a strong position, and it will be interesting to see what move they make at the general convention in June.

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