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Hallo again to all.

'Your actions are tearing apart the Anglican Communion.' 'No, it is your actions that are tearing it apart.' 'We declare that we are out of communion with you.'

If that snippet of dialogue sounds familiar, then you're up to date on the news of our church. We were wondering just what it would mean to 'tear apart the Anglican Communion', and then, while listening to someone read Ephesians 2:20-22, we realized that this was not a silly question.

We have from time to time here asked aloud, 'What ever is the Anglican Communion?'; the answers, while generally true, were not satisfying. From all of the dialogue, we gather that the Anglican Communion is something that one either is in or is not in. Perhaps it has fuzzy edges, as the word 'family' often does: 'The church is small, so we must invite only family to the marriage ceremony. Well, does Uncle George still count as "family"?'

In order to understand the statement 'tearing apart the Anglican Communion' we must understand what it is, and how to determine what it means to tear it. Luckily, this question (what is it?) falls more into the domain of logic than of theology, so we feel safe discussing it.

There is a whole branch of mathematics devoted to the study of inclusion, exclusion, and membership. Not about who should be included, but about what inclusion means, and the inevitable consequences of inclusion. While you can argue that the Anglican Communion is too complex for a mathematical analogy, mathematics has for centuries served philosophers well by enabling an abstraction of the essence of a problem.

If there is such a thing as a communion, then mathematically it is defined by a 'membership function', which gives a yes-or-no answer as to whether or not something is a member. Considering whether X is a member of the communion, if the 'membership function' says 'yes', then, yes, X is a member; otherwise it is not.

Once you admit that it is possible to determine a membership function for something, then all of set theory lines up to help you. Whenever there is a membership function (telling us whether or not someone is a member) then there is, mathematically, also an 'equivalence relation'. The concept of 'in communion with' is an equivalence relation. If X is in communion with Y, then either X and Y are both members of the communion, or neither is a member of the communion. Once you are in communion, you are in communion with each other.

If you have a penchant for mathematics and want to know more, you can look here, or in any textbook on set theory. But we guess that you don't, and that you are perhaps wondering where we are going with all of this.

If such a thing as the Anglican Communion actually exists, if it has an existence that is tangible enough that we can tell whether or not it is torn, then since it is of man and not of God, it must obey the laws of mathematics. One law says that if there is a communion, then you are either in it or you are not. And that it is meaningless to say that X and Y are in the communion but that X and Y are out of communion with each other. That is logical nonsense, even if it makes political sense. If the Anglican Communion exists, then its membership function is 'X is a member if and only if X is in communion with the See of Canterbury'. If X and Y are both in communion with Canterbury, then whether or not they enjoy each other is not relevant.

There is a proof technique in mathematics called reductio ad absurdum, in which you prove a premise by showing that, were it false, a contradiction is inevitable. That seems to be what is happening to us. If the Anglican Communion actually exists, and can therefore be torn apart, then it is impossible to have two members of it out of communion with each other. Since we can see members of the Communion shouting that they are out of communion with each other, then the Anglican Communion must not exist, for, if it did, then like all other man-made organisations it would have to obey the laws of mathematics.

The Church of England, recognizing that the Anglican Communion is more of a concept than an entity, defines it like this: 'The Anglican Communion is a worldwide family of churches located on every continent, and has more than 70 million adherents in 38 Provinces spreading across 161 countries.' Ah, there's that word 'family' again. And we never did learn whether or not Uncle George was still considered part of the family and could thus be invited to the wedding. Come to think of it, we notice that Auntie Elizabeth is still not speaking to Cousin Whakahuihui, but, hey, we're all family. Returning to the Ephesians passage that started our thinking, we are all defined by our relationship to Jesus and not to each other.

and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. [Eph 2:16-18]

For thousands of years, family members have squabbled, loved, fought, shunned, and tended to one another. If instead of the Anglican Communion we think of the Anglican Family, a branch of the Christian Family, the arguments of our era make more sense and their consequences seem less dire.

See you next week.

Brian Reidís signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 20 July 2003

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