Stanley Hauerwas says that the struggle within Anglicanism is a struggle over our basic calling: are we a centralized church that enforces uniformity or a local church bound together in Catholic unity?
Writing for the Religion and Ethics blog of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Hauerwas reviews Conflict and the Practice of Christian Faith: The Anglican Experiment by Bruce N. Kaye.
From Kaye’s perspective, Henry VIII is but a later expression of the resistance of Anglicanism to the attempt of Rome to develop an imperial conception of catholicity. Kaye identifies Anglicanism, therefore, as the attempt to maintain catholicity without Leviathan.
The fundamental character of our faith means an extensive diversity is required not only within local community, but between communities. Each person and community must respond faithfully to the particularities of their situation; yet they must seek, if they are faithfully to be Christ’s body, to remain interconnected. The necessity of such interconnectedness is called “catholicity.” To be “catholic” is to recognize that my particularity must serve to build up the whole.
Such building up has always been a challenge. Kaye, in particular, calls attention to the ambiguity created by the attempt to impose order on the Anglican reality through the 1662 Act of Uniformity. From Kaye’s perspective, the Act of Uniformity was an attempt to impose conformity on the church without respecting the diversity of gifts found in the parishes of England.
“the Act of Uniformity did not serve well the tradition of Anglican Christianity. It narrowed the focus and failed to move the ecclesiastical structures in a direction that served the new social and political realities of the Christian citizens of England.”
Some seem to think that something like an Act of Uniformity is required in response to the current controversies in the Anglican Communion. Kaye thinks such a response would be ill advised. It is ill advised because it would deny the Anglican commitment to live faithfully in their local circumstance even though doing so creates diversity that creates difficulties for those in other places.
Kaye is not suggesting that truth does not matter, but that truth demands that those whom we do not understand not be cast beyond the pale of fellowship. Anglicans have been committed to the local expression of the faith, which means that the challenge confronting its reality as an international fellowship of churches should not be how we can enforce uniformity, but rather how we can be known through our love of one another.