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Press: A big moment in the schism

by
25 July 2007

by Andrew Brown

Still being covered: the Archbishop of York reported in The Telegraph on Monday

Still being covered: the Archbishop of York reported in The Telegraph on Monday

Two things this week deserve a great deal of notice: Jonathan Petre’s scoop about the Archbishop of York, which did appear in the papers, and the declaration of the Global South Primates, which, so far as I can tell, did not. That is partly because it had been scooped by Ruth Gledhill’s earlier interview with Archbishop Akinola. The paragraph I pulled out of that at the time made it clear that his defence against the charge of leading a breakaway Church was not to deny the schism, but to claim it was his enemies who broke away.

That is made explicit in the latest boycott threats from the Global South group. It is no longer enough to agree with them on the matter of substance: it is disagreement itself that they want to anathematise. When you think of it, this is an extraordinary moment in the history of the schism, or of its coverage. For the past eight or nine years, the papers have treated the story as if the test of schism were whether anyone would turn up to the next Lambeth Conference. Now we have an explicit announcement that the Global South will not turn up, and no one covers it, though you might argue that Jonathan Petre worked it into his story:

“A handful of archbishops and hundreds of bishops from Africa and Asia, representing well over a third of the 70 million strong worldwide Church, are threatening to boycott the Lambeth Conference, the ten-yearly gathering of all Anglican bishops in Canterbury. They are angry that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has invited liberal American bishops.”

On the other hand, as I read the jargon of the Global South statement, what they are angry about at the moment is that he is going to talk to the Americans even in America. That, rather than the attendance of the Rt Revd Martyn Minns or the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, is their current sticking point. I think most newsdesks are just sick to death of the story. It would be funny if they held a Lambeth Conference, and no one covered it, and no one turned up to be uncovered.

In the mean time, we are left with the substance of Jonathan Petre’s story: “The Archbishop of York has warned conservative Anglican leaders that they will effectively expel themselves from the worldwide Church if they boycott next year’s Lambeth Conference.

“He said that the primates — the archbishops and senior bishops who head the 38 self-governing provinces that make up the Anglican Communion — had always seen the Archbishop of Canterbury as ‘a primate among equals but nonetheless as primus inter pares [first among equals]’.

“‘If that goes and they think they can then say they are Anglicans, that is very questionable,’ he said. ‘Whatever you set up, I don’t think it could ever be called the Anglican Communion. So I am hoping that my brothers and sisters, whatever they are trying to set out, will come to the Lambeth Conference.’

“If the conservatives boycotted Lambeth ‘they would be the ones voting with their feet and saying, as far as we are concerned, we are the true Anglicans’.

“He added: ‘Whenever we break, there is a lot of pain and the healing of it is very difficult. I want to warn people, don’t spend the next century trying to find a way back.’”

Given that Dr Sentamu has no record of backing down under challenge, this is a rather more credible threat than any that Dr Williams might make.

If that sounds cynical, consider the deformation to which all religious-affairs correspondents are subject: William Lobdell has just quit the job on The Los Angeles Times, leaving a heartfelt testimony on the paper’s opinion pages about how he prayed and intrigued for the job for years, convinced that God wanted him to present Christians as normal, admirable people.

“I wanted to report objectively and respectfully about how belief shapes people’s lives. Along the way, I believed, my own faith would grow deeper and sturdier.”

You’ve guessed the end already: first, he covered the Roman Catholic child-abuse scandals, which prevented him from completing the process of being received as a Roman Catholic: he felt he could not sign up to a Church that had behaved like that. “Then, I started to believe that God was calling me, as he did St Francis of Assisi, to ‘rebuild his church’ — not in some grand way that would lead to sainthood, but by simply reporting on corruption within the church body.”

So he worked on a story about crooked televangelists preying off desperately ill and desperate people. The last straw came when he attended a child-support hearing, in which the Roman Catholic priest of a prosperous suburban parish wriggled out of the obligation to pay for medicines for his acknowledged son. Faith, he decided, was a gift that he had just lost.

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