(DC Register) George Weigel–The Anglican Wannabe fallacy

Hard experience should have taught us by now that there is an iron law built into the relationship between Christianity and modernity. Christian communities that know and defend their doctrinal and moral boundaries (while extending the compassion of Christ when we fail to live within those boundaries, as we all do) survive in modernity; some actually flourish and become robustly evangelical. Conversely, Christian communities whose doctrinal and moral boundaries are eroded by the new orthodoxy of political correctness, and become so porous that it becomes impossible to know if one is “in” or “out,” wither and die.

That is the sad state of Anglicanism in the North Atlantic world today: even splendid liturgical smells-and-bells can’t save an Anglicanism hollowed out by the shibboleths of secular modernity. Why British Catholics like Lavinia Byrne can’t see this is one of the mysteries of the 21st-century Church.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Christology, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology, Theology: Scripture

9 comments on “(DC Register) George Weigel–The Anglican Wannabe fallacy

  1. New Reformation Advocate says:

    As usual, Weigel is right. I might nuance his argument a bit as a supporter of WO, but his essential point is manifestly correct. To sell our theological birthright, the orthodox heritage in theology and morality, for a lousy bowl of modernist soup is not only foolish, but disastrous.

    I particularly loved the line, where Weigel skewers the liberal ex-nun who bemoans the fact that Rome, under JP II, failed to follow the progressive lead of the CoE on WO. Dr. lavinia Byrne exclaimed that the RC Church in the UK “would look very different” if the Anglican precedent had been folloowed. Weigel’s devastating rejoinder is that she is right, in a sense. If Rome had followed the example of the CoE, Catholic churches would look as empty as so much of the CoE. A marvelous zinger.

    How would I nuance Weigel’s piece? Well, for starters, I’d acknowledge that not all CoE churches are empty these days. Not least, the growing network linkied to Alpha’s Holy Trinity, Brompton, is thriving. More broadly, the minority of congregations that are under theologically sound leadership are often defying the general trend, whether the leaders are evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, or charismatic.

    More importantly, I’d contend that there are ways of supporting WO that don’t involve capitulation to the egalitarian and pluralistic spirit of the age. Nor does one have to agree with Weigel that the troubles really began with the 1930 Lambeth Conference decision to approve of the use of contraception in some circumstances. Actually, the capitulation had taken place long before that.

    But Weigel’s main point stands. Personally, I wish he’d emphasized another key difference between Roman Catholicism in England and the CoE, i.e., the tremendous advantage than Rome has because of the international, multi-ethnic nature of Catholicism that leaves it less vulnerable to the weaknesses of any given culture, including all the weaknesses and blindspots associated with English culture right now.

    Trying to appease tyrants is never a good idea. Remember Neville Chamberlain and Hitler? The same applies with regard to the sheer folly of trying to appease Christianity’s “cultured despisers.” Liberalism, both Protestant and Catholic, has been going down that dead end road since Friedrich Schliermacher. After 200 years, it should be apparent that the Liberal sellout approach is utterly doomed to failure.

    David Handy+

  2. Terry Tee says:

    David, thank you for your eirenic reflection. When I look at the Church of England around me I am mystified at low attendances – with the exceptions that you note. One factor that you do not mention that might be worthy of mention is its role as a state church. I am convinced that this is never good for the church, any church. For one thing it associated the Church of England with the powerful and comfortably off, an association that it has taken it a long time to lose. This despite sacrificial and innovative 19th and 20th C ministry in slums. I remember in the 1970s and 1980s meeting attitudes of unconscious snobbery in Anglican clergy that had me staggered. I think that this is now largely a thing of the past. I see lots of innovative ministry around me, although even that has me wondering at the smorgasbord of it all: the difference between, say, Fresh Expressions (eg the Lord’s Supper in a rented shop with everybody in casuals) and a High Mass in gothic vestments and clouds of incense. The same? Perhaps. I admit, it all began in the upper room of an inn. But do the celebrants and participants have a common understanding of what they are doing? Or are you folks going to tell me it doesn’t matter? The upshot is vastly different styles of being an Anglican Christian, even in the same locality. Too often it seems to be the juridical side of the state link that holds it all together rather than agreement in essentials.

  3. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Thank you, in turn, F. Tee.
    I appreciate your irenic and frank response, with which I am in hearty agreement. As a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably seen me sign off posts before with a tag line something like this:

    David Handy+
    (As an American, I dislike and distrust state churches anyway)

    But I’ll go a step further here, and clarify a bit more about what I think are the considerable downsides of the CoE being the national church, by law established (although admittedly, there are also some strengths that go with that officially favord status too). Yes, there is the historic problem you mentioned, where the fact that a state church is by definition associated with the powers that be in society, and therefore tends to be too closely aligned with the rich and powerful. The French and Bolshevik Revolutions are testimony to the deep resentment and confusion that can easily breed. And even decades now of stress on the so-called “preferential option for the poor” by the Catholic bishops in Latin America hasn’t removed that impression in the minds of many observers, inside and outside the Church.

