June 10th, 2010
09:33 AM ET

The real Anglican/Episcopal fight?

Think the issue that’s threatening to tear the Anglican Communion apart is a debate over homosexuality? Author Diana Butler Bass says you’re wrong.

Bass offers a provocative take on the “real reason” for the Episcopal Church’s clash with the Anglican Communion on her Beliefnet blog.

The divide burst into public view in 2004 when the Episcopal Church confirmed the ordination of its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson. The chasm widened last month when an Episcopal diocese in California consecrated a lesbian bishop.

Now the head of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are engaged in what Bass calls a “first-class theological smack down” through dueling public letters.

Archbishop Rowan Williams (pictured), the nominal head of Anglican Communion - the worldwide association of churches that includes the Episcopal Church - urged a diminished role for Episcopal leaders in the communion after they accepted the lesbian bishop.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop for the Episcopal Church, reacted to Williams’ decision by accusing Williams of being a “theological dictator,” Bass says.

But Bass says the debate over openly gay bishops is really a debate over two rival versions of Anglicanism.

One form is a top-down vision of faith that concentrates power in the hands of ecclesiastical guardians who enforce Anglican rules, she says.

The other is a bottom-up version that views the practice of faith in a more democratic, parish-based model, she says.

Bass writes:

The argument isn’t really about gay and lesbian people, nor is it about, as some people claim, the Bible or orthodoxy. Rather, the argument reprises the oldest conflict within Anglicanism - what kind of Anglicans are we to be? How do we relate to the world and culture around us?

Bass, author of “A People’s History of Christianity,” says she knows how this smack down will ultimately end:

The river of history does not seem to be on the side of hierarchical church control… The tides are pulling most ecclesiastical boats toward bottom-up versions of faith.

What do you think? Are those who are fighting against the Episcopal Church’s decision to accept openly gay and lesbian bishops fighting against the tide of history, as Bass claims?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Anglican • Belief • Christianity • Church • Culture wars • Episcopal • Homosexuality

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Agnieszka

    The Catholic invitation to Anglicans ctnnaios a clause that has not been commented on.In return for no women as priests, no openly gay priests, no kindness towards gay relationships, and allowing priests to keep their wives, the Pope is requiring condemnation of contraception.In today’s world contraception is needed by millions of women, many suffering. The tragedy of unwanted babies add to the populations with increasing hunger and water shortages. Promiscuity should be countered by showing what is better, not by allowing unwanted babies and abortions.Anglicans who join the Catholic church need to recognise the Pope’s requirement.The best way for family limitation is to educate women.This is because women then seek the best for the children they have, and know what options there are. ‘Fate’ is not the determinant.The Catholic Billings method is only suitable for the well-off and healthy. Many Catholics do not obey the Pope in their own family life; what will Anglicans who take up the Pope's offer do? What will priests' wives do?

    March 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  2. Jameson

    Cindy, I have been an Episcopalian all of my adult life (grew up in a Primitive Baptist church, so you can imagine the differences between the two), but never have I read such a posting that was so reflective of the beliefs that make our church so wonderful. This is exactly what I've been feeling over the last 6 years and you've finally put it into words! As I remember the Church of England wasn't quite so eager to have an American off-shoot of their church during the American Revolution, so a group of Scottish bishops in Aberdeen ordained the first American Anglican bishop, Samuel Seabury. Maybe the Archbishop of Canterbury is still slightly irritated by what happened in 1783?

    June 11, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
    • Cindy

      Jameson, thank you for your kind words! I have only been an Episcopalian for about four years, so much of what I wrote was gleaned from my confirmation class and from being part of my fantastic parish since that time. My Rector made so much sense when she framed the history of the Episcopal Church USA in context with US History.

      If we have been a pesky thorn in the side of the greater Anglican Communion since our "birth" – I say, why change now? 🙂

      June 12, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  3. Don

    She is right. If the "bottom-up" polity wins, then you'll have a "High Presbyterian" or "High Congregationalist" church. You won't have one that a lot of Episcopalians ca;; "Catholic" (but not Roman). The Anglican/Episcopalians used to say they were a "Middle Way" between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. I think that notion is doomed. Historic and apostolic Christianity is episcopal (that is, led by Bishops). Read history, read St. Ignatius of Antioch. The early "Fathers" of the Church (and also the "Mothers") would be appalled at what is happening to the Anglican/Episcopal Church (they'd be appalled at the abuse scandal in the Roman Church), In the Episcopal Church, the role of bishops will be even more diminished and become nothing more than super-priests, or Clerks of the Presbytery. In other words, they are becoming just another Protestant sect, distinguished from Presbyterian or Congregationalist or Baptist or Assembly of God only by their vestments. Eventually the whole idea of the sacraments will disappear.

    June 11, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  4. Hmmmm

    It's interesting that the American side chooses to word the debate as between the "bottom-up"/"democratic" model of governance and the so-called "hierarchical"/"top-down" model. Perhaps we could change the tone of her basic point by saying the debate is between the "individualistic" model of governance (parish autonomy) and the community-based model of governance which values the integrity of the global communion. Because, after all, some people value community, not just individual expression. But it's easier to get people behind you if you appeal to raw cultural values–few Americans want to sympathize with the "hierarchy" and oppose "democracy"–than if you try to understand and communicate the nuances of the opposing side's perspective.

    June 10, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
    • Cindy

      Hmmmm, as I understand it, the Episcopal Church USA was built upon the same democratic model that our nation was founded upon. We are in communion with the greater Anglican Church, but the history of the ECUSA appears to be more people powered than the rest of the communion. Perhaps that is what is causing many of us to frame the issue this way. [If we wanted a governing body to tell us how to think about God and Scripture, we'd probably be Catholic.]

      Really, though, this article is about one person's characterization of the growing rift. Whether or not you buy its premise, it is inaccurate to characterize Americans as being of one mind about this. The ECUSA is in the throes of a schism, and there are plenty Episcopalians who wish that our church body would reject homosexuality and be more in line with the "values" of the churches in Africa. Yes, there is a lot of parish autonomy here, but it has limits – just ask the parishes that have sought to leave the ECUSA communion altogether.

      Thankfully, the rest of us Episcopalians find more "community" in welcoming the all people around us, rather than appeasing the folks on the other side of the world (who apparently can't stand that we're into welcoming the all people around us). I would happily share the bread and wine with anyone in the Anglican communion, regardless of how their beliefs might clash with mine, but alas... I don't think they wish to share it with me – the message is that my beliefs aren't pure enough.

      We're not the ones closing doors on anyone – rather, the doors are being slammed in our faces.

      June 11, 2010 at 12:21 am |
    • Liz

      a 'bottom up' system does not equate with an 'individualistic' system because the smallest unit in the bottom up system is the local parish-which is a community of believers. A community of people who come together week after week to worship and share their lives with each other. Those who want a 'top down' system are asking people to choose appeasing members of the communion who are across the globe, in another culture, over accepting those who are sitting in the same pew with them on Sundays.

      June 27, 2010 at 11:19 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.