One of the biggest challenges for people looking at the Anglican tradition today is that there is such a wide variety of visual, liturgical, and theological expression under the “Anglican” banner, that it can be rather difficult for would-be members and observers alike to get a clear picture of what we’re all about. To some extent this has always been the case: the English Reformation was brought about by two or three generations of leaders and thinkers of both Church and State, with a mind toward national/social unity as well as Protestant unity. A little bit of leeway was always part of the design. But over time, and especially over the past century, different parties have arisen that have pushed at the boundaries.
In the previous century, one John Gunstone came up with an “Anglo-Catholic Rainbow” to paint a picture of the different layers or types of Anglo-Catholics that existed in his day. It got some interesting attention a year and a half ago after Fr. Wesley Walker drew up an article re-exploring this system of classification. Since then, it has somewhat irked me that the accounting of “Low Church” Anglicanism is woefully outdated, and the whole scale (being specifically about Anglo-Catholics) is largely unhelpful for the typical observer or explorer of Anglicanism in understanding the situation on the ground today.
So I’ve drafted up a new version of the Anglican Rainbow Spectrum for the early 21st century. Here it is in brief:
There are a couple different ways to look at this spectrum in the broad scale. One could say that Red through Yellow (1-3) is the “High Church” section and Green through Violet (4-6) is the “Low Church” section. Others might say Red & Orange are the High Church, Yellow & Green are the new “Low Church”, and Blue & Violet are so low they’re “Dropped Church”. Perhaps others might want to see 1-2 as Anglo-Catholic, 3-4 as Evangelical, and 5-6 as Charismatic. These are mere conceptual groupings, however, and not the primary purpose of this spectrum. Let’s look instead at the details of each row of this Anglican Rainbow.
Some Anglicans prefer to call themselves Catholics, rejecting (as did the Reformers) the Roman exclusive claim over the word. The Anglicans I’m here calling “Red” believe that to be Anglican is to be Catholic, truly and properly. They tend to downplay the differences between Romanism and Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, and emphasize the Great Church Tradition that these three share. As such, Red Anglicans tend to make light use of things that are distinctly Anglican such as the Prayer Book, the surplice, and the 39 Articles of Religion. Visually and ceremonially, they are “higher” than the great majority of Roman Catholic churches you’ll ever see.
Orange Anglicans also emphasize our Catholic identity, but put a bit more equal emphasis on the Anglo in Anglo-Catholic. They’ll primarily use the Prayer Book (BCP) and sprinkle in some additions from one or other version of the Anglican Missal; they’ll use and reference the 39 Articles of Religion and use Lutheran or 19th-century Tractarian resources to interpret them. (Despite being Tractarians, however, Orange Anglicans are not typically fans of John Henry Newman.) Visually and ceremonially, they tend to be on the same page as the Red Anglicans, but perhaps less strict, insistent, or spikey about it. You might even occasionally find such a priest wearing a cassock & surplice with a stole while presiding at the Eucharist.
To be reformed (in the general Protestant sense) is to be a true Catholic, that’s what Yellow Anglicans would say. This is generally the Old High Church, or Laudian, or “Prayer Book Catholic”, strand of Anglicanism that is more rooted in the 17th century than the Red emphasis on the Early Church and the Orange reliance on 19th century divines. As such, these Anglicans are much more committed to using the BCP and the Articles of Religion than their Red & Orange counterparts, finding them to be perfectly in line with the historic catholic/orthodox Christian faith. Doctrinally, this means that Yellow Anglicans typically stand as a via media between the narrow claims of Lutheran and Calvinist Protestants, emphasizing a “broadly reformed” or “irenic Protestant” approach that can (or should) encompass both. Today, many of these priests will be wearing chasubles, since those vestments are nowhere near as despised as they were 150 years ago, but some can still be found in the classic cassock & surplice look. Furthermore, where the Red and Orange Anglicans are utterly opposed to the ordination of women, Yellow Anglicans will occasionally be accepting of the practice – or at least be willing to work alongside those who do.
The Classical Low Church Party is perhaps the primary form of the Green Anglican. Often Calvinist in doctrine, these Anglicans happily use the Prayer Book and the Articles of Religion, though read them in light of a more specific Protestant tradition such as the Westminster Confession. They have little interest in ceremonial and little emphasis (and sometimes distrust) for sacred imagery and ornate vestments or architecture. With the preaching of the Word front and center, Green Anglican priests typically wear cassock & surplice (occasionally going up or down the scale a little) and keep the Holy Table more simple and bare. Women’s ordination is more often accepted here, although not necessarily among the stricter Calvinists.
