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Gene Drops The Big One

but I know we'll meet again some sunny day ...
(Source)

In the lefty U.K. Guardian, columnist Andrew Brown laments the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury has failed in his attempt to keep the language of controversy cloudy enough to avert schism. He hankers after those bygone days when liberal ecclesiocrats were not subject to interrogation by importunate evangelicals, when doctrinal disagreements could be assigned to study groups and buried in endless committee work, and when (as he claims) people were obliged to "pretend to accept each others' viewpoint." No more.

The Church of England consists almost entirely of people who think that many of their fellow Anglicans aren't real Christians at all and couldn't care less. But outside England, where churches must compete for membership, it matters a lot. The trouble, from Williams' perspective is that the Church of England can no longer be kept aloof from the convulsions outside as it too descends from establishment into the market place. The evangelicals wouldn't be half so passionate if they did not believe that their churches would grow if they could just get rid of the liberals.

I doubt it. It's true that the churches would grow if they could get rid of liberals, but it's not growth that evangelicals are concerned with. Almost all of them are temperamentally anti-Vichyite, anti-accommodationist, and at some cost to themselves and their families have withdrawn from the dominant secular culture and its rewards. Given the choice, they almost certainly would opt for an orthodox church with no growth potential, in preference to a trendy church that expanded by adapting itself to the complacent worldliness that surrounds it. Back to Brown:

The solution urged on Williams from all sorts of people just to abandon the Anglican communion can't work now. It's too late. The flames of theological hatred outside have run all round the world as if the Internet were made with gunpowder fuses instead of cables.

Flames of theological hatred? Not the way I'd put it. It seems to me instead that, with the coming of the Internet, the ecclesiastical bureaucracies lost their communications monopoly and were finally forced to hear what the orthodox had been trying to say all along. Fifty years of frustration at unreturned phone calls and ash-canned letters to the editor have added an edginess to some of the critique, but to label it hatred is a dodge. The boxer who rests on his laurels and refuses to get into the ring for ten years will find that, when he finally does so, his opponent's shots land harder than he remembers. That's why liberals are quick to deplore the "incivility" of the blogs.

It is the theological understanding that makes this argument so hard to control. Most churches, most of the time, don't give a damn for theology. That's one of the things that atheists get wrong about religion. They think it is about propositional beliefs, rather than rituals and belonging.

Sorry old sport. You neglected to take into account a group of Christians called martyrs, who willingly gave up their lives precisely because there are certain propositional beliefs more important than life -- truths of the faith the denial of which would mean their damnation. D'you think Thomas Becket died in the cause of ritual comfort? D'you think Thomas More submitted to the axe to cultivate a sense of belonging?

And so they [atheists] assume that the dispute in the Anglican Communion is really about gays. But if it were, it would be possible to reach a compromise, as has been done about women [clergy], where people at least pretend to accept each others' viewpoint.

Even within mainstream Anglicanism, most conservatives didn't "accept the others' viewpoint" but accepted the bureaucratically engineered fait accompli to the extent of remaining in the Communion -- when it appeared the only alternatives were schism or separation. Yet Brown is right that the Anglican dispute isn't about gays per se. It's about sin -- specifically whether sin can be given a positive place, an honored place, within Christian churchmanship. No prolix theological tranquilizers can work their usual magic here, no archbishop's commission can bury the problem deep enough. There's no compromise possible because no human goods are on the table: there's not even a baby to cut in half. If Bishop Robinson's recreation with his roommate is a sin crying to heaven for vengeance [Gn 18:20], not even a Rowan Williams can determine what constitutes just the right amount of that sin which will be pleasing to God.

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