Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“A Small Anglican Miracle” first appeared in the September/October 1998 issue of Touchstone.
A Small Anglican Miracle
by Louis R. Tarsitano
It was a type of miracle, really.
Almost 800 Anglican bishops from around the world had assembled at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, England, for the decennial Lambeth Conference. Presiding was the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose official residence in London, Lambeth Palace, was the site of the first such international meeting of the chief pastors of the Anglican Communion in 1867. The name has stuck to the conferences, even if the growth of the Communion and an increase in the number of bishops now require a larger meeting place.
Ten years earlier, at Lambeth 1988, the Anglican Communion had rolled over and played dead to accommodate the feminists, adopting a “doctrine of reception” in relation to the “ordination” of women. The theory ran that the Holy Ghost might allow the Anglicans to “receive” what the Scriptures and the catholic Church have rejected for 2,000 years. In the meantime, Anglicans could muddle through in a state of “impaired communion,” meaning that some parts of the Anglican Church would not have to accept the Sacraments or Holy Orders of some other parts.
This year, the homosexual activists were at the head of the line to be received. They demanded the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of practicing homosexuals to the ministry. And their chances appeared good. The American Episcopal Church, one of the smallest in the Communion, had fielded almost 200 bishops, many of whom already operate according to the homosexual agenda. Given their political skills, and the help of their liberal counterparts from Great Britain, Canada, and Australia, another “doctrine of reception” seemed to be in the offing.
And then it happened. In the study groups and the prayer meetings, in private conversations and in the plenary sessions of the bishops, the Africans, Asians, and South Americans began to assert themselves.
Statistics say that most Anglicans today are not white and do not live in the industrial West. Statistics also tell us that it is the Anglican churches in the “Two-Thirds World” that are growing, often in hostile cultural and political environments. But these were not statistics. These were flesh and blood men used to taking chances for the Christian faith every day, for whom the Bible is the Word of God delivered by the Holy Ghost that has freed them from bondage to idols ancient and modern.
By scrimping and saving to pay their way to Lambeth they outnumbered the Americans, even though they possess far fewer bishops per capita than the wealthier countries. More important, it was apparent to even the most jaded liberal why their churches grow. A faith in the resurrected Christ is simply more compelling than either a genteel humanism or a political agenda.
Not that all the liberals remained genteel when it became clear that the mere presence of such men would frustrate most of their agenda. Yes, the southern bishops would vote for most of the usual “wish list” of conference resolutions (“everyone against war, please signify by saying ‘aye’”). But no, they would not give the Church’s blessing to homosexuality, or to a diminution of the Scriptures’ authority, or to the compulsory “reception” of the ordination of women.
Then the gloves came off, and certain of the American liberals spread the rumor that the Africans’ votes had been bought with chicken dinners by a conspiracy of conservative organizations. Most of the Africans almost hurt themselves laughing at such stupidity, and the old-style liberals of the Communion burned with shame.
No one could have imagined, then, given the theological debacle of the 1980s, that the Anglican bishops would assert in their Resolution 1.10 that the 1998 Lambeth Conference
Or that they would add, at the request of Donald Mtetemela, the Archbishop of Tanzania, the words “While rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” to a call for pastoral sensitivity to “all irrespective of sexual orientation.”
Or that they would follow the lead of Samson Muraluda, Bishop of Taita Taveta, Province of Kenya, in replacing the word “homophobia,” one of the favorite charges of liberals who do not get their way, with a much less loaded condemnation of the “irrational fear of homosexuals.”
Or that at the end of the day the bishops would approve a resolution stating that they “cannot advise [note: Lambeth is a council of advice, not a synod] the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions or the ordaining of those who are involved in same gender unions.”
The entire resolution was passed on Wednesday, August 5. The vote was 526 for, 70 against, and 45 abstaining.
The Americans took this outcome especially hard. As an accredited correspondent to the conference on behalf of Touchstone, I was able to join the rest of the press as the bishops left the hall where they had met to get an impression of their reactions. I thought the grim faces of the American bishops were a trifle melodramatic, until one of the other reporters remarked, “That’s something you don’t see every day: an entire national church spanked by their Communion.”
He was right. The Americans and the other radical revisers of the faith had pressed too hard, and the honorable witness of the non-Western bishops had emboldened the rest of the conference to say no, for once, to the pride and arrogance of their problem children.
It may have been a small miracle, but it was a miracle nevertheless. The Anglican Communion has a long way to go to recovering its wits and its will to follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads, but the inevitability of further decay has been debunked. That’s a lot more than anyone had any right to expect from such a gathering, and the potential of the emerging African and Asian leadership dedicated to the traditional faith holds out more hope for the future of the Anglican Way than has been possible for generations.
Louis R. Tarsitano (d. 2005), a former associate editor of Touchstone, was a priest of the Anglican Church in America and rector of St. Andrew?s Church in Savannah, Georgia. He also was the co-author, with Peter Toon, of Neither Archaic Nor Obsolete: The Language of Common Prayer & Public Worship (Brynmill Press, Ltd., 2003).
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