Robison: Anglicans and the Pope

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(HOST) Commentator Olin Robison has been contemplating the tension between conservative religious beliefs and modern realities.     

(ROBISON) The Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England – the people in the United States known as Episcopalians – is in a terrible bind.  Talk about "dithering."  The current Archbishop, a certain Reverend Rowan Williams, is stalling for time; which, of course, is a sign that he doesn’t know what to do.  His problem is that the more conservative Anglicans or Episcopalians, especially the Africans, say they will leave the Church, known among Church types as the Lambeth Communion, unless the Archbishop disciplines the Americans, who have – horror of horrors – ordained a Gay Bishop and also, equally scandalous from their point of view, tolerate women priests.  The Americans, on the other hand, are having none of the African stuff.  They say, in effect, that if the Archbishop does something they don’t like, THEY will cut and run.  

So, the Reverend Williams dithers.  He stalls for time.  I, of course, follow all of this stuff, but having grown up Baptist – people who are all too familiar with splits – I am not as sympathetic with the Archbishop’s plight as might be desired.  In the U.K. I frequently suggest to my Anglican friends that splitting is not necessarily a bad thing.  First there is one church, then two, then four, then eight, and so on.  They don’t like that at all.  Nor, of course does the Archbishop.  His problem is simple: The Africans have the numbers and the Americans have the money.  What a mess.  Now, enter His Holiness the Pope – this would be Pope Benedict the 16th. He sees all this and has recently announced that he – in other words, the Roman Catholic Church – would welcome discontented Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Communion; even if they – the priests – are already married!  In effect, he says, "C’mon over our way – we would be glad to have you."  This from the same Pope who is renowned for his conservatism and will make a formal visit to the U.K. next year.  

I have, in the last couple of years, visited several of the so-called Mega-Churches.  Many of these places maintain their denominational ties for now – even as the services themselves tend to be Pentecostal in nature.  One gets the impression in these places that they may well be a wave of the future – perhaps even THE wave of the future. The Pope, of course, sees and understands all this, and one should see his recent invitation in that context.  

The Church in Rome is slow to change; but, over time, it does change.  

All of this comes at a time when converts are mostly going to Pentecostalism and Islam; especially in the less developed world.  

Numbers matter.  Both the Pope and the Archbishop see and understand this.  And, since Church attendance is completely voluntary, look for more surprises in the near term.  

These days it is often true that the more conservative the liturgy, the smaller the congregation.  

I, of course, tend to think of the "Pentecostal" mega-churches as also being politically conservative, although that is often not true in the U.K.   And this is, of course, a political rather than a liturgical distinction.  

So, dear friends, pay attention.  There are more changes on the way.

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