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August 6, 2008
Column #1,406
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 have."
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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 "moratoria:"

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 ministry.

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 "purposeful conversation." 

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 defined.

"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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