Saturday, January 19, 2008

Is Liberal Anglicanism Dead?

Theo Hobson thinks that the controversy over inclusiveness in the Agn;lican Church will kill liberal Anglicanism:

This year Anglicanism will define itself with new clarity - the once-a-decade Lambeth conference will confirm the anti-liberal mood of the last five years. The humiliation of liberal Anglicanism will be complete. Its demand for equality for homosexuals has been thrown out in the most decisive possible way.

I think it's time to admit that the tradition of liberal Anglicanism is finished. Those Anglicans who carry on calling for an "inclusive church" are relics of a previous era. They should face the fact that the religious landscape has changed utterly. Liberal Anglicanism has become oxymoronic. For the first time this church has defined itself in opposition to liberalism, taking a decisively reactionary stance on a crucial moral issue.

. . .

But surely, says the liberal Anglican, this can change. Surely the church can change its mind, reject its homophobic tendency, and regain its moral authority? I don't think so. The problem goes far deeper than the campaigners for an "inclusive church" seem to understand. In fact the gay issue highlights the authoritarianism intrinsic to the very concept of the church.

. . .

The liberal Anglican priest (let's call him Father Giles) is bitterly critical of the church's collusion in homophobia. But he fully believes in the authority of the church, and his own authority. He affirms the right of the church to define orthodoxy: the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, is decided by the corporate mind of the church. Likewise a true sacrament is something authorised by the institution. He claims to have authority by virtue of having been ordained into the church. Christianity is not a subjective free-for-all, he insists: it is a communal, traditional thing, with rules.

Yet when the church claims authority to rule on sexual morality his tune changes. This aspect of its teaching is mistaken, he says, and amounts to a betrayal of the Gospel. The problem is that this tradition of sexual moralism is part of the traditional authority of the church, which Father Giles claims to affirm. In other words, he accepts the authority of the church when it suits him and rejects it when it does not.

In my opinion, the gay crisis shakes the foundations of ecclesiology. Organised religion has always been authoritarian, in calling certain moral rules God's will, in saying that moral and doctrinal orthodoxy must be upheld. As I see it, Christianity rejects this; it dispenses with the moral "law". It claims, scandalously, that God wills a new freedom - from "holy morality", from the bossy legalism inherent in religious institutionalism. Liberal Christians should be truly liberal, and see that the concept of an authoritative church has had its day - that God calls us to something new.


Read it all here.

The argument merits a much longer response than I can muster up this late on a Saturday morning (And I have been thinking about Theo's column since I first read it this morning), but I have to disagree. The notion that just because I think that the orthodox position on one issue is wrong hardly means that the other positions are necessarily wrong. And it certainly does not mean that faith has to become a relativistic free for all.

The Church need not, and should not, be authoritarian, but it need not fear asserting an authoritative faith.

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