Changes Put Future of Church in Doubt
NEW YORK, 15 JULY 2006 (ZENIT)
Recent decisions by the Anglican Church
in Britain and the United States have raised the specter of further
splits. Last weekend, the Church of England's Synod voted in favor of
allowing women to be ordained bishops.
Already 14 out of the 38 autonomous Anglican churches in other countries
have approved women bishops, reported the BBC on Monday. The British
decision, however, was important given the status of England as the home
During the Synod debate the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams,
told participants that bishops had a special leadership role in the
Church, and that just because it had women priests, it did not mean that
women bishops were legitimate, the BBC reported. In the end the vote was
288 in favor of women bishops and 119 against.
The vote in favor of women bishops came shortly after data revealed the
increasing presence of women clergy. Fourteen years after the go-ahead
for women priests in the U.K., 283 women were recommended for the
seminary last year, compared with 295 men, reported the London-based
Times newspaper, June 24.
The experience of the Anglican Church in Britain was recently analyzed
by Hilary De Lyon, chief executive of the Royal College of General
Practitioners. She contributed a chapter to the study "Production
Values: futures for professionalism," published June 22 by the U.K.
The first women deacons were ordained in 1987, and women were permitted
to enter the full priesthood in 1994, explained De Lyon. Although it has
been only 12 years since women were first ordained, they already make up
over 20% of clergy, and hold 50% of the unpaid posts held by priests. In
addition, they hold only one in six of the paid posts and one in five of
the chaplaincy posts.
The latest vote comes after a long period of tensions in the Anglican
church. Shortly before the Synod meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury
announced that all the national churches would be asked to sign a
covenant declaring they believed in the basic biblical tenets of
Anglican doctrine, reported the Times newspaper, June 28.
Williams threatened that those who refuse to sign the declaration would
be excluded from full membership of the Church and would instead become
"associates." The proposal will be discussed by the Anglicans at the
2008 Lambeth Conference.
Anglican disunity is not the only threat; ecumenical relations are also
in doubt. Before last weekend's vote Cardinal Walter Kasper, president
of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, warned that
allowing women to be ordained bishops would further complicate attempts
to achieve unity.
In comments reported by the Times, June 7, the cardinal said that as it
was, the ordination of women as priests had led to a "cooling off" in
the relations between the two churches. The advent of women bishops
would cause a "serious and long-lasting chill." He also warned that:
"Without identity, no society, least of all a church, can continue to
On the other side of the Atlantic, the American branch of the Anglican
Church, the Episcopalians, continues to be riven by disputes. In May,
Episcopalians in San Francisco did avoid electing a homosexual as local
bishop, reported the Washington Post, May 7. Instead they chose Mark
Handley Andrus, currently the bishop suffragan from the diocese of
Alabama. Andrus ran against six other candidates, three of whom live
openly with same-sex partners, according to the Post article.
But the following month controversy arose over the election by the
Episcopal General Convention of Nevada bishop, Jefferts Schori, as its
leader in America. She is the first woman to head a national grouping of
the Anglican Communion, reported the Washington Post, June 19.
Her election immediately raised concerns. Schori had backed the election
of a declared homosexual, V. Gene Robertson, as a bishop in 2003. Before
this, no openly homosexual bishop had ever been consecrated in the
history of the Anglican Church. Moreover, the same meeting of American
Episcopalians that elected Schori refused to impose a moratorium on the
election of additional homosexual bishops, reported Reuters, June 20.
Reacting to the election of Schori, the Bishop of Rochester, England,
Michael Nazir-Ali, said that divisions between liberals and
conservatives were so profound that a compromise was no longer possible.
His comments came in an interview published June 19 by the British
newspaper, the Telegraph.
"Anglicans are used to fudging things sometimes, but I think this is a
matter of such seriousness that fudge won't do," said Bishop Nazir-Ali.
Nigeria's Anglican bishops had even stronger words, saying that the U.S.
branch is "a cancerous lump" that should be "excised," reported the BBC
on July 4.
Doubts over where Schori will lead Episcopalians were raised by her
statements in the days following the election. In a sermon shortly after
her election she referred to "our mother Jesus," reported the Times,
Then, in an interview published in the July 17 issue of Time magazine,
Schori was asked: "What will be your focus as head of the U.S. church?"
She replied saying: "Our focus needs to be on feeding people who go to
bed hungry, on providing primary education to girls and boys, on healing
people with AIDS, on addressing tuberculosis and malaria, on sustainable
development. That ought to be the primary focus."
The sort of priorities outlined by Shori were strongly criticized by
Charlotte Allen, Catholicism editor for Beliefnet, in an opinion article
published July 9 by the Los Angeles Times. The fragmentation of
Anglicanism, she explained, is not just due to doctrinal disputes. "It
also is about the meltdown of liberal Christianity," she said.
Liberal Christianity was hailed as the future of the Christian Church,
but Allen observed, all the churches and movements within churches that
have "blurred doctrine and softened moral precepts are demographically
declining and, in the case of the Episcopal Church, disintegrating."
"When a church doesn't take itself seriously, neither do its members"
argued Allen. As recently as 1960 churches such as the Episcopalians,
Presbyterians, Methodists, and Lutherans accounted for 40% of all
American Protestants. Today the number has plummeted to around 12%.
Allen cited data from the Hartford Institute for Religious Research,
showing that in 1965 there were 3.4 million Episcopalians; now, there
are 2.3 million.
Her comments echoed the thesis of the book, "Exodus: Why Americans are
Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity," (Sentinel)
published last year. According to author Dave Shiflett, Americans are
leaving liberal denominations for churches that preach strict moral
norms and uphold traditional beliefs.
Liberal theologians and bishops get plenty of media coverage, observes
Shiflett. But the average churchgoer wants to attend a church where they
can get something not obtainable elsewhere, which doesn't include trendy
opinions on current topics. "They want the Good News, not the minister's
political views or intellectual coaching."
Shiflett explained that data from the Glenmary Research Center on church
membership showed that conservative congregations are growing fastest.
This includes the Southern Baptist Convention, up 5% in the decade
1990-2000; and Pentecostal groups such as the Assemblies of God, and the
Church of God, up 18.5% and 40% respectively, in the same period.
As a general observation, churches that adhere to traditional teaching,
offer transcendent truth and demand a high commitment from their members
are those that enjoy growth. Following the latest liberal trends, on the
other hand, leads to decline. Something for all Christians to consider.