In 2003, after TEC’s General Convention gave consent to Gene Robinson’s episcopal election, some conservatives began to use the term “realignment” with respect to the Anglican Communion. At the time, it seemed to refer to a movement ”“ not yet fully en route ”“ to forge a common witness to the Scriptural commitments of Anglicanism, that would draw together the Communion’s organs of discipline and mission in a newly integrated manner. This would, some hoped, isolate the Episcopal Church’s own wayward developments from the rest of the Communion, offer godly pressures for reform, and provide conservative Episcopalians with a clearly defined Communion basis for their own local witness. “Realignment” was, in what seems to have been the Archbishop of Canterbury’s suggestive understanding, a “confessional” movement within the Communion.
The term “realignment” has taken on a new meaning, however, over the past few years. It now seems to denote for many the erection of new hierarchical structures among Anglicans, separate from, independent of accountability to, and out of communion with a range of other existing Communion entities and persons. Instead, these structures claim a more local or individualized form of accountability, as in a congregational polity now lifted into an ”˜episcopal’ frame of reference. These new structures of “realignment” are ones through which provincial, episcopal, and local oversight is offered, through which ministry is ordered, through which discipline is effected, and through which resources are shared, apart from the Anglican Communion’s already established organs of ecclesial life, including, in some cases. Some have called this “realignment” a “new Reformation”; others (rather contradictorily) have seen it as a step to reunion with Rome; others have stressed its provisional nature (though without explaining how the erection of new orders of ministry and discipline can, in the nature of the case, be provisional).
We can argue as to the wisdom and the theological and moral appropriateness of this new reading of “realignment” and its practical outworking. Indeed, the argument has been going on for several years already. But it is worth noting, apart from such debate and purely as a factual matter, that the new understanding of Anglican realignment has yet to be accepted by many who are its purported objects of concern. The factual matter of observation may also, of course, inform substantive questions themselves.
There has been, for instance, a grand announcement made recently that the Anglican Church in Canada was itself in the process of becoming a part of this new “realignment”. Two retired Canadian Anglican bishops were “received” by the Province of the Southern Cone (in South America), and this South American-based province invited Canadian Anglican congregations to leave the Canadian church and join them. Ordinations in Canada are planned, and new structures being set up to provide this South American-Canadian alternative Anglican church to function alongside the current Anglican Church of Canada. All of this, indeed, follows the multiple models of “realignment” already set up the United States, where several African Anglican Provinces (Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya) have their own hierarchical and disciplinary structures in place within America, ordering the life of American Anglican congregations and clergy, supervising the flow of resources, and engaged, from afar, in disciplinary and legal matters.
Despite the much-publicized announcement of this Canadian “realignment”, however, to this point only two congregations, both of them not members of the Anglican Church of Canada, have agreed to participate. The Canadian “Network” of conservative Anglican congregations who have expressed a willingness to listen to this invitation numbers 16 congregations, half of whom come from a single conflicted diocese (New Westminster), and none of whom as yet have agreed to “realign”.
There are, of course, Canadian Anglicans who may be interested in this realignment; some of them may be waiting for the next set of plans to unfold; some are reflecting; some are getting ready to move. Perhaps soon. We may well see several more congregations join up. But we will not see a large proportional number, despite the fact that, in Canada, even longer than in the US, conservative Anglicans have been struggling with the challenge of bishops, synods, teachings, and disciplinary practices that they believe to be seriously at odds with the Gospel. And why is that?
It is not because the evangelical stakes are not as high in Canada as in the United States. It is not because Canadian Anglicans who love the Scriptures and the Lord of the Scriptures and the Church of this Lord, are not as astute as their American counterparts, or as brave, or as faithful. It is not because they do not realize that leaders and synods within their church have, in fact, crossed the line of Communion teaching and commitment. One may wish to judge the value of the differences in question; but even refraining from such judgment one can and ought to point out that Canada is not the United States, within Anglicanism as much as in anything.
ï‚§ Canadian Anglicans have long lived in a rapidly secularizing culture. They recognize the dangers of meeting the atheism and hopelessness of a secular and fracturing social and moral environment through the witness of Christian fragmentation.
ï‚§ Canadian Anglicans are already bound by the habits of “commonwealth”, and the virtues of “communion”, understood in this historically-informed Anglican fashion are well-rooted in their practice.
ï‚§ Canadian Anglicans are schooled, if not in a religious way nonetheless in a real way, in the life of loyalty.
ï‚§ Canadian Anglicans already know the tremendous cost of legal battles, having endured and suffered from the Residential School litigation and settlements, and they don’t have as much money available for such battles as their U.S. counterparts. They also know, from this and other experiences, the heart of moral hypocrisy that so evidently and powerfully lurks within the lives of institutions and their reformers both.
ï‚§ Canadian Anglicans are aware that their identity as a national church is fragile due to Canada’s vast geography and tendency to regionalism, their small numbers as a church, and far fewer material resources than their neighboring Episcopal Church. Many of their parishes are small and scattered throughout Canada’s large rural areas. To leave the larger Canadian church is a luxury that only a very few urban parishes could afford. For most conservative Anglicans, realignment means isolation.
If Anglican “realignment” has a positive meaning for conservative Canadian Anglicans, it will probably be in terms of its earlier meaning. Realignment, then, will probably be embraced in terms of the confessional witness that sows its seed, maintains its integrity, suffers its resistance, and gives of itself within the bonds of common life as they can best be lived within the conscience of charity and truth that Christ’s Spirit has so long afforded His Church among those who earnestly seek it. This will not come easily, to be sure. It will require greater explicit organization and commitment. Individuals who have stood in the shadows will be called to step forward. The endurance of hard words will need to be borne. There is the threat of discouragement, of lagging energies, of disaffection even.
There is also a very special concern in the cultural context unique to Canada. In Canada, the particular danger must be faced that the conservative immigrant, ethnic, and Native Anglican congregations and their leaders will be affected more than anyone (a problem the more homogeneous U.S. church has not had to face.) Yet whatever the new structures and provinces and bishops and clergy and discipline that are established within Canada by Anglicans from elsewhere in the world, it is fair to say that the vast majority of faithful Canadian Anglicans will choose a different path.
All this represents straightforward observation. It may prove inaccurate as time moves forward, or it may prove a point of permanent distinction. God alone knows. The fact that Canada is not the United States, however, has enormous implications in the struggle for the witness of global Anglicanism. Indeed, only the United States is the United States ”“ and even there, many widespread assumptions are not what they seem. Understanding the distinctions, especially where the Gospel is concerned, will do much to protect other parts of the Communion from the distinctive morass of American turmoil, whose realignments have, as yet, proved easier to multiply than to order.