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LIBERAL - CONSERVATIVE DIVISIONS WITHIN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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Quotations:

bullet "Today, there are two religions in the Episcopal Church. One remains faithful to the biblical truth and received teachings of the Church, while the other rejects them...Radical activists seek to replace biblical truth and godly morality with secular humanism and moral relativism. We have become a church which contradicts our own teaching." Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church. 2 
bullet "...Christ's true doctrine, discipline, and worship is "received" by the Church, not created by the Church. It is to be guarded and honored, not experimented with." The First Promise. 3

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Overview:

The Episcopal Church in the United States, the Anglican Church in Canada, the Church of England in Britain, and 35 other national churches elsewhere in the world comprise the Anglican Communion. Combined membership is approximately 76 million. This includes about 4% of all Christians. Each national church, called a "province," has wide powers of self-government. They meet every decade in England at the Lambeth Conference to reach general agreement on basic matters of faith and social policy. 

Recent decades have seen serious stresses within the Episcopal Church and the rest of Anglican communion. Most have involved rapid change in sexual matters:

bullet Whether women should be considered for ordination as priests.
bullet Whether women should be considered for consecration as bishops.
bullet Whether women should have access to abortion services.
bullet Whether non-celibate gays and lesbians should be permitted as clergy.
bullet Whether the unions of homosexual couples should be recognized.
bullet Whether unions of unmarried, heterosexual couples should be recognized

As of 2000-SEP, the majority of provinces of the Anglican Communion allow women to be ordained. There are women bishops in only three provinces: Canada, the United States and New Zealand. The Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori was made primate-elect of the Episcopal Church, USA in 2006-JUN -- the first primate in the history of the Communion. Clearly, women have a long distance to go to reach equality with men.

The Episcopal Church, USA acknowledges the legal right of abortion access for women. Non-celibate homosexuals are officially refused ordination. Union rituals recognizing the commitment of gay and lesbian couples or of unmarried heterosexual couples are not permitted. A few clergy have violated church policy; they have ordained sexually active gays and lesbians; they have performed union ceremonies for loving, committed same-sex couples.

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The main reform/renewal groups:

A liberal/conservative split is a found in many liberal and mainline Protestant denominations. The Episcopal Church is no exception. The administration and some of the clergy and laity tend to hold liberal views on theology and social matters. Various reform/renewal groups, made up of some clergy and laity, hold more traditional, conservative views. The major conservative renewal groups are:

bullet American Anglican Council (AAC) 1 They promote the creation of a parallel Anglican organization to cover all of the United States. If current trends continue, there will eventually be, in effect, two Anglican churches in the country: one conservative and the other mainline/liberal.
bullet Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church (CCLEC) 2 They feel that the Church has embraced secular Humanism, Neopaganism, apostasy, and blasphemy. They have called on:
bullet Bishops to support what they consider to be "faithful orthodox priests and parishes in revisionist dioceses.
bullet Elimination of economic support for all liberal church programs.
bullet Episcopalians United: Their mission is: "To mobilize the laity to accomplish constructive change in the structure and ministry of the Church -- Change that is faithful to Scripture, Tradition and the Lordship of Jesus Christ." Their strategy involves: "Networking [with] concerned individuals and groups, providing educational resources, encouraging spiritual growth, and influencing decisions of the Church -- all through concerted prayer, Bible study, seminars and conferences, publications, and the work of local chapters." 9
bullet The Ekklesia Society: This is an international society with many members in the U.S. They are concerned that: "In the US...a significant number of bishops and other leaders continue to promote an agenda contrary to the faith we have received. There are strident departures from Biblical sexual norms, and even the worship of other gods. The pain of the situation is most acute where Biblically faithful churches are fighting for life in dioceses under a bishop who teaches or promotes things outside the faith. It is important for us to be linked with those congregations to encourage and support them. Ekklesia provides a mechanism to link those who are like minded, and builds cooperation for mission, evangelism, and development." 11
bullet The First Promise movement has accumulated over 300 signatories to a reform statement that they have prepared. They feel that "Ecclesiastical authority... is not absolute in itself but is accountable to Scripture, Tradition, and Reason...[The Episcopal Church] has repeatedly and unrepentantly departed from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them. Therefore, to continue to support such an organization, or to continue to associate with it as if we were still equally yoked, would be a violation of sincere vows, solemnly taken." 3,4
bullet Forward in Faith, North America is affiliated with Forward in Faith -- an Church of England group which was "unable to accept the ordination of women to the priesthood."
bullet The Prayer Book Society of the Episcopal Church: This group promotes "the Anglican tradition of common prayer and ...the use and understanding of the traditional books of common prayer." They regard 1928 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) to be "the last genuine book of common prayer in America." 8 They regard the 1979 BCP to be a fake, having been misrepresented as a genuine BCP by the "Episcopal church in a period of unprecedented arrogance during the 1970s." 8
bullet Scholarly Engagement with Anglican Doctrine, (SEAD) is a group  composed mainly of conservative Anglican academics. They feel that "Historic Anglicanism contains a remarkable tradition of godly scholarship, learned debate, creative thought and enriching diversity. In our own age this tradition is in jeopardy. Many thoughtful Episcopalians find theology politicized, biblical teaching marginalized, diversity ---and consequently creativity, scholarship and depth of theological reflection--- impoverished." They hope to reverse these trends. 12

