This past weekend I reposted two articles The Neoliberal Age: The Decomposition of the Self – Covenant (Part 1 of 2) and The Neoliberal Age: The Decomposition of Anglicanism – Covenant (Part 2 of 2). As some of you may suspect, the principal reason why I reposted these excellent articles is because they, at last, highlight what is probably my pet peeve about North American Anglicanism, be it in its Episcopal, ACNA, Continuing or Charismatic form: it’s class stratification, or more specifically the elevated socio-economic position of most of its adherents. (They’re mostly white too.) As the second article points out (it was really difficult to pick a particular passage out, there are so many good ones):
Surely, even the most glancing look at the demographic make-up of our parishes would make clear why the social issues Anglophone Anglicans concern themselves with most passionately are indistinguishable from the popular causes of the urban white elite of the day. So it is that when we hear some official pronouncement from a diocesan office or synod, we hear little that is discernably Anglican by any doctrinal or historical measure, nor even Christian. Instead, what we are greeted with is something that is conspicuously identical to the ideological talking points peddled by the political machines. While this problem might be obviously skewed towards parroting the liberal talking points of the day given the state of our hierarchy, our conservative loyalists often do no better in resisting the thought-terminating influence of propaganda. TEC’s turn from being the Republican Party at Prayer to the Democratic Party at Prayer was, after all, little more than a sleight of hand in the parlor room of the ruling class.
So why is our Anglican witness so mealy-mouthed, complacent, and derivative? Why are we, despite all our practiced journalese, so out of touch with both our Christian siblings around the world and the unchurched neighbors? Perhaps on an institutional level it is because Anglophone Anglicans have never experienced a true crisis of wealth and power until recent decades. Unlike our Christian siblings across the world who have and continue to suffer true persecution and are sustained by the blood of the martyrs, our current troubles are almost entirely self-inflicted. We have always been the church of the elite for the elite — and not just in England. For how small Anglicanism has been in America, a disproportionately large number of American presidents have been Episcopalians. Our stately pretentions run so high that the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Washington D. C. is instead known as the “National Cathedral.” What purchase, after all, do the dusty names of the chiefs of the Apostles have next to the glorious hegemony of the United States? Cuius regio, eius religio is our true ecclesiastical motto — that is, render unto Caesar the things which are God’s.
American non-Catholic (a hat tip to Baptists and Pentecostals who don’t think they’re really Protestants) Christianity is class-stratified from top to bottom, with the Anglicans on top, the Pentecostals on the bottom, and everyone else in the middle. That stratification is reflected in the educational level and ethnic makeup of the memberships. There’s really nothing Biblical about Christianity being this way.
Today American Christianity in general and the ACNA in particular are faced with things like Critical Race Theory and wokeness. And it’s true that neither of these is Biblical either. But ignoring the first unBiblical behaviour to deal with the second (and third and…) doesn’t help. As long as North American Anglicanism doesn’t find a way to deal with its demographic trap, it’s going to face these issues with one hand tied behind its back, irrespective of the Biblical eloquence of those who rightly oppose the import of these ideas.
It’s all ironic because the ACNA was ultimately birthed by the intervention of several African provinces of the Anglican Communion, which themselves are the demographic (and vis a vis TEC doctrinal) opposites of their North American counterparts. I really think the ACNA missed a moment when it insisted on autocephaly from these bodies, and it continues to miss it by not even attempting to force the CoE’s hand in turning over the Communion to the Africans.
Things get worse because many of those attracted to the ACNA from the Evangelical world come to it in the same largely white, upwardly mobile (ecclesiastically and socio-economically) group that shrinks from really pushing back from ideologies that come from the top of our secular society, as that would impede the upward mobility. That’s the lesson from the recent stink re C4SO and the “gay Anglicans” row. It’s one I’ve pointed out in my own church, which a few years back had the “Think Younger” idea about new ministers coming in and taking things over. I had the bad taste to point out that their list of luminaries was overwhelmingly white and didn’t reflect the composition (or the future) of our own church. Their response was rather mushy.
This won’t be an easy task. (Just ask the United Methodists!) People from different classes look at life differently, and ethnic differences only complicate things further. To weld these into one church is not simple and is going to involve putting aside stereotypes and conventional wisdom. If done right, to do so will insure the doctrinal integrity of the church much longer than ignoring this problem.
Our Lord prayed “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20-21 KJV) We usually think of our denominational differences with this passage, but if we can’t get our act together on issues of educational level (which drive our class differences these days) and the other things that set us apart from each other, does the organisational division really matter?