Where Yellow Anglicans identify with the broad range of classical Protestantism and Green Anglicans identify with a more specific brand of Protestantism, Blue Anglicans identify more with the broad range of contemporary Evangelicalism. Often using the “three streams” model, these Anglicans take an ecumenical approach to a great deal of what they do and teach. As a result, their worship is generally Prayer Book content, but has more the feel of a non-denominational worship service with an “Anglican Eucharist” added in. The Articles of Religion, similarly, are given less attention, used instead more as a set of guidelines for general Christianity rather than a specifically-Anglican expression of the faith. Vestments are a low priority to Blue Anglicans, and treated more as a “style” than as a “statement.” As a result, some priests will wear chasubles and some will simply drop a stole on over a clergy shirt, while the majority tend to don the modern cassock-alb and drape a stole over it. The ordination of women is fairly standard practice here.
“Three Streams Anglicans” are most often charismatic evangelicals with varying degrees of appreciation for “catholic” and “evangelical” emphases to supplement their Pentecostal influences. These are Purple or Violet Anglicans. They rarely use the BCP, preferring an approach to worship akin to the present Evangelical majority (which, technically speaking, is now third-wave charismatic). Violet Anglicans typically eschew all vestments (except perhaps the stole), make only selective and occasional use of historically-Anglican resources and documents, and fully embrace the ordination of women.
INCIDENTALS THAT VARY
There are a number of factors that used to denote churchmanship and partisanship, but often don’t anymore.
First there’s music (chanting, hymnody, prayer & praise, gospels & spirituals) – almost every genre has found its way across the entire spectrum. You can find Orange Anglicans singing In Christ Alone, you can find Violet Anglicans chanting the Agnus Dei in Latin. There are some combinations that still don’t quite happen (don’t expect Oceans to be sung in a Red church any time soon!) but on the whole musical style and preference is no longer a clear marker of church party.
Another is calling a priest “Father” – this was introduced by the highest of High Church Anglicans maybe 100 years ago, and was a hallmark of Anglo-Catholicism for most of the 20th century, but in the past few decades has spread across the spectrum. There are still classical low church priests who refuse to be called Father, but there are charismatic Anglicans who do now refer to their priests as Father and Mother, so it’s no longer a marker of high or low.
Vestments and Altar ornamentations are also less reliable markers of churchmanship today.
Traditional-language liturgy is still preferred among the more historically-inclined forms of Anglicanism, but that does not translate neatly into our present spectrum of churchmanship. The only clearest pattern is that Blue and Violet Anglicans typically disdain traditional-language liturgy while the others range from “traditional-only” to “indifferent” on the subject.
IDENTITY,TOLERANCE, and RECOGNITION
Doubtless, by this point, you’ve started thinking about what kind of Anglican you are (or what kind of Anglicanism you’ve witnessed), and it may be that no one color perfectly suits your convictions. First of all it must be emphasized that this is a spectrum, or a sliding scale, not a discreet set of boxes. But there’s another factor besides mere identification or preference that I think needs more attention, and it’s that of tolerance and recognition. Consider these varying possibilities:
- It may be that one person is a Green Anglican – very typically Protestant in outlook and emphasis, and finds all forms of Anglo-Catholicism (say, Red and Orange) utterly unacceptable, and even a bit wary of Yellow Anglicans, adjacent on the scale.
- Another Green Anglican may be an all-out Westminster Confession kind of guy, really into that specific form of Reformed orthodoxy; this person will not only distrust the authenticity of Red and Orange Anglicans but also of the loosey-goosey Blue and (especially) Violet Anglicans.
- You might meet a Violet Anglican who revels in the diversity of our tradition and is happy to call Anglicans across the entire spectrum brothers in Anglicanism.
- But then you may meet a Red Anglican who thinks that Violet dude is a complete heretic!
There’s also a fine line between tolerance and recognition. It may be that you can admit certain colors on the spectrum to be Anglican (thus, “recognize”) while still be unwilling to work directly in their parishes or dioceses (thus, “tolerate”). You might recognize one or the other extreme as being in the Anglican family yet not tolerate their excesses in your own ministry.
This helps explain the often-baffling dividing lines between dioceses, provinces, and jurisdictions across the Anglican world today. How much heresy can the bishops in TEC get away with before one must break away from them? How much charismatic influence can be permitted in C4SO before we declare “impaired communion?” How much Romish influence can be permitted in a parish before the Bishop should intervene? Is the ordination of women a position that is to be embraced, can be tolerated, merely recognized, or utterly rejected?
Thus the spectrum is not simply a matter of “where you fall on the scale” but also a matter of “how much of the scale” you’ll count as “real Anglicanism.”
I’ll save my personal comments, identity, and preferences and evaluations for another blog post at another time. Here I simply wanted to propose an updated tool, a new color-coded scale, by which we might look at ourselves and one another, and thereby give more attentive and nuanced language for the various strata of our present condition. It does nobody any favors to paint with overly-broad brush strokes and pigeon-hole and misrepresent our ecclesiological sparring partners (or opponents); we need to be able to face up to one another with integrity and honesty about our respective positions and priorities if we are going to figure out how to minister together in peace or go our separate ways.