By J. Daryl Charles
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
It is the issue that simply will not go away—at least not in the post-Christian, post-consensus West. It is the issue that breeds a nasty recurring tendency to divide, and divide, and then divide some more. It is the issue to which (seemingly) every General Assembly, every major synod, and every Protestant mainline ecclesiastical convocation leads these days. And, it shows no signs of abating. What’s a poor bishop to do?
Happily, the answer arrives in the March 2009 issue of The Atlantic. In his essay “The Velvet Reformation,”
writer Paul Elie, a senior editor with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, wishes to instruct us—as well as any “listening” church bishop out there. Elie offers a highly sympathetic look at the acute “dilemma” presently facing the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who is arguably the second most influential bishop on the planet. This particular dilemma, it should be pointed out, is not the one that arose from Williams’ scandalous comments in a February 2008 address on “Civil and Religious Law in England,” delivered at the Royal Courts of Justice. Therein, it will be remembered, the Archbishop of Canterbury sought to make common cause with Muslim clerics by considering the permissibility of a “softer” form of shari’a law, a concession that, in the words of the esteemed British historian Michael Burleigh, would “wholly undermine the Common Law of England while paving the way to ‘hard’ shari’a law in the future.” Most assuredly, the Archbishop’s remarks created a major “dilemma”—one which will reverberate for decades to come, given his position as a “bishop” representing Christendom worldwide. But this conundrum, in Elie’s view, is of no major concern and decidedly secondary in nature.
Of course, these days the Anglican Church, the world’s third largest communion after the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, is described—perhaps somewhat promiscuously by one of its own celebrated bishops and media darlings who resides in South Africa—as a “hugely untidy but very lovable” body. Which is like saying that some debris was spotted in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But for the moment, let us grant the euphemism: The Anglican Communion is “untidy.” the rest