Thursday, 8 September 2011

Book Review: Sydney Anglicans and the threat to world Anglicanism

Written by Muriel Porter, an Australian Anglican member of the General Synod and wife of an Anglican priest, this well researched book is a compelling account of the manner in which the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Communion has been dragged back into the distant Reformation model of an anti-catholic, Puritanical and congregational model of the church. I have found it exceptionally readable. The author is an Anglican, one who grew up in a very different Sydney Anglicanism in the 1950s and now lives, worships and celebrates in a different style of Anglicanism in Melbourne. She certainly knows her subject and the protagonists. Her descriptions of what is happening in the Sydney Diocese mirrors my own experiences and impressions from having attended services there in the late 1990s and the start of this century and it should worry every real Anglican.

The Sydney "Brand" of "Anglicanism" - and it is my belief that that 'label' no longer applies to this Diocese - is the sort of images smashing, idol hunting and intolerant Puritanism of the 16th Century. It has been fueled and fed by a number of extreme Evangelicals who have held key positions in this Diocese since the beginning of the 20th Century and it has become an entirely incestuous system of appointments. As the author states, the selection process for ministers makes it all but impossible for any trained outside Sydney to be appointed to a position in the Diocese. Even the selection for Bishops is handled by a deeply fundamentalist oriented commission selected and appointed entirely by the equally deeply fundamentalist Governing Board. But the real threat is the unholy alliances the current leadership of this rogue diocese have forged with African and North American dissidents, most of whom, ironically, share only two things with Sydney. Their opposition to women in ordained ministry and the belief that homosexuality is a learned and adopted lifestyle. Almost all their allies in the GAFCON alliance are from the ultra-catholic wing of Anglicanism, but this has not stopped Sydney from exporting and "planting" congregations carrying its poisonous brand of extreme evangelicalism into every Province and National Church.

She deals at length with the many facets of Sydney's departure from Anglican tradition and structure, including the practice of appointing only "deacons" into ministries traditionally requiring a "priest," of reserving that to the "leader" of a "Ministry Team" and of allowing Deacons and Licensed Lay Ministers to "Preside" at what passes for the Eucharist in their churches. "Services" are no longer held, instead congregations hold "meetings" or "gatherings." The symbol of Christianity is excluded from most of their churches (It isn't actually banned - yet!) because the Cross is considered idolatrous (Read the history of the Puritan rampage in the 16th and 17th Century under Edward VI and Cromwell when priests who dared to speak out against the Puritanical view were dragged from pulpits and barred from their own churches and weep.) and the Crucifix is denigrated as being a near blasphemy.

The current Archbishop and his brother, the Dean of Sydney's Anglican Cathedral, appear to fancy themselves as leaders of a world-wide Evangelical Puritanism. The Archbishop makes no bones about this in speeches in the UK to Evangelical groups there. Even, to the alarm of one of England's Evangelical Bishops, Tom Wright, encouraging Evangelical Parishes and congregations to break away from their proper Diocesan authority and bishop and seek to realign themselves, presumably with him.

Anglicanism has, traditionally, embraced both the catholic extreme and the Evangelical or, perhaps more properly, the Puritan extreme. What the Sydney Diocese is attempting to do is to tear that tolerance to shreds, to impose a Puritanical intolerance of anyone and everyone that does not share their narrow interpretation of scripture or their vision of "proper" worship. This book should be a wake up call to all Anglicans, but especially to the leaders of the church. The Sydney Diocese constantly threatens schism and uses it to blackmail and bully everyone else into adopting their stance. Perhaps it is time to simply accept that they will never be Anglicans - and caste them adrift. That would, at least, free real Anglicans to re-establish themselves in Sydney.

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