Testing the Tent Poles of Anglicanism

By Hockin, William | Anglican Journal, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Testing the Tent Poles of Anglicanism


Hockin, William, Anglican Journal


HE WAS A thoughtful man with a lot of questions. Like many of us, he was anxious about the health of the church! "How long do we have?" he said. We had run into each other at a party and his question, although challenging, gave new life to the party. He went on, "we Anglicans have always been proud of our 'big tent' communion--open to anyone who could say the Creed. Why is it now that some of our folks are hacking at the 'tent poles'--attacking the very beliefs that hold the communion together?"

I am not exactly sure whom or what my friend was reading. Perhaps it was Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), Tom Harpur or an Anglican Journal article that sounded discouraging of our church's growth prospects, but he caught my attention. As he said, Anglicans have always prided themselves in their theological diversity. Since the 16th century we have been a church where the Calvinist, the Catholic, and the enlightened Deist could find a home. Held together by a mutual respect for Scripture, creeds and the early Fathers, we have been that place in the centre where Anglo-Catholic, evangelical, charismatic and traditionalist could meet and be one in worship.

However, in recent times, a new brand of diversity has surfaced in the "big tent" of Anglicanism. Its source is not biblical but secular. No one would argue that Canada now embraces a pluralist culture. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is certainly the guardian of such pluralism. But pluralism is far more than a protection for cultural and ethnic diversity. Spiritually interpreted, it is an ideology that makes the claim that all religious expression and experience, whatever its source, has an equal claim for truth alongside Judaism and Christianity. It is an ideology that preaches "the many" rather than "the one." Advertising itself as the only source for religious and spiritual tolerance, its nemesis is those people and communities who dare make exclusive claims for any faith.

As I read the Gospel texts, I am more and more struck with Jesus' employment of a "radical inclusiveness." That is, He targets for redemption those in the margins of society who were excluded from things religious. What strikes me even more is the rationale for that holy embrace. For instance, the Syrio-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24) was celebrated neither because of her gender nor her ethnic origin but because of her "great faith." Zaccheus, the publican (Luke 19:1) was likewise not celebrated because he was a publican but because he was a repentant human being. As well, the Samaritan, in the "good" parable by the same name (Luke 10:30) was not celebrated because he was a Samaritan but because he "had compassion on him who had fallen among thieves."

In contrast to this "radical inclusiveness" of Jesus, pluralist or secular inclusiveness seems content with celebrating gender, racial and moral diversity alone, seeing "great faith" as faith in anything, repentance as an option for the pious few and compassion a virtue for those with enough time and money. …

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