A few days ago, as this story was breaking, I made some comments based on my experience with African oversight and church politics. Since that time AMiA Bishop Chuck Murphy has made the break and there is all kinds of back and forth on this issue, I keep feeling compelled to say more, because this in many ways is bigger than just the AMiA or North American Anglicanism in general.
What I am about to say isn’t going to sit well with many people. It’s based on some very deep convictions of mine regarding the whole course of Christianity these days which have developed both in my years of involvement in the whole Anglican blogosphere and in my work for the Church of God. But it’s time to lay some things out.
It’s instructive to go back to the end of the last millennium, when it became apparent to some in the Episcopal Church that they were headed to a dead end re being in an orthodox church. (Why this took so long is beyond me, but I digress…) The AMiA was the first tangible organisation in this round of North American Anglican churches started to address this problem. Unlike previous churches, it had the advantage of, via the two primates (one from Rwanda and one from Singapore,) of being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, which is a necessary prerequisite for being a part of the Anglican Communion. The AMiA has been successful up to now in fulfilling its mission, and it has had many who have followed its pattern by seeking communion with other provinces in communion with Canterbury.
In the course of this process, which has dominated the Anglican/Episcopal world for more than a decade and is arguably the most compelling story going on in Christianity these days, the whole strength of African Christianity, Anglican and otherwise, became apparent to everyone. North American Anglicans have used this to construct what is still very much a work in progress: the creation of an Anglican province on these shores that is in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The actions of same Archbishop, however, should have given pause to the enthusiasm. It’s not difficult to show Rowan Williams’ lack of commitment (and that’s putting it politely) for a truly orthodox-centred Anglican Communion. And even if he were so inclined, his government is not. As the official state church, the Church of England is about to get equality legislation shoved down its throat. The Anglican Communion has a doctrinally unstable centre, and coupled with the obvious orientation of the Episcopalians, the whole concept of an orthodox Anglican communion (even with the over-rated Covenant) centred in the “First World” is marginal at best and delusional at worst.
What should be the centrepiece of any Anglican organisation in North America that wants any connection with the rest of the Communion is the connection with the Global South. Implicit in that is the realisation that the centre of Christianity has moved. Also implicit in that is the idea that, if the centre of population of Christianity has moved, the centre of authority should move also, if not immediately in a process facilitated by those of us in what is now “the mission field” (a concept embodied in the AMiA’s name and original purpose.) Unfortunately this is where Murphy’s move shows itself in its worst light.
There are many complex issues that remain to be unravelled here, but it seems to me that some unfortunate attitudes have surfaced along the way. There are issues of financial accountability; these should be sorted out in a methodical manner. Murphy’s language of being Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt says more than he probably wants it to. It shows a creeping messianic complex in the making, and it also says that his Rwandan opponents are Pharaohs. His reference to reverse colonialism is equally unfortunate. Face it: the Anglican Communion was brought to Africa as part of the British colonial effort, even though it’s spilled over into the colonies of others (Rwanda was a Belgian colony before its independence.) The simple fact–and one that Murphy and others conveniently forget–is that a colonial experience is an unpleasant one for those who are being colonised. It’s amazing that Anglicanism has done as well as it has in Africa with that kind of legacy. (The West Indies, with the additional legacy of slavery, is another story altogether.) A friend of mine from a former British colony complained about British colonial rule; my response was, “You see how much we thought of it.” Evidently Murphy has forgotten that part of American history in his quest to lead the “British church” on these shores out of “Egypt.”
The fact is that a little “reverse colonialism” is appropriate in this situation. Didn’t the Rwandan connection allow the AMiA to say that it was in communion with Canterbury? Where has the abandonment of the faith been proceeding at an accelerating rate? Why is it that, just because we have the money and tend to be full of ourselves, that we should automatically assume to have the right to be autocephalous? Isn’t it time to face the fact that we as Christians (putting the Anglican part aside for a second) are part of what is now a Third World religion? The last questions aren’t just for Murphy and his colleagues, but for every Christian denomination and organisation who still thinks that the rest of the world is the “mission field,” with concomitant, U.S. centred organisation.
At this point the best thing that Murphy could do is to integrate the AMiA into the ACNA. At least it would give some higher, unifying purpose to a move which only looks to divide at this point. That isn’t a simple business either; North American Anglicanism is divided over WO and even more over women bishops, but I think there are other less noble motives behind continued balkanisation.
As for the Rwandans, I’m inclined to think they are deeply hurt over this episode. I can’t much blame them. They’re finding out that both gratitude and loyalty are scarce commodities on these shores, something that those of us who live here have known for a long time. The impression this leaves is that the orthodox Anglicans in North America are no more reliable than their revisionist counterparts, and that’s an unfortunate legacy. It’s one that will come back to haunt us. In a society whose upper reaches are firmly in the driver’s seat and who really don’t want us any more, we need all the friends we can get, and this isn’t a good way to get them.