Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Divorce the Church Should Smile Upon :: NYT

Good Church governance - multinational?

A New York Times op-ed by Jack Miles (my italics):
it was no surprise that after the newborn United States broke with the crown in the political realm, the Church of England in the United States did so in the religious realm as well, establishing a democratic form of self-governance under a “presiding bishop,” whose title echoed that of the chief executive of the new nation. The name the new church adopted — from episkopos, the ancient Greek word for bishop — signaled that its governance would be neither by pope nor by king but, as in early Christianity, by elected bishops.
As the British Empire grew, the Church of England went wherever the crown went, evolving in the process into a religious multinational, called the Anglican Communion, in which the Archbishop of Canterbury exercised a global spiritual jurisdiction. Structurally, however, the Episcopal Church, though long since reconciled with Britain, remained uneasy under this arrangement.

Why? Because the deepest rationale for the creation of the Church of England had been that church governance through separate national churches better reflected the practice of the early church than did papal governance. During its first centuries, Christianity had governed itself as separate but equal dioceses or administrative units, each coinciding with a great capital city, each headed by a bishop; the pope, at that time, was merely the bishop of Rome.
For sentimental reasons, including now fading American Anglophilia, Episcopalians and Anglicans alike tended to mute this logic.
Symbolically, however, given the global importance of the United States, the departure of the Americans will leave the archbishop exposed as a quasi-colonial, quasi-papal figurehead heading a church made up, anachronistically, of Britain and her mostly African and Asian former colonies.
Ouch. Can we ask for an annulment of a marriage that never was?

On a more positive note: What advantages does a multinational church have for the dissemination of the Good News by word and by deed?; What's wrong with the increased competition of ideas - heterodoxy - that come about from more decentralized governance?

Jack Miles is also author of What Would Jesus Say About Gay Marriage? Here's his website.

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