There is also an umbrella group:

bullet The Nassau Coalition: This is a "broad-based consultation on Anglican/Episcopal essentials." It is a coalition composed mostly of leaders of the various religiously conservative renewal/reform groups within the Episcopal Church. Their first meeting started on 2000-AUG-21 in Nassau. They issued a circular letter outlining their concerns about trends in the denomination. 10

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Activities of various conservative groups:

bullet Before the 1998 Lambeth Conference: Anglican primates and bishops from around the world attend the Lambeth Conferences in England every decade to coordinate efforts and resolve differences. Female ordination to the Anglican priesthood had been the "hot button" topic in the 1988 conference. But, by the time of the 1998 Lambeth conference, most of the provinces in the Anglican Communion were already ordaining women and 11 female bishops had been consecrated. The new divisive and potentially schismatic issue was homosexuality. 

A north-south split developed within the Communion. Many bishops in North American and Europe wanted to see significant changes to church policy covering human sexuality -- allowing sexually active gays and lesbians to be considered for ordination, and developing church rituals for recognition of same-sex unions. Most church leaders in the southern hemisphere were strongly opposed to any change in the policy on homosexuality. A number of southern bishops issued the Kuala Lampur Statement 17 and The Dallas Statement 18 in 1997. Both promoted the sexual status quo. 

bullet During the 1998 Lambeth Conference: Several bishops referred to committed, long-lasting homosexual partnerships as bestiality. 16 One bishop attempted to drive the 'demon' of homosexuality from an ordained gay Anglican, but only succeeded in physically assaulted him. A reporter at the conference suggested that Bishop J.S. Spong, an American religious liberal, ought to be blown up by a landmine. Bishop Duncan Buchanan of Johannesburg, South Africa was chairman of the conference's sexuality subgroup. He said that he was "shocked and traumatized" by the degree of anger over the topic of homosexuality which was exhibited by the bishops at their initial meeting. "I expected [anger]. What I didn't expect was the strength of it...People have come from all over the world with vastly different agendas." 
bullet Irregular consecration of bishops: The archbishops of the Province of South East Asia and of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda consecrated John Rodgers and Charles Murphy as bishops to the United States. The intent of the consecration was to create two religiously conservative bishop-missionaries who would serve in America. On 2000-FEB-20 the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, issued a letter to the primates of the Anglican communion which described "the recent consecration in Singapore of two priests of the Episcopal Church of the United States as bishops...neither the constitution of the Province of South East Asia nor that of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda, to whose primates John Rodgers and Charles Murphy have sworn an oath of canonical obedience, have been followed. In addition, Anglican polity requires that ordained ministers should be properly authorised to pursue their ministry in the Province within which they wish to work, and according to the Canon law of that Province. It appears that this is not the intention in this case, and it is doubtful in the present circumstances whether such authorisation would be forthcoming." The irregular action would be analogous to the governments of Vietnam and North Korea appointing two state governors in the U.S.  Archbishop Carey withheld recognition of Rodgers and Murphy as bishops. 13 According to ReligionToday, "Anglican Primate of Canada Michael Peers said the action is 'an open and premeditated assault on Anglican tradition, catholic order, and Christian charity.' Bishops are to be chosen and approved by local churches within a province, then ordained by bishops with authority in that province, he said. 'Bishops are not intercontinental ballistic missiles, manufactured on one continent and fired into another as an act of aggression.' " 15

Bishop John Rodgers heads the Association of Anglican Congregations on Mission in Chicago IL. He now oversees about six churches. Bishop Charles Murphy heads First Promise and oversees a few American churches that he has aligned with the Province of Rwanda. 14

