A comment thread that has been an extremely civil conversation on Churl’s post on evangelicalism via Flannery O’Connor (thank you to all the participants involved) now has got me reflecting on: what’s so good about being Anglican? I suppose that following my last post on Anglicanism (is Anglicanism strategic?), this is a bit of a natural follow-up. (Churl and Lelbc43, did you see what I did there? I used the word ‘natural,’ like ‘natural theology’ natural).
What is so good about being Anglican? Or put differently, if Churl is so dissatisfied with it–to the point that he’s letting out a scream about the whole Protestant enterprise, it seems (the big scream sounds so much broader than its particular focus on evangelicals)–then why am I reveling in being a Chinglican?
Honestly speaking, I really don’t know. I used to work in Chinese Anglican churches where the teens and twenty-somethings with whom I worked asked me the same thing. If there was anything they hated, it was Anglicanism. They detested Anglicanism because being ‘Anglican’ was only something that uncles and aunties who were Anglican from birth in Hong Kong cared about. It was a status thing: they went to St. Stephen’s Girls School, St. Paul’s Boys School, Diocesan Boys’ School, etc. and sang in the choir at Holy Trinity, etc., so they were really proud of being closer to their British colonizers than all of the other Chinese plebs. In other words, there was a sort of pride in being Anglican insofar as they could be proud of being elite colonial subjects. (I’ll bet this will absolutely thrill my post-colonial friends.) Indeed, if you look at the current discourse, there’s this idea in the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) that the Global South Anglicans, i.e. the ex-colonial Anglicans, are going to save Anglicanism by doing what the (colonizing) missionaries did, except in the developed Global North: they’re going to re-convert (that is, re-colonize) the world. Thanks, guys, the collective amnesia about racialization is totally my sarcastic idea of what racial justice looks like.
Of course, the teens with whom I worked had no concept of this sort of colonial pride and elite status. Instead, they’d ask, Why on earth do we have to have a liturgy? Who cares about the liturgy if no one can understand it? Now, you also have to understand that I currently attend an English-speaking Anglican church where the service is taken from the 1662 prayer book, and most of my Asian North American church friends there complain about how, ‘It is meet and right,’ is simply not part of their vocabulary. But when I was working, I worked at Chinese Anglican churches, where the liturgy was done in Cantonese. And believe me, it was not only incomprehensible to second-generation English-speaking Asian North Americans; it was done in disgusting Cantonese. The offertory versicle–‘All things come of thee, and of thine own do we give thee. Amen’–translated into the Cantonese version of the classical Chinese (because, you know, that’s what the colonizers did: translate 1662 Elizabethan English into classical Chinese), put it into chant, and add an organ, and it sounds like, ‘All bugs go to the pig and we give the bugs from the pig back to the pig. Amen.’
Add to that what seems to be our theological wishy-washiness. I mean, I was on the conservative end of the Anglican breakaway, and I’m saying that I’ve experienced this sort of Anglican wishy-washiness. Sure, the conservative Anglicans split with their dioceses over stuff like gender-neutral marriage blessings and interfaith relations, but as far as I as a neo-Reformed charismatic Baptist was concerned (because, you know, that’s what you are if you’re a John Piper/Wayne Grudem fan), they were pretty wishy-washy. People who weren’t known to be ‘saved,’ or who weren’t living (sexuallly pure) Christian lives, did stuff all the time around the church, e.g. a guy who likely had gender-confusion played piano at one church; at the other church, an auntie invited some random family friend to work the sound system to ‘give him something to do so that he’ll come to church.’ Little kids who were baptized as babies and who (gasp!) did not have cognitive knowledge of their faith in Jesus Christ that wrought their justification were taking communion. You ask the rectors of these churches what their theology about all this was, and they’d say some mumbo-jumbo about being ‘pastoral’ and being ‘patient with people.’ Wishy washy. I can only imagine what the liberal side was like. (Little did I know that I was already in touch with some liberal Anglicans. Lovely people, by the way, and probably just as loose as the conservative end.)
But there you have it: if one is a Christian and wants to tell people what’s wrong with the contemporary church, one usually describes things like doctrinal illiteracy, irrelevant language, an obscene obsession with political gain, internalized racism, class superiority, bourgeois hypocrisy, etc. I hate to break it to you, but if that is your description of Christianity gone down the toilet, you have just described Anglicanism.
Put bluntly, Anglicanism sucks. Why would anyone want to be part of it?
Of course, that’s not the genuine question. The real question has two parts. First, how did we become part of it? Second, why do we stay? I’ll answer the first part about how I got blown into the Anglican Communion in Part 2. To answer why Churl is leaving and I’m staying, and why we’re OK with each other’s choices, I’ll make a Part 3. I can probably be pressured into a Part 4, where, if there’s enough interest, I can explain the post-colonial Chinglican thing.
So stay tuned. Because in spite of all of this, I happen still to be a confirmed Anglican layperson who actively practices an Asian American politics and is not about to jump ship.
*UPDATE: Part 4 will now deal with Anglican lay practice. Part 5 will deal with Chinglicanism.