    It takes more than legal disestablishment to correct that deep and lasting impression. The Mexican Revolution was over a long time ago, but even the resulting persecution of the Catholic Church by the state hasn’t overcome the widespread assumption that the Roman Church is still allied with the interests of the powerful at the expense of the masses. Or take my own state of Virginia, where Anglicanism was legally established until Thomas Jefferson pushed through hs historic Act of Religious Freedom in 1785 (four years before the national Bill of Rights with its First Amendment guarantee or religious freeom was adopted in 1789). Simply ending the legal privleges of Anglicanism in Virginia did almost nothing to diminish the enmeshment of Anglicanism here with the interests of the plantation ownes and aristocrats like Jefferson himself. Social and cultural dis-establishmnt is far harder to accomplish. And in my opinion, that’swhat needs to happen in England, nothing less.

    But as you’d probably agree, there is more to it than that. And yes, at the heart of the problem is the futile effort to be “all things to ll people” and to include the whole population, more or less. It is that dream of being a truly national church (except, of course, for a few pesky Jews or papists who refuse to be assimilated, meant tongue in cheek, of course) that seems to die so hard. But it’s manifestly a mirage. It’s a long time now since the Great Ejection of the Puritan clergy from the CoE in 1662, or the Act of Toleration of 1689, etc.

    The harsh reality is that we Anglicans have been papering over major doctrinal disputes ever since the break with Rome in 1534. The notorious ambiguities of both the Articles and the BCP illustrate that all too well. The reality is that the CoE has never had any real theological coherence or integrity. The High Church, Low Church, and Broad Church parties have in fact represented three different and incompatible groups trying vainly to co-exist under one roof. And yes, the main forces holding that motley collection of mutually exclusive groups together have always been more political and social than religious. Aidan Nichols’ splendid theological history of Anglicanism, [b]The Panther and the Hind[/b], documents that unpleasant fact in a way I find beyond dispute.

    But in the end, that’s why I think that our current Anglican Civil War could turn out to be a blessing in disguise, for it is forcing us to admit what we’ve been loathe to admit for centuries: the center can’t and won’t hold. Now hat England has become a clearly and emphatically post-Christendom land, where real Christians are a small minority of the population, and an increasingly marginalized, misunderstood, and suspect minority at that, Anglicanism is FORCED to re-invent itself. A complete overhaul of the CoE is n order, redesigning Anglicanism for the 21st century in a way that renounces our Erastian ways once and for all.

    Of course, that is a highly unpopular idea, even on conservative blogs like this one. But it remains my firm and rdent conviction that nothing less radical than that will do. It is indeed time for a New Reformation in the Global North. But that need not mean Anglicanism becoming more Protestant than ever. Quite the contray. AFter all, there was a Catholic Reformation too, not just a Tridentine Counter-Reformation.

    We Anglicans desperately need our own equivalent of Vatican II. But without the monarchy to adjudicate our endless internal disputes as Anglicans, what authority could impose the results of such an unlikely synod as I dream of happening ad producing the “updating” (aggiornamento) that we clearly need so badly?

    David Handy+
    Anti-Erastian Anglican

  4. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    #2 Fr Tee

    When I look at the Church of England around me I am mystified at low attendances – with the exceptions that you note. One factor that you do not mention that might be worthy of mention is its role as a state church. I am convinced that this is never good for the church, any church. For one thing it associated the Church of England with the powerful and comfortably off, an association that it has taken it a long time to lose.

    May I ask how being a state church is different from being a church which is a state?

  5. Terry Tee says:

    PM being slow of mind it took me a minute or two to cotton on to what you were driving at. But before proceeding let me emphasize that my mystification was genuine and arose out of a sense of admiration for the pastoral care shown by C of E clergy. I see lots of good, caring, prayerful vicars. I see creativity in ministry, a reaching out to people, and yes it does baffle me that the people do not pack the pews in return.

    Regarding your question: I don’t think that there is a church that is a state. The Order of Malta, for example, has the juridical status of a state in international law, but we would be hard pushed to say that its members constituted one. Likewise the Roman Catholic Church as evidenced by the Vatican which has the status of a state. But we may note:
    (a) Catholics in the pews ie the body of the kirk have their own fealty to their own nations which is not overriden by the status of the Vatican (remember the debates around the time of JFK’s election in 1960);
    (b) A state church has an innate cultural bias towards its own national community, which it often hardly notices, being the lens through which it looks. This would be true of some Catholic nations as well where the Church has been part of the power structure (eg Poland, Italy) but the governance of the Catholic Church, while not making it a state in any conventional sense, none the less makes sure that there is a larger perspective, and thus local and national cultures have a counter-balance.
    Still: my long-windedness shows me to be struggling a bit here. And it is widely conceded – yea, even by Pope Francis himself – that as part of its ongoing reform, the Roman Catholic Church needs to be more pastoral and less legalistic, more keen to serve and less keen to judge.
    I hear of younger generations turning away from the Catholic Church in droves in Spain and Ireland. Where it might be said that the Church was ipso facto the state church even if not legally established. Which just proves the point that David and I share, namely that Christian faith has to arise out of a free heart, and where church and state, denomination and nation have been too much hand in glove, as soon as this ceases the Church will be associated with authority in a negative way, and will struggle to keep a younger generation.

