Pushing Anglicanism to the precipice

by
05 September 2007

Spin-doctors are dismantling the Anglican Communionin line with their political agenda, argues Pat Ashworth

SPIN-doctoring overreached itself — and fell flat on its face — two weeks ago with the publication of a pastoral letter purporting to be from the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, to his flock in Abuja (News, 24 August). Should it matter that the bulk of it was written in the United States from the computer of Bishop Martyn Minns, and that revision, editing, and formatting took place over four days?

I believe it does. After our news story (24 August) we were accused by the Nigerian director of communications of being “insulting and racist”. It has nothing to do with race but everything to do with language and politics, in a climate where the word “decision” is now drip-fed into every missive.

Brainwash us often enough with news that the Anglican Communion is on the brink of destruction, and we will all believe it: that is, until proof comes along that schism really is being orchestrated by a knot of people dedicated to keeping their supporters on message.

“Forced to choose”, “moment of decision”, “brink of destruction”, “the gravity of this moment” are phrases designed to turn a drama into a crisis, as US conservatives, with help from English friends, seek to sabotage next year’s Lambeth Conference.

Delete this: “The journey to unity has been long and agonising and needs to come to an end soon,” and substitute: “It now appears, however, that the journey is coming to an end and the moment of decision is almost upon us.” In the end, it doesn’t matter who made the change: the result was to ring the alarm bells louder.

LANGUAGE has changed noticeably. In 2000, the communiqué from the Primates’ Meeting in Porto was characterised by graciousness, patience, and humility. After a very difficult meeting, they warned that a “careful, patient and pastoral” process was not created by “the demonising of opponents or by overheated, politicised and polarised language in our conflicts”.

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Even the Archbishop of Rwanda, the Most Revd Emmanuel Kolini, spoke in an interview of “a common language of reconciliation”, saying: “We shared the bread first and talked to each other.”

But the US lobbyists were already on the rise, hunting in a pack in Porto, but failing on that occasion to cut any ice in public with the Primates as a body. The conference room was off limits, and the Primates moved at speed and with minders — defensiveness that metamorphosed into paranoia the following year in Kanuga, when high security surrounded the meeting, and a 24-hour guard was mounted to keep the press and the lobbyists out.

Wind forward to the Primates’ Meeting in Newry in February 2005, in the wake of the consecration of the Rt Revd Gene Robinson in 2003, and the publication of the Windsor report. The tenor of the final communiqué from Newry, which requested the “voluntary withdrawal” of the US and Canadian Churches from the Anglican Consultative Council, was patently intended to appease the angriest voices.

“Many Primates have been deeply alarmed that the standard of Christian teaching on human sexuality . . . has been seriously undermined by the recent developments in North America. . . At the same time, it is acknowledged that these developments . . . have proceeded entirely in accordance with their constitutional processes and requirements.”

Lobbyists were no longer in the background but present in force at the Canal Court Hotel in Newry, in touch by mobile phone with Global South Primates inside the meeting, and discussing the business with them each evening. The meeting famously “leaked like a sieve”, and the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane, identified the emergence of new language within Anglicanism — a “sub-text of hatred”.

Every Communion-related meeting since has been hyped to await a final letter or communiqué, and these have been increasingly orchestrated. In October 2005, Global South Primates, meeting in Egypt and accompanied by observers and lobbyists, sent an apparently corporate letter to Dr Williams, questioning his leadership. The tone had hardened: the letter spoke of the C of E “giving the appearance of evil”, and of Europe as “a spiritual desert”.

Five of its alleged signatories denounced it as having been neither commissioned, discussed, nor approved by the body of Primates. The Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Revd Drexel Gomez, described it as “an act of impatience and disrespect for process”. The President-Bishop in Jerusalem & the Middle East, the Most Revd Clive Handford, called it “megaphone diplomacy”.

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I asked Bishop Handford who had written the letter and put it out. “It’s not clear. One might speculate,” he said, and did.

Archbishop Akinola thundered: “It is pertinent to say NO ONE [his capitals] objected.” Yet another Primate told me: “Peter Akinola is skating on very thin ice when he says only one or two Primates didn’t approve it.”

The Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, the Most Revd Greg Venables, said: “I’m afraid I’ve yet to receive an explanation which gives me confidence. It’s all, ‘Not me, guv.’”

By the time the letter reached Dr Williams at Lambeth, its contents had already been circulated on the web.

The lobbyists behind all these developments have been visible at every significant Communion gathering over the past few years. They blatantly influenced the Primates in Dar es Salaam in February, and have now gone beyond that point to holding positions of power themselves, as newly created bishops.

THERE ARE, of course, lobbyists on the other side. Integrity has been active at various Anglican summits for years. The difference is that the liberals are not trying to unchurch anyone, though there are signs of attitudes hardening. But they are not the victims of the neo-conservative spin. These are the bulk of Anglicans worldwide who value the comprehensiveness of their branch of Christianity, who see the Communion as a place of debate, and who dread a Church of the Like-minded.

Those whose impulse is always to react rather than reflect are playing into the hands of the lobbyists we have been too preoccupied to notice: the secular commentators, who are happy to write off Christ’s Church as ill-informed, bad-tempered, and irrelevant. When even Christians are forced to agree with them, this is where the real damage starts.

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