Thinking Anglicans

an imagined community

Episcopal Café has published an essay by Frank M. Turner The imagined community of the Anglican Communion.

One of the most fertile political concepts to emerge in the past quarter-century is Benedict Anderson’s “imagined community.” Anderson, now a retired Cornell professor of international studies, government, and Asian studies, contended that the emergence of modern nationalism involved the creation among various groups living in their own localities with no direct interaction between or among themselves of the idea of an imagined community with other people on the basis of supposed common histories, customs, language, and ethnic identity. The reality of the community resided in the imagination of those drawn to these ideas that circulated in the print media of the day.

Over the past twenty years proponents of what is called “The Anglican Communion” have sought to establish a similar imagined ecclesiastical community among various provinces around the world whose churches derived in some fashion from the Church of England. In the case of the Episcopal Church the derivation of Episcopal orders was not direct but through the Scottish Episcopal Church and its character was strongly influenced by its eighteenth century American setting. The so-called Anglican Communion exemplifies a religious version of Anderson’s “imagined community.” At its most banal, the Communion exists to justify bishops traveling about the world on funds contributed by the baptized. At its worst, it has come to represent an imagined community several of whose Episcopal spokespeople now seek to persecute and degrade or relegate into a second track churches who have opened themselves, their process of ordination, and their episcopate to gay and lesbian people. In this respect, it this ecclesiastical imagined community replicates in its drive to exclusion the persecution that ethnic minorities have experienced at the hands of dominant nationalist groups from the early nineteenth century to the present day…

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Martin ReynoldsCynthia GilliattFord ElmsKelvin HoldsworthFather Ron Smith Recent comment authors
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Robert Dodd
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Robert Dodd

Excellent! This should give pause to those, the Communion Partners foremost, who are in a hot hurry to endorse the unfinished Anglican covenant. May Turner’s essay be widely distributed and discussed!

ettu
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ettu

Finally some insight from a different perspective – about time

Rev L Roberts
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Rev L Roberts

What an imaginative and thoughtful approach !

Pluralist
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It is an important essay (compared with the repetitive junk from the ACI!) but it has a weakness, in that imagined communities do build institutions and, depending on your point of view, these institutions reinforce the mental picture that is the imagined community. To some extent, therefore, the community has to be unimagined, and the way to do it is in the difference, say, between the nation state and the EU. The EU has a lack of imagination, among many, but it is a functional tie-in to prevent conflict and advance an identity beyond nations. The ecclesiastical equivalent is to… Read more »

Murdoch
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Murdoch

I was Googling to see if I could say that Sir Walter Scott had invented Scotland, as the rabbis and scholars in exile in Babylon seem to have invented Jewishness, history, laws, culture and all. I found a book by Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Invention of Scotland, that seems to apply not only to nationalist myths like Scotland and Anglicanism but to group-thinks like Christianity as well: “I believe that the whole history of Scotland has been coloured by myth; and that myth, in Scotland, is never driven out by reality, or by reason, but lingers on until another myth has… Read more »

drdanfee
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drdanfee

Any garden variety Anglican believer probably already knows that community is a mystical ideal, however much aspects of living in real community are very down to earth, earthly, in a given situation. Believers are called to both sides of this pilgrimage coin, called to think and act as faithfully in current circumstances as can be discerned and possible, and at the same time called to stay open to the virtual community and individual aspects of the pilgrimage. Anglicans are not, individually or communally, yet what we shall finally become, God willing and the freezing-fatal realignment creeks don’t rise? A really… Read more »

Fr Mark
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Pluralist: thanks for such an insightful comment.

ruidh
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ruidh

I guess you can tell the extremists on both the right and the left because they are both assiduously trying to tear down the Anglican Community. All non-physical communities are “imagined”. Identity is a powerful thing and it creates community wherever it goes. We have the ability to create out of nothing. It is a very God-like power. It is one of the ways that we are created in the image of God. Furthermore, community has value in itself. Being part of something larger than oneself is as important for us as individuals as it is for us as parishes,… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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Father Ron Smith

“The so-called Anglican Communion exemplifies a religious version of Anderson’s “imagined community.” At its most banal, the Communion exists to justify bishops traveling about the world on funds contributed by the baptized. At its worst, it has come to represent an imagined community several of whose Episcopal spokespeople now seek to persecute and degrade or relegate into a second track churches who have opened themselves, their process of ordination, and their episcopate to gay and lesbian people.” – Frank Turner, reported by Episcopal Cafe – Frank Turner might perhaps be forgiven in his characterisation of the Anglican Communion as an… Read more »

Kelvin Holdsworth
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I think that Mr Turner’s essay is highly perceptive and an important correction to the idea of the Anglican Communion that can be engendered by seeing pew after pew of purple shirts gathered into Canterbury Cathedral for a Lambeth Conference. Indeed, one only has to visit St Andrew’s House, the “headquarters” of the Anglican Communion to see how small an operation it really is. It is a nice set of offices built into an old school in an obscure side street. It ain’t the Vatican. Once there, you realise how few people are involved in the common life of the… Read more »

Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

Now, I’m no supporter of the Covenant, but the underlying idea of this piece, that of the “imagined community”, is a piece of nauseating white postcolonial self loathing that can only be indulged in by someone who has never had to see his identity threatened by a larger society and thus gets the luxury of pretending that such identity isn’t important, much less powerful. I would point out that the “gay community” is just as much “imagined” as the Anglican Communion he slags off, I’d argue even moreso. The same goes for a lot of such communities. Given his obvious… Read more »

Cynthia Gilliatt
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Cynthia Gilliatt

I’m surprised nobody has invoked Dr. King’s “beloved community.”

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds

Thanks Kevin.
BIG Anglicanism – gosh, even Anglicanism is an American invention!
Americans have been keen players and avid supporters of the project. But there is a memory deficit presently.

I too value what Adrian has to say.