Slava Isusu Christ! / Glory to Jesus Christ!
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June 28, 2006
Anglican Plan Threatens Split on Gay Issues
New York Times - By LAURIE GOODSTEIN and NEELA BANERJEE
In a defining moment in the Anglican Communion's civil war over
homosexuality, the Archbishop of Canterbury proposed a plan yesterday
that could force the Episcopal Church in the United States either to
renounce gay bishops and same-sex unions or to give up full
membership in the Communion.
The archbishop, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, said the "best way
forward" was to devise a shared theological "covenant" and ask each
province, as the geographical divisions of the church are called, to
agree to abide by it.
Provinces that agree would retain full status as "constituent
churches," and those that do not would become "churches in
association" without decision-making status in the Communion, the
world's third largest body of churches.
Conservatives hailed the archbishop's move as an affirmation that the
American church stepped outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy
when it ordained a gay bishop three years ago.
The archbishop wrote, "No member church can make significant
decisions unilaterally and still expect this to make no difference to
how it is regarded in the fellowship."
Leaders of the Episcopal Church — the Communion's American province,
long dominated by theological liberals — sought to play down the
statement's import, saying it was just one more exchange in a long
dialogue they expected to continue within the Communion.
The archbishop said his proposal could allow local churches in the
United States to separate from the Episcopal Church and join the
American wing that stays in the Communion. But that process could
take years, and some American parishes are already planning to break
from the Episcopal Church. Entire dioceses may announce their
intention to depart, as soon as today.
The 38 provinces that make up the global Communion have been at odds
since 2003, when the Episcopal Church ordained Bishop V. Gene
Robinson, a gay man who lives with his partner, as bishop of the
diocese of New Hampshire.
The archbishop's statement is the most solid official step yet in a
long march toward schism. Twenty-two of the 38 provinces had already
declared their ties with the American church to be "broken" or
"impaired," but until now the Communion had hung together, waiting
for guidance from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is considered "the
first among equals" in the Communion but does not dictate policy as
the pope does in the Roman Catholic Church.
For the proposal to be enacted would take at least half a dozen major
church meetings spread out over at least the next four years, the
Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican
Communion, said in a telephone interview.
What should be included in a covenant could become the next focus of
debate. The idea of a covenant was first proposed in the "Windsor
Report," issued in 2004 by a committee commissioned by the
archbishop. Canon Kearon said, "Many churches welcome the idea of a
covenant, but they didn't particularly welcome the text that was
proposed." He said he did not regard the archbishop's proposal as a
step toward schism but as a means to clarify "identity and common
decision-making procedures" in the Communion.
Church liberals said that any "covenant" would be crafted with the
participation of the American church and other provinces that favored
full inclusion of gay people.
"I think the archbishop takes a long view and underscores the fact
that we are involved in a process rather than a quick fix," Presiding
Bishop Frank T. Griswold of the Episcopal Church said in a telephone
Several church officials in communication with the archbishop's
office said he wrote his six-page communiquÃƒÆ’Ã‚ÂÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â¹, which he called a
"reflection," after the close of the Episcopal Church's convention
last Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio.
At the convention, the church fell short of the demands in the
Windsor Report for an explicit apology and a full "moratorium" on
ordaining gay bishops. Instead, the church approved a conciliatory
statement encouraging American dioceses to refrain from ordaining gay
But the convention also offended the conservatives by electing a new
presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada, who has been
an outspoken advocate of full inclusion for gay people and who allows
gay union ceremonies in churches in her diocese.
Bishop Jefferts Schori, who takes office after Bishop Griswold
retires in November, will represent the American church in meetings
with the world's primates, some of whom do not approve of women as
priests or bishops.
She said in an interview yesterday that she was heartened by
Archbishop Williams's comments in the letter that he would not be
able to mend rifts over sexuality single-handedly.
"There were expectations out there that he would intervene or direct
various people and provinces to do certain things, and he made it
quite clear that it's not his role or responsibility to do that,"
Bishop Jefferts Schori said.
The Anglican Communion has about 77 million members in more than 160
nations. Members in conservative provinces far outnumber those in the
liberal provinces. The Episcopal Church has about 2.3 million members
but contributes a disproportionate amount to Anglican Communion
administration, charities and mission work. The Anglican Communion
Network, a group leading the conservative response, said it had
200,000 members last year.
The archbishop's proposal was greeted with satisfaction by
conservative leaders in the United States, who had formed a powerful
alliance with prelates in many of the provinces in Africa and in
Asia, and in some parts of Latin America. The conservatives have
insisted all along that it is the American church that destabilized
the Anglican ship and should be pushed overboard if it will not relent.
The Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, president of the conservative
American Anglican Council, said: "We really believe that the
Episcopal Church wants to follow a course that takes it out of both
Anglicanism and Christianity, as Christianity is historically known.
So a two-tier approach looks good in theory."
Canon Anderson said the plan could be difficult in actuality, because
many parishes and dioceses were ready to sever ties with the
Episcopal Church now, years before the archbishop's plan for
reorganization could take effect. He said that churches and dioceses
had already asked to be put under the authority of bishops in Africa
and Latin America and that many more would do so in coming months.
"The floodgates are starting to open," he said.
The division has already led to legal battles over church property.
Under Episcopal Church bylaws, parish assets belong to the dioceses,
but churches in some states have challenged that in court.
Archbishop Williams said in his statement, "The reason Anglicanism is
worth bothering with is because it has tried to find a way of being a
church that is neither tightly centralized nor a loose federation of
essentially independent bodies."
But that decentralization will continue to be a cause of conflict
unless it is addressed, he said, adding, "What our Communion lacks is
a set of adequately developed structures which is able to cope with
the diversity of views that will inevitably arise in a world of rapid
global communication and huge cultural variety."