Anglican diversity as example to the world

Anglicans have forever been diverse. Too often we have confused unity with uniformity.

By Gary Bouma

March 9 2016Anglicans are legendarily diverse. The via media mediates many extremes as well as a lot of choppy central turf. How are we to view this diversity? Bishop of Newcastle Greg Thompson says "… The Anglican Church has 'a long way to go' before it resolves internal conflict over the issues (women in leadership, gay clergy and marriage equality."

However, is diversity on these or other issues – sacramental theology, theories of atonement, or remarriage of divorced persons – something to “get over”, “work through”, “transcend”, or fix? I say “NO”! Anglicans have forever been diverse. Yes, we have tried to rid ourselves of diversity – burning some at the stake, making some liturgical theologies impracticable, requiring assent to the 39 articles, and promising to use only set forms of worship. Too often we have confused unity with uniformity. Too often the “truth” of the majority has been upheld precluding emergent forms of grace, worship and understanding.

How we manage to live together given our very apparent and, let us admit, irreconcilable differences while neither condemning nor trying to convert the other could be a beacon to a world awash in diversities often leading to conflict.

We actually do a reasonably good job of this. Oh yes some do still scorn the ways of others and wonder how it is that God allows such diversity to emerge and complain when the Primate does not just stamp out those with whom we disagree.  Not that this is possible, let alone genuinely desirable.

In following our calls to be Christlike, we follow different paths, discern the work of the Spirit differently, and experience the good news of a God who loves each and all of us differently. The fact that we continue to be Anglican in the face of all this difference asserts our diversity as part of a colourful whole which would be diminished if some threads in the tapestry were removed.

Those who would purify the temple are as needed as those who throw open the doors in welcoming embrace. Each needs to be accountable to the other as well as to God. Neither is perfect. No human perspective, grasp of the eternal, vision of the divine is or can be the whole. The “truth” held passionately by some is questioned by others. Anglicanism is not about certainty, but about faithful response to the God who loves.

Like Anglicans, societies have become highly diverse filled with increasingly different groups and persons each of which in their diversity bring gifts, perspectives, ways of being that contribute to the whole. A productive and vibrant society with promise of sustainability is not uniform, coherent, or held together by similarity but an arrangement that through the encouragement of the gifts of diversity thrives and enables the vitality of all.

While Anglicans do not reach this perfection of diversity in community, we are closer than many and our efforts to make it work demonstrate at minimum the rather colossal effort required as well as the failure to arrive. As such we model the workings of contemporary diverse societies and groups. We are more models of effort than examples of full achievement.

The Rev'd Gary D Bouma AM is Emeritus Professor of Sociology, UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations – Asia Pacific at Monash University and an associate priest at St John's East Malvern.