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The End of Canterbury

Will the sun set on the Anglican communion?

Dec 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 14 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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Pope Benedict’s 2009 offer of a Catholic home for traditionalist Anglicans is reported to have taken Williams by surprise, and he has found no answer to the administrative disaster of new conservative parishes being established in America—parishes that proclaim allegiance to conservative African bishops rather than to their local ordinaries. For that matter, the church-dividing question of gay marriage and an openly homosexual clergy has not been solved during the archbishop’s tenure. It’s only been repressed.

The moving force behind the rumor of Williams’s impending retirement seems to be Richard Chartres, bishop of London—an interested party, it should be noted, given that he is a leading candidate to succeed the retiring archbishop. A close friend of the royal family (he preached the sermon at the wedding of Prince William), Chartres is best known for his environmentalism and his attempts to forge new Anglican ties with the Eastern Orthodox churches. It’s a mystery how any of that is supposed to appeal to the traditionalist African churches, whose strongly missionary faith is locked in a struggle against the spread of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa. 

The last full meeting of the Lambeth Conference—the once-a-decade meeting that brings together leaders from all the national churches to discuss and pass denomination-wide legislation—did not go well, back in 2008. African bishops pulled in one direction, holding separate meetings and hinting at schism, while the Western leaders pulled in the other direction, demanding that all churches in the communion embrace their views on human sexuality. That the church kept any unity at all was a tribute to the meliorating work of the  of Canterbury. And with Williams no longer at the helm, little will be achieved at the next Lambeth Conference.

Little, that is, except the schism of Anglicanism. In all likelihood, the forcing of the issue of same-sex marriage will lead the African churches to withdraw from communion with the Western churches—while the churches of Europe and North America will denounce the African churches, choosing allegiance with standard-issue Western liberalism over the orthodox teaching of their own faith. 

And thereby the world will lose one more of the old ties that might have bound it together. Freed from their African anchor, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in America will move even further in a pro-Muslim, anti-Israel direction, providing yet more cover for fashionable liberal anti-Semitism. Let loose from their allegiance to Canterbury, the African churches will quickly move toward forming pan-African denominations that will feel entirely distanced from Europe and America—and will help build the belief the global South owes nothing to the West. 

Joseph Bottum, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, is the author, most recently, of the memoir Dakota Christmas in Amazon’s Kindle Singles series.

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