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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Revolution or Re-do

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Guardian is reporting today about the launch of a new, breakaway Anglican church centered in the global south. Money quote:
in a statement, [the church] said: "While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury." The rejection of Rowan Williams marks the end of colonial domination of the Anglican communion, shifting the balance of power to developing countries.
The fascinating thing here is the renegotiation of religious identity at work. Anglicanism has always depended for its sense of identity upon the recognition of Canterbury as "an historic see." To be Anglican was to defer to the Archbishop (if that's not putting it too simply).

This new movement places religious conviction, namely conservative conviction (i.e. traditional understandings of sexuality and a literal reading of the Bible) and rigorous personal piety at the center of its Anglican identity.

Of course, what this new communion seeks to do is re-establish Anglicanism in a "more traditional form." For example, it will go back to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and shun subsequent revisions in its worship. All in the name of "Orthodoxy."

Which begs the question: is it a revolution or a re-do? Surely the shift in power from Europe and the western hemisphere to Africa and the global south is one with revolutionary implications. All last week I listened to conservative Presbyterians suggest these implications as they compared the stance of their denomination on sexuality to that of the "global church." There is a powerful recognition of the piety of the South as normative for the worldwide church, especially as a salve to western "secularism" going on. That is truly revolutionary.

Only, I'm afraid it's not at all revolutionary in substance. The whole thing seeks to go back, to return to some previous locus of authority, be that a literal interpretation of the Bible or an "original" prayer book. Revolutions remake things. Re-do's don't. A re-do looks longingly at the past and tries to recreate it, misunderstanding it by romanticizing it. It refuses to engage critically with the challenges of the day and instead retreats back to the safety of the perceived certainty of a previous era.

The effects of this will be far-reaching, well-beyond the bounds of the Anglican communion. I'm no apologist for western hegemony or centralized authority, but this turn concerns me greatly, mostly because of a failure to look critically at the cultural biases of the "southern" orthodoxy that is being embraced by disgruntled conservatives in the west. It's all well and good to critique one's own culture as "secular" and relativist and whatever else, but one needs to adopt that same critical stance toward that "other" culture that one is now so eagerly embracing as a savior.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:21 AM

2 Comments:

Was the Reformation a revolution or a re-do?

Because I think Luther and Calvin would have happily said that they were returning to Paul rather than remaking something. "A re-do looks longingly at the past and tries to recreate it, misunderstanding it by romanticizing it. It refuses to engage critically with the challenges of the day and instead retreats back to the safety of the perceived certainty of a previous era." Yup, that was the Reformation.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 9:25 PM  
The Reformation was about sources, not era's. Luther and Calvin were not looking back at 1st century Palestine, Asia Minor, etc. and sighing, "we just need to get back to the Godly morality that existed then." No, they were bringing ancient sources into contact with present realities. That's the stuff of revolutions and reformations.

What smacks of a re-do is this resurrection of the original book of common prayer as a symbol of a return to the "origins" of Anglicanism. That has less to do with engaging a source that it does with longing for the hegemony of an earlier time as a way of escaping the confusion of the present day. That is precisely what the reformers did NOT do.
commented by Blogger Not Prince Hamlet, 9:16 PM  

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