Church Politics… A Beginner’s Guide
As hard as it might be to believe, there is politics in Church life. You’ll find politics in pretty much every human endeavour or potentiality… so why not the Church? There’s even politics referred to regularly in scripture, both Old and New Testaments.
Church politics, particularly in the Anglican Church, is topical at the moment, gaining national media attention with the establishment of a non-geographical Diocese in response to… Church politics… You can expect as we look towards the appointment of our next Archbishop, Church politics will be powerfully at play.
In an era of outrage and strong opinion I do often lament that society as a whole is losing its ability ‘disagree well’. Church politics at its best (yes any form of politics can be good), allows us to disagree well, affirm our differences, strengths and weakness, and work together for the cause of the Kingdom of God. Church politics at its worst however, is fuel for division and schism.
So I thought it might be timely to at least give you a simple overview of Anglican Church politics… according to Stewart Perry…
In doing so I would like to point out 2 critical things:
– Much of what I draw from are generalisations and stereotypes. There are always exceptions but stereotypes and generalisations only emerge when there are some basis in fact.
– Not everyone would agree with what I say or how I express Anglican Church politics, but I’m ok, because… that’s Church politics…
Our current Archbishop has articulated that there are 3 main streams of Anglicanism present in our diocese: Catholic, Evangelical and Progressive. He is of course generalising, as there are way more than 3 streams active and present but it is true that from these 3 streams comes the majority of ‘political’ momentum.
There is jargon present in every part of life and you could suggest that much of the jargon we use has either political motivation or political application. The current buzzword or jargon in the Anglican Diocese of Southern Queensland is “Comprehensive Anglicanism” which does have both political application and motivation, which at its best, helps us hold the different streams together directing them in a Godly and Kingdom focused direction.
Catholic, Evangelical and Progressive are also part of our Anglican jargon and could mean little or nothing to you even if you were raised in the Anglican Church like me.
So let me try my best to navigate you through the jargon and politics.
The image of a 3-legged stool is often associated with the Anglican Church. Scripture, Reason and Tradition each provide a leg to balance the Church as a whole. The original thought is often attributed to Richard Hooker, one of our earliest Anglican theologians, however it’s actually a later summary by others. It is of course… another generalisation. It would be wrong to say there is no Reason or Tradition in Scripture, scripture is full of both. It would equally be wrong to say that Reason is absent of Tradition and Scripture as it would be to say that Tradition is absent of Reason and Scripture.
This image is helpful, however in helping us to understand some of the different expressions of Anglicanism that are labeled: Catholic, Evangelical and Progressive. In the Catholic stream you will often see Tradition clearly visible but that does not mean always or that Reason and Scripture are absent. In the Evangelical stream you will often see Scripture clearly visible but that does not mean always or that Reason and Tradition are absent. In the Progressive stream you will often see Reason clearly visible but that does not mean always or that Tradition and Scripture are absent.
St Paul uses the imagery of a body to help us understand that we cannot be all things to all people just by ourselves. We need the presence, gifts and talents, strengths and weaknesses of others to complete the unity of the body. This is not just true for a group of people gathering as a Church. It is also true for a grouping of Anglican Churches… and is also true for the grouping of denominations giving us the world-wide church.
We achieve true balance or true comprehensiveness when we recognise that the other parts help complete the story of what being an Anglican is… what being a Christian is for that matter.
This is Church politics at its best…
But the truth is we are not always at our best and we divide into factionalism and like to group with people who agree with us and think like us and have commonalities… but this doesn’t bring balance… it brings tension which sometimes, when pushed to its extremities can break and when that happens people can break too.
Rather than just 3 streams I like to think of the Anglican Church as a kaleidoscope, a metaphor we’ve used frequently in our church this year. When each unique person and each unique community is viewed together – that’s when the true majesty of God is revealed and that’s when the comprehensiveness, inclusive nature, diversity of expression and active work in the world is most fully revealed.
I for one wish we didn’t have to have labels… I personally don’t find them helpful. Within our own community we have a kaleidoscope and that is the community I feel immense privilege to serve.
In the end it I think the best way to deal with Church politics is to seek God and seek God in each other. It’s not always easy but I pray that we as a Church community and more broadly as an Anglican Church can become known as a group of people who earnestly try to do this.
Have a great week