The Anglican church – an imperial throwback?
Anyone who’s been reading the news over here the last few days will have heard that a schism is looming over the international Anglican church over the American church’s decision to ordain openly gay bishops. This, as you might expect, has not been popular in other parts of the community, particularly in Africa. The Guardian reported this morning that “the primates of the 78 million-strong Anglican church, attending a meeting in Northern Ireland, agreed to call upon the US and Canadian churches to withdraw voluntarily for at least three years”. They have been meeting in Antrim, Northern Ireland (a country with a small Anglican minority; its biggest Protestant denomination is Presbyterian).
This whole affair makes the Anglican church look like something of an anachronistic international joke. The structure of the Church resembles that of the British Empire, with the head of the Church being the British monarch and the chief spiritual authority being the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is chosen by the British Prime Minister - who need not be an Anglican. It appears that there is no spiritual authority willing or able to simply remove the American bishops and priests who foist these gay clerics onto their church (assuming the whole congregation is not in agreement with it, which I’m sure they’re not).
Actually, the structures of western churches generally are somewhat puzzling, rather resembling an old feudal structure. The Pope, for example, is also Bishop of Rome. He’s Pope because he’s the Bishop of Rome, not the other way round - yet, you have to be chosen as Pope to be Bishop of Rome. To me, this gives the impression that the people of Rome have half a bishop, because who’s attending to the needs of Catholics in and around Rome while he’s Poping? But then, he at least has authority over errant priests and bishops around the world; it seems that nobody has this authority in the Anglican church. I suspect that the reason for this in the past is that appointing some sort of head-man would be seen as Popery. It was a national church, and its head was the king (or queen) of the UK. Nowadays, it’s an international church, and it seems strange that people in Africa would accept the British monarch as their patriarch (and even the Archbishop of Canterbury is thought to be on the liberal side, albeit rather more cautiously than the liberals in the US).
In Islam, we don’t need such an authority, because we have Consensus. If a group of scholars goes against that Consensus, they cease to be recognised as upright scholars and come to be recognised as deviants, or in some cases disbelievers, and their word is rejected. Where the authorities come in is in removal of such people from their jobs running mosques, and in extreme cases, deposing local authorities who have established deviancy in a given region. (Assuming the Caliph isn’t on their side; in the past, he has been.) But there is no question of casting out a section of the Ummah, leaving all (including those innocent of causing the schism) without any spiritual leadership, as the Anglican church is doing to its American section.
Some might argue that Muslims shouldn’t be interested in this, but I’d disagree, because it gives a salutary warning to people who want us to follow a line similar to the “liberal” Christians. Such a schism as they have suffered is, however, impossible in Islam, because that religion has a weakness ours doesn’t, which is that whole sections of its scriptures are simply ignored. I’m talking, of course, about the bits of the Bible telling the followers not to eat pork, to tie tassles onto the four corners of their garments, and so on. So when the Ministers or whoever tell people about the passages in Leviticus or Deuteronomy warning against sodomy, the pro-gay mob can reply with this inconsistency. You still eat pork, you don’t tie the tassles, you don’t stone a girl to death if she doesn’t bleed on her wedding night … who are you to criticise our behaviour?
Still, there are those who are trying to push us in that direction, whose names I really don’t need to mention here, even though they know that they have no chance of persuading any Muslim that what they promote is in any way compatible with Islam.
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