  6. Katherine says:

    Terry Tee, since you are reading this, can you confirm or deny something a Catholic English friend said to me when we had dinner with him recently? He said that when he visits England, the Catholic churches are also often quite empty. Is this an English problem as well as a CofE problem?

    In any case, it is clear that ordaining women didn’t solve the CofE decline, and it wouldn’t solve Catholic problems either.

  7. Terry Tee says:

    Katherine, all I can do is speak from my own experience. I am 67 and on what is probably my last assignment, I mention this because I moved fairly recently to one of the smaller parishes of our diocese. Each Sunday we have a Mass attendance of about 450. Last Sunday 18 children made their First Communion and next Sunday another 18 will be confirmed (the latter figure not so good as it sounds, since we confirm only every two years.) My previous parish was a little larger than average with a Mass attendance of 1200 on a Sunday. I don’t know of any empty Catholic churches except in one or two areas where there have been huge demographic changes – a few church schools are now almost 100% Muslim so you can imagine the impact also on church attendance. Anglicans sometimes say to me that the average Catholic parish covers the area of many more Church of England ones. That is certainly true, but even so, adding up the two and half C of E parishes in my area, I doubt if their attendance would come to more than 150. Some caveats:
    – Where Holy Trinity Brompton has taken over parishes in London, attendances have soared.
    – the Catholic population is unevenly spread, being very concentrated on the big conurbations, and thinly spread in rural areas, especially in the South-West (Devon and Cornwall) and in East Anglia (Suffolk, Norfolk, plus Lincolnshire which is not East Anglia)
    – nationwide Catholic figures attendance figures took a long time to begin the drop that has afflicted the C of E but about 12 years ago the decline began. Our average Mass attendance in England and Wales, out of 4.5 million people, has dropped from 1.5m to about 900,000.
    – there is something of a north-south divide in the country, with Catholic parishes in the south doing far better than those in the north. Catholic parishes are doing especially well in London (and interestingly London diocese is the only one in the C of E which is showing growth in numbers)
    – we are visibly renewed by immigration from Eastern Europe, not just Poland but also Lithuania and Slovakia.
    – Liverpool/Merseyside, formerly a Catholic stronghold, has shown marked decline in attendance. There in the NW they are also particularly afflicted by the decline in numbers of priests and this is a growing problem across the country. The reception into the Catholic Church and swift RC ordination of large numbers of former vicars has helped stave off the day of reckoning for a bit but that particular stream of renewal will now more or less dry up.
    In short: I would say that we are treading water, that there are signs both of fresh life and of deterioration.

  8. Katherine says:

    Thank you, Terry Tee. My friend is about your (and my) age. He has a daughter in the vicinity of Leeds where he visits Catholic parishes which he says are not healthy. He also mentioned the age of the priests — but then, he mentioned that about his parish here in the U.S. as well.

  9. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    #5 Fr Tee – Thanks for responding to my oblique reference – good try. Vatican City is apparently the world’s smallest independent state and has observer status at the United Nations, although not formally a member.

    To be honest, I think most of us forget we are an established church. It has little impact on our governance, as with a few exceptions, which mostly operate to stop our bishops and clergy going off the deep end too quickly, decion-making is devolved from Parliament to General Synod, and as you can see from our bishops’ regular criticism, we can hardly be described as pliant to the powers that be and their wishes.

    However, I think being the established church does have an impact for people in the country many of whom have attended church schools or had some connection through family, even when not attending themselves. I think it is rather like those who regard themselves as ‘born catholic’ or ‘raised catholic’ but in our case expresses itself as a default answer to a census or passport question where ‘CofE’ is inserted without much thought. Many regard this cultural Christianity or denominationalism as a bad thing. I disagree – I think it denotes a foot in the door, a cultural identity which may open the way for evangelism at some stage in the future, much as some cultural catholics become engaged in your church at a later stage in life – I think this cultural identity is a fertile ground for further engagement. But then, where evangelism is concerned, I am a glass half full sort of person.

    As far as the pastoral side goes, I am afraid that like Catholic priests, Anglican ones are rather taken for granted, so no one gives it much thought – it is expected because ‘that is their job’ – which is a pity.

    Well done on your continuing ministry.