The Church of England—A Divided House
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN GREAT BRITAIN
THE 13th Lambeth Conference of the Church of England was held at Canterbury in 1998 under the shadow of its 900-year-old cathedral. Addressing the conference, Bishop William E. Swing made the telling observation: “Religion has to stop being the problem and start providing the solution. There is never going to be peace among nations unless there’s peace among religions.”
The division that exists among religions is dramatic, as is the division among parishioners and clergy of the same religion. One bishop refused to attend the conference, which has been held every ten years since 1948, because female bishops were present. Some who attended were opposed to participation in Bible discussion with these women.
While the question of ordaining women had dominated the proceedings of the 1988 conference, homosexuality was the principal subject of controversy in 1998. In the end, the bishops resolved that homosexuality is “against scripture.” What prompted the decision?
One factor may have been that Anglicans were eager to strengthen relations with the Roman Catholic Church. And they realized that their church could not expect to pursue dialogue between the two organizations if they continued to take “a pro-gay-clergy line.” Another underlying reason for the decision may have been fear of Islam. To have passed a resolution condoning homosexual priests would have been, as African bishops put it, “evangelical suicide” in Islamic states.
Regarding another divisive issue at the conference, The Sunday Telegraph reported: “In parts of Africa, the central missionary question is polygamy.” Reflecting on the dilemma facing Anglicans in Africa, one bishop observed: “If someone makes a huge contribution to the Church but has more than one wife, what do they do?” Noting the predictable outcome of the debate, The Times of London reported: “Anglican bishops will keep silent on polygamy.”
For the first time, Anglican bishops debated their relationship with Islam. “There is a deep rooted hatred between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria,” reported the bishop of Kaduna, Nigeria, claiming that more than 10,000 lives had been lost in religious conflicts in his country. Only by building up a knowledge of Islam, it was said, could a holy war in Africa be averted.
What lies ahead for the 70 million people worldwide who, according to one disputed claim, are members of the Anglican church?* The situation is not encouraging, for as The Times reported: “The conference has astonished many observers and participants because it has at times borne a closer resemblance to a party political gathering than a Christian church at prayer.”
Not surprisingly, The Sunday Times concluded that ‘rancor and ill-feeling characterized the meeting.’
This figure of 70 million “sounds impressive,” says The Times, but “what is rarely stated is that of these, 26 million are in the Church of England. Barely one million now go to church here [in Britain], the remainder being only nominal Anglicans.”
[Picture on page 24]
Canterbury Cathedral, 900 years old