2012 – The Anglican Year in Review: The Church of England Newspaper, January 6, 2013 pp 6-7. January 4, 2013Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church News, Church of England Newspaper.
After a decade of being overshadowed by the unfolding events in the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, the Church of England returned to the center of the Anglican news world. While the communion’s 38 provinces dealt with issues of local importance, the issues underlying Archbishop Rowan Williams’ resignation, the coalition government’s push for same-sex marriage, the General Synod vote on women bishops, the collapse of the Anglican Covenant, and the Chichester abuse report were played out across the Anglican Communion in 2012.
As important as these issues appeared as they were debated and discussed, the underlying questions about the nature of the Church and the nature of mankind, sounded by Dr. Rowan Williams, Pope Benedict XVI and leaders of the church in the developing word and within the Church of England, drove debate within the church in 2012.
However a few hardy Anglican perennials surfaced last year also. Episcopal corruption remained a significant concern for the Church of South India (CSI) and the Church of North India (CNI). Lay activists tell The Church of England Newspaper that only “8 or 9” of the CSI’s 21 current bishops were untainted by corruption charges.
The Bishop in Coimbatore was finally sacked for theft, two bishops were suspended for corruption, and a third fighting government charges of tax fraud died of cancer. Government auditors also released a report that found the Church of South India Trust Association, the not-for-profit company that holds title to the church’s properties, was not in conformance with India’s charitable laws, and ordered the church to implement immediate reforms, or risk liquidation of the trust.
However, steps to address problem were begun by the church’s new moderator, Bishop Gnanasigamony Devakadasham, who appointed a new church legal adviser to clean house.
The CNI was also plagued by corruption scandals. The former Bishop of Pune was jailed and several other serving and retired Church of North India bishops accused of complicity in a scheme to sell churches to property developers and pocket the cash.
Episcopal corruption also dominated the proceedings of the House of Bishops of the Provinces of South East Asia and Southern Africa. The Bishop of Sabah was accused of financial misconduct. While the results of the provincial audit have not been released calls for a criminal investigation have been made by diocesan leaders.
At the close of their February 2012 meeting, the Southern African bishops released a statement at saying they were placing the Diocese of Umzimvubu “under the care of a provincial administrative team.” Elected in 2003, Bishop Mlibo Ngewu had been charged by his clergy with simony, nepotism, embezzlement, fraud, sexual harassment and bullying. In August 2011 two-thirds of the diocesan clergy had written to the Archbishop of Cape Town requesting his intervention.
At their Fall Meeting, however, the bishops received a report on Bishop Johannes Seoka of Pretoria. A provincial investigative commission had examined allegations of theft and bullying leveled against the bishop – who also chairs the South African Council of Churches – and found there was no truth in the allegations.
The long running dispute in Zimbabwe came to an end last year. The country’s Supreme Court dismissed the claims to ownership of the properties of the dioceses of Harare and Manicaland made by Dr. Nolbert Kunonga and his supporters. And, unlike past rulings, the security services did not defy the courts and allowed constables to evict Dr. Kunonga and his men – apparently ending the collusion between the secret police and the ex-bishop that had kept the country’s Anglicans in internal exile for almost five years.
Local political issues played a large role in the life of the churches of the Anglican Communion. Labour unrest and political turmoil engaged the South African church, with Bishop Seoka and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba taking a high public profile in the wake of a police shooting of striking miners.
The bishops of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Anglican Church of Japan) pressed their government to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants. In a statement dated 23 May 2012 the said Japan’s experiences in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant meltdown had shown the risks outweighed the benefits of nuclear power. “It is not too much to say this is a warning from God to each of us who, having suffered from nuclear bombings, have failed to acquire sufficient knowledge about nuclear power and exposure to radiation.”
South India’s bishops divided over the question of nuclear power. Bishops from the far south of the country joined public protests and called for a halt to the construction of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu. However the full house declined to endorse their concerns over the safety of the Russian-designed reactor, saying nuclear power was essential for India’s economic development.
The gradual dismantling of Burma’s police state was a cause for rejoicing for the Anglican Church of Myanmar, though the persecution of Christian tribal groups and their forced conversion to Buddhism at the hands of the military was a cause of continued concern. Militant Buddhism and the aftermaths of Sri Lanka’s Tamil-Sinhalese civil war also dominated the life of the Church of Ceylon.
