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Staying home

"Staying home" Continued...

Issue: "2009 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 19, 2009

But there are theological obstacles, too, that are completely distinct from the issues of gay bishops or female priests.

Keith Allen is the teaching pastor at Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, Va., a church that has already undergone affiliation upheaval when it separated from the Episcopal Church in 2000. The Church of the Holy Spirit objected to one of its bishops sitting on the board of Planned Parenthood, so it chose not to send money to the diocese until it assured them the money would not fund abortions. "They invited us to no longer be Episcopalians," Allen said. The church then joined the Anglican Mission in America with oversight in Rwanda.

Like Swain, Allen thinks the pope's offer is "a gracious gesture": "However, I couldn't seriously consider it because it failed to recognize the theological realities that have separated Anglicans and Catholics since the Reformation." The offer "denies the necessity of the Reformation," he said.

A central issue-one of the issues that keeps an Anglican from becoming a Catholic in the first place-has to do with where the authority of the church comes from. There is a reason that Anglican churches are, as Swain said, out of communion with the pope: An Anglican believes that the church's authority comes from Scripture; a Catholic believes that the church's authority comes from Scripture and the Magisterium. The doctrine of justification-whether a sinner is justified by faith alone or by faith and works-also separates many Anglicans from Roman Catholicism.

These are more fundamental issues than the culture war issues of homosexual and female clergy. The clergy issues "are relevant to this case," said Jeff Walton, director of Anglican Action Program at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. "However, they aren't the only thing. . . . Anglicans and Catholics have been divided for many hundreds of years over where the church's authority comes from and that is the root issue that needs to be resolved."

The question is complicated by the church's big tent theology. Since it first separated from Rome in the 16th century, it has included Anglicans who were nearly Catholics and Anglicans who were far more Protestant. In the end, Queen Elizabeth I agreed to make it a big tent church. They would have the same liturgy and pray the same prayers, but they could interpret the doctrines in different ways. So in the Anglican Communion, there may be Anglicans who are so close to Catholics that the barrier between the two is permeable, while the more evangelical Anglicans will find it harder to switch.

Walton makes a final prediction about the number of Anglicans who will take the Vatican's offer: "In the United States, it's not going to be a big number. In the United Kingdom, it will be a larger number."

The theological objections that will still bother many Anglicans don't matter much to Karon Gibson anymore: "I don't have any objection to the pope. I think years ago there were problems with that." The churches are so close, she maintains: "Having gone to both Masses now, they're so close. They're so similar that you really can't find the differences."

True, if you're looking at externals. But there are deeper rifts that may keep Anglicans from fleeing to Rome.

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