The proposal
by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, for a “two tiered church” is
overdue formal recognition that the Anglican Church has split, and that a formal
divorce is probably the inevitable conclusion.

Neither the conservative
nor liberal elements (factions) within the Church want to be blamed for the
divorce, and both sides are jostling to determine the grounds on which any
divorce is “granted”.

The Williams proposal is not new, but the fact it
comes from the titular head of the world-wide Anglican communion almost
certainly brings forward the day when dioceses, bishops, clergy and laypeople
will have to decide where their loyalty lies.

Dr Williams’s proposal is a
last-ditch attempt to avert a divorce. It is unlikely to be successful, given
that one of the church’s most powerful conservatives, Dr Peter Jensen, the
Archbishop of Sydney, has already opposed it, and sought to widen the
ideological divide within the Church in doing so.

The proposal is for
“associated” and “constituent” provinces of the church – a kind of “those who
obey, and those who don’t obey” divide. And while it is publicly driven by the
impasse over gay bishops and clergy, the reality is that the divisions are much
deeper.

The one region where the Church is growing significantly – Africa
– is increasingly impatient with the US Episcopal Church, and elements of the
church in England, Australia and Canada, over a range of moral issues and the
role of women in the church’s hierarchy.

As more provinces of the church
agree to women bishops – and it is inevitable the majority of dioceses in
Australia will do so – the divide widens. The approach to gay clergy and same
sex relationships generally makes the headlines, but the divide is much
deeper.

The largest Australian diocese, Sydney (and one of the very few
experiencing real growth in membership), continues to refuse to ordain women as
priests, but Dr Jensen has carefully limited the significance of that issue when
he outlines the causes for the split in the church.

Jensen sees the split
being a battle for the “soul of Christianity” and the need to return to a
“Bible-based” theology and practice.

The Anglican Primate of Australia,
Dr Phillip Aspinall, has worked hard to try and find common ground between the
various groups, but it’s an uphill battle made no easier by the Williams
declaration that there is “no way” the Anglican communion can survive the crisis
unchanged.

Neither group in Australia wants to be responsible for a
divorce – but both want to determine the grounds if and when it happens!


Jeff Wall is a member of the Anglican Church.

Peter Fray

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