Persecution of Christians remained the focus of the Church in Pakistan, the Church of Nigeria and Episcopal Church of the Sudan. Depredations by Islamist extremists against the minority Christian population, church burnings, and high profile blasphemy cases – including one against a pre-teen mentally disabled girl – were of paramount interest to the Church of Pakistan. The Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, continued its depredations against the Christians of Northern Nigeria and worked towards breaking up the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Religious tensions, coupled with a push by Islamists for the creation of an independent Muslim state for Zanzibar, were key concerns also for the church in Tanzania, whilst similar tribal and religious disputes dominated the life of the Anglican Church of Kenya.
The government of the Sudan continued its war of extermination against the predominantly Christian tribesmen of the Nuba Mountains and fought a race and religion based border war with the newly independent South Sudan.
Civil war in the Eastern Congo, crime in the West Indies and Mexico, and political uncertainty in Burundi, the Solomon Island, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, Ghana and Malawi were issues of key concern for the Anglican churches in the developing world as was the continued global economic slowdown. The Arab Spring, with its hopes of political liberalization and renewal, turned into a bleak Islamist winter for the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. Civil wars and sectarian violence in Libya, Syria, Iraq and the Yemen, coupled with the political and social turmoil surrounding the election of Mohammad Mursi as president of Egypt brought fears of renewed persecution and prompted the emigration of more Christians from the Middle East.
The Anglican Communion’s internal civil wars were also played out across the globe. The Bishops of the Iglesia Anglicana del Cono Sur (de América) declined to ratify the election of a Canadian priest as bishop of Uruguay. This rebuff coupled with a 2011 vote by the South American synod not authorize women priests led the diocese to petition the province and the Anglican Consultative Council to allow it to withdraw from the Southern Cone and join the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. The ACC and the province declined to honour Uruguay’s request.
The fate of earthquake damaged Christchurch Cathedral as well as the financial aftershocks of the 2011 earthquake were of strong local interest in New Zealand, while the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia’s vote on the Anglican Covenant helped close the door on Dr. Rowan Williams major political initiative for the Anglican Communion.
Culture wars dominated the internal life of the Anglican Church of Australia along with clergy disciplinary cases that spilled over into the civil court system. A Royal Commission on Abuse in church and state institutions, gay marriage, and a just asylum policy for immigrants were among the political issues that spilled over in the life of the church.
The Australian House of Bishops also reiterated its traditional rules against the calling and deployment of non-celibate gay clergy – and just as quickly some bishops broke ranks over the issue.
The issue of gay clergy sharply divided the Church of Ireland in 2012 prompting its bishops to deny speculation the church might divide between a liberal south and conservative north. In Canada, the question of gay clergy and rites for the blessing of same-sex unions proceeded at the diocesan. By year’s end of Canada’s 25 dioceses, Quebec, Rupert’s Land, Edmonton, British Columbia, New Westminster, Edmonton, Niagara, Huron, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island had authorized gay blessings.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church introduced same-sex blessings at the start of Advent through a canonical sleight of hand. While gay marriage would require the revision of the Book of Common Prayer and trial rites for same-sex marriage or blessings would have required a supermajority of bishops – the church created a new, non-canonical category, called provisional temporary liturgical rites that allowed it to adopt gay rites by a simple majority vote.
However, the Episcopal Church permitted conservative dioceses to ban gay rites, creating a situation where in some dioceses gay marriages are seen as blessed whilst in others they are sinful.
The fall out over gay rites along with disputes over the nature and person of Jesus Christ (is he a way or the way to the Father) saw one of the original dioceses of the Episcopal Church withdraw from the General Convention.
In November South Carolina quit the Episcopal Church after Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori deposed Bishop Mark Lawrence without trial for abandoning the communion of the church – a charge the South Carolina bishop denied.
These questions, however, mirrored the theological and political debates within the Church of England. While the arguments may have centered round government economic policy, gay marriage, the departure of Dr. Williams and women bishops – while General Synod said “no” South Africa and Swaziland elected Africa’s first two women bishops – the deeper issues the church grappled with were over human nature.
And it was a non-Anglicans who best summarized the ontological issues facing the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion at the close of 2012.
In his Christmas message to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human.”
The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, the pope wrote, had “shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper.”
“While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question.”
There was a new belief that held that “man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation.”
“When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself.”
Benedict concluded, “and it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man…”