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In the Anglican Church, Race Matters…Not Doctrine

I normally stay away from commenting on the convulsions of the Anglican Communion, whether here in the Diocese of New Westminster, whose bishop is a heretic and schismatic (by the standard definitions of those terms), or in the Anglican Church of Canada, which tolerates such behaviour, or in the Anglican Communion worldwide, which is wracked by controversy over the legitimacy of homosexuality (ostensibly) and a lot of other things, such as heresy, schism, power politics, racism, and more (fundamentally).

I have belonged to Anglican congregations in Winnipeg and Vancouver, and have lots of contacts in Anglican churches in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., but I am not a confirmed Anglican and so I rarely speak up about what are “family problems” in someone else’s “tribe.”

Speaking of “tribe,” however, I am moved to headshaking by the recent appointment of Mark MacDonald, already an Anglican bishop, to the newly-created post of National Indigenous Bishop in Canada. According to the Anglican Journal, Bishop MacDonald will have “pastoral oversight over all of Canada’s indigenous Anglicans no matter where they live.”

The only other non-territorial bishop in Canada is the Bishop Ordinary to the Armed Forces, who has pastoral oversight of Anglicans serving in the Armed Forces. But this is actually, in an important sense, a territorial jurisdiction, in that most military personnel have their homes–especially while on active duty–in regions belonging to the Armed Forces.

Anyhow, what strikes me about this appointment is how enthusiastic about this news is Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and exactly how he justified this extraordinary appointment: “It’s important to remember that we elect bishops for the church,” he said. “We don’t elect bishops for national jurisdictions.”

Well, yes. But this is the same Archbishop who has stood with New Westminster bishop Michael Ingham against the idea of appointing bishops to shepherd orthodox congregations in Canada who no longer respect their current bishops who teach against the doctrine of the church and flout its ethical norms. When it comes to churches that resist Ingham’s crypto-Hinduism and his support for same-sex marriages, suddenly Archbishop Hutchison gets all territorial again: one region, one bishop.

The weirdness deepens in that I actually agree with Hutchison on this point. If you’re going to have an episcopalian system (that is, governance by bishops)–and I’m not convinced you should, especially in North America, but that’s another topic–then they should govern the whole church in a region, of whatever size makes administrative and pastoral sense. There should be neither Jew nor Gentile, to coin a phrase. So I don’t see how appointing a bishop on racial lines is a good move in this regard.

Indeed, I don’t agree with my Anglican friends who advocate for orthodox bishops to shepherd orthodox congregations. What happens next? A proliferation of bishops, one for each congregation’s particular preference of liturgy, doctrine, morality, and so on? A bishop for Prayer Book conservatives and another for evangelicals and another for charismatics and another for Anglo-Catholics and another for Barthians and another for Tillichians and another for liberationists and another for New Agers?

No, what should have happened is what should have happened long ago: Michael Ingham and his like should have been charged with heresy and defrocked, if they did not recant. And at least if the church split then, it would be over the gospel, not over how we feel about homosexuals and their unions.

It’s too late for that, however. So now we have the absurd situation of catering to the alienation of native peoples–an alienation that is certainly understandable in the wake of the residential school abuses–by dividing the church’s leadership along racial lines, while stonewalling the many more Anglicans who are alienated from officials who patently deny the faith.


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