August 6, 2008
Will Anglicans Divorce?
By Mike McManus
Every ten years the Anglican bishops of the world's third largest
Christian denomination, gather for a "Lambeth Conference," which
concluded last weekend after three weeks. It will never happen again.
However, Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, made a
valiant attempt to hold things together, earning praise from both sides
of this divided union.
New Hampshire voted to elect V. Gene Robinson as Bishop in 2003, even
though he divorced his wife to live with a man, whom he recently
"married." His election was approved by the Episcopal House of Bishops,
which gave his elevation an American stamp of approval.
That event was horrifying to most of the Anglican Communion - which is
largely black and from "Global South" nations of Africa, South America
and Asia, people who are of deep orthodox faith, millions of whom are
recent converts. In Africa, they are competing with Muslims for
membership, who attack the Anglicans as a "gay church."
Driven by their deep Biblical commitment, and their opposition to gay
marriage and ordination, 230 bishops from the Global South, 30 percent
of world Anglican bishops, refused the invitation to attend Lambeth.
Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen said, "Our absence focused minds on the
problems within the communion and spoke louder than our presence would
Instead, they hosted a Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in
Jerusalem a month ago, attended by 303 bishops, some of whom came from
the United States, who were commissioned by Anglicans in such countries
as Nigeria and Rwanda. Interestingly, their countries have 40 million
active Anglicans, three-quarters of the world's 55 million Anglicans.
The 600 bishops at Lambeth represent little more than a quarter of
Anglicans. More than 100 U.S. bishops attended, but represent only 2.2
million members and 800,000 attending weekly.
The Archbishop of Canterbury tried to bridge the yawning chasm, saying
"At the moment we seem often to be threatening death to each other, not
offering life. What some see as confused or reckless innovation in some
provinces is felt as a body-blow to the integrity of mission and a
matter of literal physical risk to Christians...We need to speak life to
each other, and that means change." He said that change meant "growing
toward each other."
He proposed a "Covenant" of exercising "gracious restraint," with three
1. No authorization of public rites to bless same-gender relationships;
2. No consecrating of priests or bishops in same-sex relationships;
3. No crossing of diocesan or national borders to exercise Episcopal
His Lambeth meeting was designed NOT to have a vote on these issues, but
to discuss them in small "Indaba" groups, in which they were engaged in
It is hard to imagine how bishops could spend three weeks talking about
these issues, but such people are above all polite and gracious.
However, nothing was resolved. Indeed, the lines became more sharply
"Fence sitting is finished," wrote David Virtue in his widely
distributed Virtueonline.org list serve "The 2009 Episcopal General
Convention will be a triumph of pansexual behavior. The Episcopal Church
is incapable of reversing itself."
However, that is exactly what Archbishop Williams wanted. "If North
American churches do not accept the need for moratoria, we are no
further forward. We continue to be in grave peril."
Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno made it clear that calls to stop blessing
same-sex relationships would be received with "fear and trepidation" in
his diocese. "I can only say that inclusion is a reality. For people who
think that this is going to lead us to disenfranchise any gay or lesbian
person, they are sadly mistaken."
Similarly, the conservative Global South bishops who have reached across
national borders to provide a safe haven for 300 conservative Episcopal
Churches, who become Anglican - will continue to do so. South American
Archbishop Greg Venables, who has already welcomed the entire San
Joaquin Diocese based in Fresno, CA to his "Southern Cone" region, and
expects to add most parishes in the Dioceses of Fort Worth and Quincy,
IL - flatly says "Divorce is coming."
Interestingly, the GAFCON bishops will continue to consider themselves
part of the Anglican Communion. Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda did
not attend Lambeth, but wrote a letter accusing the Archbishop of
Canterbury as being a "remnant of British colonialism."
He has a point Unlike the Pope is who elected, Archbishop Williams was
appointed by the Queen. That's no longer acceptable to the Global South.
Some form of Anglican divorce seems inevitable.
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