Will the worldwide Anglican church divide between liberal and conservative wings?
Probably, and why not, it’s part of the church’s evolution. The first stirrings of Christian factionalism appear in the New Testament – in fact there’s even a hint of it within Jesus’ own earshot, so it’s no surprise that such divisions are still tearing at churches and nominally Christian organisations two thousand years later.
But the divide – let’s be theologically correct and call it a schism – will be sad and complicated. Individual Anglican churches within dioceses and parishes will suddenly find themsevles worlds apart on an issue which many see as no closer than the periphery of Christian thougth. On top of that, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, there will yet another row between Christians which will not exactly be good for the image of Jesus and the teachings of his which are preserved in the gospels and which his followers are meant to be propagating.
On a practical level – and this is a different problem in the UK than it is in the US – there will be the issue of property. Which side of the divide owns what. Rest assured, there will be rich lawyers as a result of this schism. The UK’s problem will be exacerbated by the fact that most of the Anglican Church’s buildings in this country are what we call “listed”, which means that because of their often extreme age they are of historical or artistic importance to the wider non-Christian community and can’t just be sold or otherwise mucked about with.
But on a different level, it will mean yet another victory for the liberal and progressive wing of the church and a further decline for the conservative wing.
It will happen like this. Many people who might otherwise be Christians are put off getting involved by the row over gay and women priests in similar ways; they will be convinced that Christians are ignorant stick-in-the-muds more influenced by the Pharisees than by Jesus. Similarly, as more and more women and people gain positions of influence in the world and the church, more people will realise that they are not the spawn of Satan – they are normal people who often show a lot more compassion to the world about than conventional Christians.
Now some will reply that the Bible teaches certain things about gays and women that should be followed without question, as should all of the Bible. Fine, unless, like me and many others like me, you read the Bible in context. Some of it tells us how to live at all times, certainly, but some of it tells how people lived 2000 years ago as Judean peasants. Then, the desperate need to produce as many children as possible to work the land amid terrifying infant mortality meant that there could be no sexual freedom outside the production-line demands of constant birth and nurturing.
Apart from the literalists of all ages, those opposed to women and gay priests and an open acceptance of gay people tend to be older. So they’ll die out within the next couple of decades and the younger adherents to the conservative viewpoint will be marginalised both in the church and in society at large. Newcomers to Christianity will be attracted by the liberal wing of the church after the schism, in fact particularly after the schism because then the liberal church will be free of its conservative baggage.
That means the liberal wing will grow and will increasingly become the face of the mainstream non-Catholic churches. The liberal wing of the Catholic church will have more of a problem because they also face the issue of celibacy, but I’m sure that it, too, will end up as dominant.
It’s all about evolution. Science will not want to admit that the word evolution is as useful to liberal Christians as it is to scientists and atheists, but it is. The church is evolving by shedding those things which hold back its development. That can only be a good thing.
And please, can someone influence the excellent and welcome team at the top of the Anglican church – doctors Williams and Sentamu – to side with the liberals once and for all?