Watching the "Withdrawal" or whatever it is of the Anglican Mission In America (AMIA) from the Anglican Church of Rwanda has been interesting. For those of you not in the know, the AMIA was formed in 2000 as a reaction to the "theological liberalism" of the Episcopal Church. In order to be strictly "Anglican," one has to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury through a church in the Anglican Communion. AMIA's tie was through Rawanda, but that relationship flew to pieces last month over what appears to be personality conflicts among bishops. While many try to put a brave face on it, AMIA member Mark Galli calls it for what it is:
I think it critical in such times that we say what a thing is–only the truth will set us free. And this thing that happened has a name: schism. All the AMIA bishops who have resigned are schismatics.
This is a hard sentence to write and to read, because these are otherwise godly men, whose leadership we have admired. Some we call friends and colleagues. But there is no other word to describe what they’ve done other than the word schism.
This is troubling, first, because it contradicts Jesus’ expressed prayer for the unity of the church. Second, it threatens to make a lie of AMIA’s posture when we first left the Episcopal Church. Some accused us of schism at the time, and we responded in one of two ways: (1) It is not schism if the church we departed had lost its Christian moorings. Or (2) if it is schism, then it is one of the rare exceptions in which schism is the lesser evil. In either case, we held aloft a couple of theological ideals that were motivating us: The authority of Scripture and sexual/moral integrity. We did not leave on a point of personal inspiration.
In my opinion, "Threatens to make a lie of AMIA's posture when we first left the Episcopal Church" should be changed to "Removes the theological smokescreen our leadership used to justify schism." I'm in the process of reading Douglas Bess' Divided We Stand, which is a history of the "Continuing Anglican Movement." It's reads kind of like a "bodice ripper" version of Don Armentrout's Episcopal Splinter Groups. The AMIA is just one of many groups who have left the Episcopal Church over the years for various presenting reasons, from the Reformed Episcopal Church in the 1800s to the Anglican Ordinariates just a few days ago. However, whatever the presenting reasons, there's always a subtext of bishops behaving badly, and it always seems to follow a particular course:
- Dissident leaders become frustrated by lack of personal advancement in Episcopal Church.
- Dissident movement latches onto theological debate du jour.
- When enough dissidents gather, a loose confederation is formed around their dislike of the Episcopal Church, even if there is little else in common.
- Dissident confederation leaves Episcopal Church claiming that they are not leaving, but that the church has left them.
- Dissident confederation creates looser ecclesiological structure and canons that empowers dissident leaders.
- Dissident confederation ordains many more bishops than it needs, often using Episcopi Vagantes.
- Dissident confederation cracks apart along papered-over faultlines ignored when the confederation is formed.
- Remaining dissident groups merge and fracture with amazing frequency, with the bishops sometimes becoming Episcopi Vagantes themselves.
It almost seems to be a viral process designed to create more Episcopi Vagantes. The speed varies. The Reformed Episcopal Church is still around, although it has lately become part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). (Interestingly, the ACNA was also the name of a group formed after the St. Louis Congress in 1977 in opposition to women's ordination and which split apart later over churchmanship issues.) But ACNA faces it's own internal problems with women's ordination and other issues that didn't seem so huge when the Episcopal Church was the big bad wolf, but are starting to rear their ugly heads now that they have had time to start getting to know each other.
Perhaps schism really is viral.