Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The New Puritans

From chapter 2 of The New Puritans – the rise of fundamentalism in the Anglican Church, by Muriel Porter, published by Melbourne University Press 2006

In hindsight, the compromises of the 1950s have been debilitating for the national Church. Would it have been wiser to create a national Church that did not include Sydney, if it was not prepared to accept the will of the majority? I suspect it would have had little effect on Sydney’s ongoing life and its relationship with the rest of the Church if it had remained separate. Certainly in recent years it has substantially gone its own way regardless of the rest of the Church, and been quick to threaten schism will result if national decisions are taken that it does not like. The threats are never specific, and do not necessarily imply that Sydney would formally leave the national Church. Rather, they are suggestions that a different style of federation would be required if women became bishops, for instance.

An Australian Church without Sydney would, however have released enormous energy for growth and renewal in the other dioceses, freed from Sydney’s relentless negative influence. I acknowledge that this is a minority view. Most Anglicans still fondly hope that one day, real national unity of purpose will be achieved with Sydney coming onboard without its current agenda. But as a member of General Synod since 1987 and of its Standing Committee since 1989, I know this is highly unlikely. I also know only too well the huge burden the Church carries in trying to cope with the continual, determined and well-resourced opposition that emanates from Sydney. Sometimes families reluctantly have to agree to take separate paths for the good of everyone concerned. Perhaps this is what should have happened in 1955, although possibly the ‘fathers of the constitution’ believed that if Sydney were adequately protected from any unwelcome intrusions into its territory, it would become more relaxed and co-operative in its relationships with the other dioceses. Sadly, this had not happened.

Alternatively, the constitution should not have two avenues of protection for minorities: either the high bar of a two-thirds vote on key decisions or the discretion for dioceses not to adopt specific canons, but not both. It is manifestly unfair that a minority can frustrate the will of the majority on an issue such as women priests for bishops, preventing other dioceses from introducing the measure, even though there is no way it can be adopted in their own dioceses without their approval in any case. These protections mean that diocesanism works in one direction only: Sydney Diocese controls what it will allow within its jurisdiction, but effectively also controls what other dioceses can and cannot do. Some kind of separation might yet need to happen. Given Sydney’s much greater comparative strength now, any such division at this point would be far more damaging for everyone than it would have been in 1955.
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