Behind the spin: Church of England

THE DILEMMA

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Dissent, schism and high emotion. When it comes to organisational crisis, you can't beat what the Church of England is going through right now. It all came to a head last month during the Lambeth Conference, an event held once a decade, when bishops from the Anglican Communion (as the mother church's global collective is known) are invited to get together and chew the cud. It was mitres at 30 paces as a deepening division between liberal and conservative factions threatened to cleave the Church irrevocably. The problem? The consecration of the openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire and the vote for the full ecclesiastical equality of women - that is, allowing the appoinment of female bishops. It's tradition versus reform, with the reformers prevailing over the conservatives. In fact, 230 bishops - a quarter of those invited - boycotted the conference, portending a breakaway movement.

THE SPIN

The Church doesn't do spinning... the dubious morality of such deception would be beyond the pale.

THE STRAIGHT TALK

It's good with the truth, however. At his presidential address at the Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said: 'We all know we stand in the middle of one of the most severe challenges to have faced the Anglican family. We cannot ignore the fact that what is seen to be a new doctrine and policy about same-sex relations is causing pain and perplexity.' Williams argues that now is the time for unity. But some think otherwise. 'You cannot have unity at any price,' said Bob Duncan, the Bishop of Pittsburgh. 'The divisions are there. When a family is broken it's because it has no boundaries.'

THE VERDICT

What to do? Slap a few Asbos on the errant bishops and make them conform? Not the Anglican style. Gentle guidance is what Williams prefers, passed around with a tray of cucumber sandwiches and a nice cup of tea. He advocates something called the Anglican Covenant: a document intended to unify discordant factions within the C of E by accentuating the bonds of affection that already exist among the communion. But the conservative dissenters are refusing to accept the unacceptable. Not since the revolutionary foment of the English Civil War has the Church experienced such disharmony. But moving together with the times is difficult. The C of E is a broad church, but how far can you stretch a rubber band before it snaps?

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