Orthodox Anglicans skate around schism at conference
Religion reporters have been tracking the slow disintegration of the Anglican Communion since 2003 with one word itching away at the tips of their typing fingers — schism. We don’t get to write history with a capital “H” that often and the few times we do can be career high points. So the prospect of covering an event where you can draw parallels to the Great Schism of 1054 (east-west back then, north-south now, etc) is tempting. In the meantime, though, even a hint of a schism is enough to land the term in a story. But it has to have the right packaging — adjectives such as “potential” or “looming” or something else — to indicate the big kaboom has not actually happened (or at least not yet). So we can scratch the itch a bit, but not too much.
Covering the current orthodox Anglican conference GAFCON in Jerusalem, the Daily Telegraph has scratched at that itch really hard with a story headlined “Anglican church schism declared over homosexuality.” It took a 94-page guidebook for “a pilgrimage to a Global Anglican future” as proof that Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinole and his allies have finally cut their ties to the Anglican Communion. “Hardline church leaders have formally declared the end of the worldwide Anglican communion, saying they could no longer be associated with liberals who tolerate homosexual clergy,” it wrote.
Well, up to a point, as our news story reports. The guidebook, entitled “The Way, The Truth and The Life”, goes to the rhetorical brink of schism … and stops. “There is no longer any hope … for a unified Communion,” Akinola writes. “All journeys must end some day.” He gives no road map for the future.
Robert Duncan, the Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh, also edged right up to the brink in a speech to GAFCON: “There remains no way to go forward together.” But no S-word…
Having followed this drama since gay bishop Gene Robinson’s consecration five years ago, I well understand the itch to finally write what seems to be the logical conclusion of this endless muddling through. But maybe a schism is not the conclusion we’ll get. Over at The Lead, Jim Naughton, spokesman for the Episcopal diocese of Washington, D.C., had an interesting take on why this goes on and on:
“Whether there will actually be schism is an open question, but at least one factor mitigates against it: as soon as schism is declared, the media will loose interest in the Anglican Churches of Nigeria and Uganda, and their small, but influential group of followers in the United States. (How much had you read about these Churches before the consecration of Gene Robinson?) At that point, these churches will no longer be useful to the donors who have made GAFCON possible, and the money will be reallocated to other fronts in the culture wars. It is in the interest of Akinola, Orombi, Minns, Sugden, etc. to sustain the Communion in a state of near-schism for as long as possible, and then, at some point, find a way short of schism to declare victory.”
Did you read much about the Anglican Communion before this dispute over Gene Robinson appeared? If not, do you think it will disappear from the news when and if the issue is ever solved?