Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A SPREADing Weakness among the Separatist Faction?

Something I recently noticed in the Anglican alphabet soup: SPREAD. Its call for a new Anglican communion disjoint from that based in Canterbury has gathered attention, both supportive at SFiF and critical at the ACI. I have little to add to Radner's excellent reply on behalf of the ACI; anyone taking the covenant project seriously will likely look askance at calls for pre-emptive schism.

Rather, I want to speculate--and it is mere speculation-- about what SPREAD might hope to accomplish with its acerbic hyperbole, coming on the eve of GAFCON. First, it seems to me SPREAD's criticism of Archbishop Williams will not garner much support outside an already committed base of extremist Separatists. In fact, its critique of Williams sounds so shrill it is more likely to drive the curious away than bring them into SPREAD's fold. That shrillness and its attendant consequences seem intentional, not accidental. Why would anyone intend to adopt a divisive, shrill tone?

Well, second, Anglican critics of TEC and the ACC are already divided among themselves. Some wish to work for a covenant, others wish to separate now. Those working for a covenant have the advantage of working with the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and that advantage is hardly negligible.

Given the first two points, it follows SPREAD's approach is unlikely to gather new support from conservatives who wish to work for a covenant: witness Radner's reaction. Yet, SPREAD's acerbic tone is not entirely without positive effect for them. It seems, third, that critical hyperbole has become an Anglican trope of late, not just a curiousity at the SPREAD site, just because it has the effect of energizing the base. How else to break up parishes, fracture dioceses, fragment provinces, and split the Communion when most of the people occupying these levels in the church would otherwise find a way to get along? The base must be made to believe the other guys are not just mistaken or wrong, but malevolent and evil. The aim is not to bring new folks inside, but to make sure the folks already inside stay inside.

But why should SPREAD be so concerned to energize its base in such a costly manner? It just may be its base is losing its ferfor for separation--that is my fourth and final point, to which the first three lead. SPREAD's appearance is a sign of weakness, and in particular a sign of a willingness at GAFCON to stay within the AC. On the face of it, it would be no surprise if GAFCON's Separatists got "cold feet": the moderation of the covenant proposal recommends itself, and it is only prudent to examine alternative courses of action with judicious circumspection. Their base is willing to compromise and refrain from the requisite leap; they must be "reminded" of how awful the Anglican Communion and Williams, TEC and the ACC really are. Restraint is precisely what extreme Separatists behind GAFCON do not want: in effect, nothing happens except the beginning of another ten year wait for the next Lambeth, during which time Separatists will have to find some way of retaining their momentum.


At 12:39 PM, Blogger Perpetua said...

This post is based on the assumption that SPREAD is a new organization and that this is their first document. But I know for a fact that the SPREAD website has been around for a while and posting documents occasionally. You can go to the website and see one PDF from February 2007 about how the ABC has been interpreting scripture to support of same sex behavior throughout his career.

At 8:18 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for ihe information; I've edited the post. I learned about it from Radner, and had not noticed any posts from it or links to it anywhere else.

The fact SPREAD's been around changes my argument; there are a couple ways it could go:

(1) the perception of weakness goes back to the beginning of 2007; confidence in Williams and suspicion about the dedication of the GS to a new communion has been around awhile;

(2)keeping the website up from early 2007, say, to the eve of GAFCON may be significant; those responsible believe that the material applies now as much as it applied then, and is now at least as important on the eve of GAFCON.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Marshall Scott said...

I find interesting a connection between SPREAD and AMiA. I do think this is evidence of division within the "reasserter" community; but I think GAFCON is less important than Common Cause. That is, I think this is a struggle between voices at AMiA, arguably the "community elder" of the anti-Episcopal community, and Bishop Duncan and his connections with the other (than Rwanda) schismatic provinces. "We've been in the fight longer, and we've had bishops longer. So, why wouldn't Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya work with us, instead of creating their own extension services?"

I would certainly expect dissension at GAFCON would play into this; but I've had a sense for some time that AMiA, who saw themselves as potential partners at the beginning of this (even before 2003), is being marginalized in the conversations.

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At 1:32 PM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Movements such as this require refueling from time to time; the emotional impetus runs dry and so the fire has to be stoked. There is so little real content in the SPREAD agenda -- it consists primarily in what they are against -- that there is little future for them once whatever it is they are against is no longer their concern. This is one reason, btw, that ex-Anglican/Episcopalians are among the most vocal (or is it verbal?) posters on many an Anglican/Episcopal blog.

At 1:39 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Defining their identity through the negative: you are right. That has the potential to be a long-term, enervating liability for the GAFCON faction.

Their candidates for positive content--the 1662 BCP, the 39 Articles, whatever--smack of a jarring, even gothic Romanticism. These ancient formularies will serve as empty signifiers, shells for hidden, monstrous content that cannot show its face in broad daylight; that kind of creep show won't sustain evangelicals.


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