The 38 primates of the Anglican Communion have gathered in Tanzania to tackle the rift between traditionalists and progressives that is shaking the religion at its very foundations. Almost certainly, it will end in rupture; there is no middle-ground — a point the African primates have emphasized by refusing to even attend if the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop Katharine Schori is present.
As Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who leads the US traditionalist group, told The Christian Science Monitor: "There really is a very significant battle for the soul as to whether Christianity stands where it has always stood or goes in a different direction," he says. "We are on the side that is always dominant in history though we may be a minority in Western churches."
The Anglican dispute arises from the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, followed 2-years later by the selection of Katharine Schori as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church; both are forbidden by the traditional understanding of Biblical teachings. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary notes that the issue is, in fact, something different: "The meeting is a last-ditch effort to avoid a total meltdown in the communion over the issue of homosexuality. Of course, the deeper issue is biblical authority — and many of the bishops attending the meeting are only too aware of this fact."
Precisely so, and a point I've made many times over the past few years. Traditionalists say the the Bible is perfect in every particular, and a rejection of any of its teachings is error; progressives point toward conspicuous errors in Biblical cosmology — that the sun revolves around the earth, for instance — and argue that some Biblical teachings reflect time-bound ignorance and must be interpreted anew.
Complicating matters is the humdrum political reality that Christianity is growing only in the hungry, uneducated Global South.
Christianity is no longer a Western religion; it is an African and Asian religion. Its political power, and Christianity's future, rest with the traditionally-minded, conservative African bishops. Fifteen million of the world's 77 million Anglicans are in Nigeria alone.
They will never compromise with the liberal Western churchmen; indeed, they couldn't if they wanted to, because African culture reviles both homosexuality and female authority, and they would face an insurrection in their own pews if they did.
The Anglican Communion is in schism, in all but name, and this meeting will not change that. The Nigerians won't back down. Nor will Western progressives who, in addition to their different view of Biblical interpretation, won't much like the prospect of accepting direction from superstitious blacks they once regarded as savages and to whom they once sent missionaries.
Religions, churches, clubs … they all come and go. The fate of the Anglican Communion per se doesn't interest me. The dispute is interesting because it encapsulates the greater dispute throughout the world. Science has created a world in which the Old Religions are uncomfortable, and they are in rebellion everywhere. The "showdown" is, at the last, between Faith and Reason.
Generally, Reason wins such disputes because it gives people things they like: cheap goods, better health and longer lives – and meat without the aggravation of getting close and killing the animal with a spear. The one time that Reason lost, or was at least forced underground, is known to us today as the Dark Ages.
On the night of July 10, 1954, a supernova erupted in the constellation Taurus. It was noted by astronomers in China, in Arabia, in Alaska, in Arizona and in the South Pacific. But there is no record of it in Europe. As James Michener noted in his novel Space: "From Italy to Moscow, from the Urals to Ireland, nobody saw it. At least, they made no mention of it. They lived through one of the Earth’s most magnificent spectacles and nobody bothered even to note the fact in any parchment, or speculate upon it in any manuscript. We know the event took place, for with a telescope tonight we can see the remnants of the supernova hiding in Taurus, but we have searched every library in the western world without finding a single shred of evidence that the learned people of Europe even bothered to notice what was happening about them."
The supernova was seen and noted throughout the world, except for that part of the world ruled from Rome by the Catholic Church. To see or not to see: that's the choice.