Liberalism is fragmenting Anglicanism
News that the Archbishop of Canterbury has decided to allow the Anglican Communion to have much looser ties and mutual commitments comes as no great surprise. All efforts to prevent the conservative and liberal provinces of the Communion rejecting their respective teachings and practices seem to have failed, despite immense efforts to produce a ‘covenant’ that might command the respect and assent of all.
The famous Crockford’s Preface, 1987, had predicted the erosion of the bonds of the Anglican Communion such as common liturgy, conservative patristic theology and a respect for the church’s history and doctrine. Bennett fulminated against a liberal elite appointing its own to key offices and excluding conservatives, Anglo-Catholic or evangelical. He lamented the autonomous liberalism of the provinces that had ordained women against the tradition and majority of provincial practice. And he foresaw the same sundering process for the Church of England itself in terms of a lack of authority and the growth of a secular, populist liberalism reflecting the cultural changes in society.
While he was wrong over the ordination of women, which did not split the Church, it is hard to argue that much of his analysis was basically correct. The Church of England now seems deeply split over the issue of how to respond to homosexuality, not only the ethical question but that of authority in doctrine and ethics. His own Anglo-Catholic party did indeed erode, many clergy going to Rome and very few now in positions of episcopal authority, with a few notable exceptions such as the Bishop of London.
Likewise, his view that a liberal ascendancy was becoming structural seems true: the tactic of summoning a civil service commission to resolve a deep issue of theological ethics, the Pilling Report, confirms his fears. Likewise the lack of concern for the other major church communions and their teaching, the Orthodox and Rome, was something he feared as an Anglican catholic.
The Church of England is now consecrating women bishops, deepening division even if arguably correct on biblical grounds, and it seems to be preparing the ground to accept the Pilling Report, again with no reference to ecumenical partners. Bennett would no doubt be horrified at the growth of Anglican multi-faith teaching and practice, gradually consenting to a kind of religious relativism, avoiding the offence of the cross, ‘foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews’, as St Paul put it.
This new view of ‘mission’ as finding agreement with all other faiths also makes it certain that establishment has to change, probably when Charles accedes to the throne: the justification for the top end of establishment, in today’s multi faith context in a secularist ethical framework, seems difficult.
The core problem is liberalism and its place in any church of Jesus Christ. Once orthodoxy becomes optional, or even disparaged, no church can maintain apostolic health. A liberal gadfly asking questions is one thing, a liberal core is a recipe for chaos.