bullet Statements by reform groups: The Maranatha Christian Journal published statements by two conservative Anglican reform groups on 2000-MAR-20:
bullet The Dallas-based group, the American Anglican Council, said that the worldwide Anglican Communion faces "a grave moment" in which "nothing less than the integrity of the Gospel and the future of the church is at stake." Although their concern was focused around church policy regarding homosexuals, they feel that these matters are symptomatic of a much deeper problem -- a general deviation from biblical authority. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. (ECUSA), Frank Griswold, disagreed. He felt that the church is not in crisis; a recent survey shows that a majority of members are satisfied with the church. He criticized conservative elements within the denomination for pushing an anti-homosexual agenda. 
bullet The Georgia-based Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church, stated: "Today, there are two religions in the Episcopal Church. One remains faithful to the biblical truth and received teachings of the Church, while the other rejects them.
bullet At The Nassau Coalition meeting during 2000-AUG-21 in Nassau, Bahamas, American Anglican Council (AAC) board members committed their organization to "the creation of a new domestic and foreign Anglican missionary structure, within and parallel to the existing structures of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, to gather together in a unified effort those orthodox, biblical, evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, and charismatic Anglican bodies that share a vision for the propagation of the Gospel in a faithful expression of Anglican Christianity." AAC spokesman Bruce Mason commented that: "There is definitely a resolve on the board's part at this moment in time to recognize that there are two churches [within the Episcopal Church]." 6

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Updates following 2003:

Stresses in the Anglican Communion as a whole and the Episcopal Church, USA increased greatly in mid-2003 with the confirmation of V. Gene Robinson, a gay in a loving, committed relationship, as bishop of New Hampshire. Outrage was particularly strong in the African provinces. A committee prepared the Windsor Report which asked the American province to suspend further consecrations of bishops, stop recognizing same-sex relationships and and to apologize for its error in confirming the democratic election of Bishop Robinson.

In their 2006-JUN General Convention, the Episcopal Church did not satisfy any of the requests of the Windsor Report. This triggered a sudden avalanche of activity:

bullet The Archbishop of Canterbury suggested a type of loyalty oath to which all provinces would have to subscribe in order to retain their voting privileges.
bullet Six dioceses asked to, in effect, leave the Episcopal Church, USA, and attach themselves to other provinces.
bullet Five more dioceses are expected to follow suit in the coming months.

Further details can be found in the essays listed below.

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Related essay on this web site:

bullet The Episcopal Church and Homosexuality
bullet The Anglican Community and Homosexuality
bullet Women priests in the Anglican Community
bullet Homosexuality menu

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References

  1. "American Anglican Council, at http://www.episcopalian.org/aac/ They can be contacted at:
    bullet Postal address: P.O. Box 180159, Dallas, TX 75218-0159
    bullet Phone: (800) 914-2000 or (214) 319-8816
    bullet FAX: (214) 319-8864
    bullet E-mail: [email protected]
  2. Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church (CCLEC) at: http://www.episcopalian.org/cclec/ They can be contacted at:
    bullet Email: [email protected]
  3. The First Promise, at: http://www.firstpromise.org/ They can be contacted at:
    bullet Email: [email protected] 
  4. The full text of The First Promise Document is at: http://www.firstpromise.org/fpdoc.htm 
  5. Forward in Faith, North America is at: http://fifamerica.faithweb.com/ They can be contacted at:
    bullet Email: [email protected] 
  6. "The Primates step forward," at: http://fifamerica.faithweb.com/FOUNDATIONS/
  7. The Prayer Book Society of the Episcopal Church is at: http://www.episcopalian.org/pbs1928/index.htm They can be contacted at:
    bullet Email: [email protected] 
  8. Peter Toon, article concerning the 1979 "fake" BCP at: http://www.episcopalian.org/pbs1928/fakebcp.htm
  9. Episcopalians United are at: http://www.episcopalian.org/EU/ They can be contacted at:
    bullet Postal address: Episcopalians United, P.O. Box 797425, Dallas, TX 75379
    bullet Phone: (972) 381-7374
    bullet FAX: (972) 381-7351
    bullet E-mail: [email protected] 
  10. D.W. Gomez "A circular letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other primates of the Anglican Communion," at: http://www.ekk.org/nassau.htm
  11. "Ekklesia Society," at: http://www.ekk.org/index1.htm 
  12. Scholarly Engagement with Anglican Doctrine at: http://www.stmatts.com/sead/ They can be contacted at:
    bullet Postal address: SEAD, 126 Coming St., Charleston SC, 29403
    bullet Phone: (843) 224-9161
    bullet FAX: (
    bullet E-mail: [email protected]
  13. George Carey, "Letter to the primates of the Anglican communion," ACNS 2037, issued 2000-FEB-20
  14. "Anglicans confronted with fractured American church," Maranatha Christian Journal, 2000-MAR-22, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000322b.htm
  15. "Episcopalians face liberal-conservative split," at: http://www.religiontoday.com/
  16. Louie Crew's "Anglican Pages" at: http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/rel.html
  17. The Kuala Lampur Statement is at: http://www.firstpromise.org/ (Offline as of 2004-OCT)
  18. "The Dallas Statement" is at: http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/dallas.html 

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Site navigation: Home page > Christianity > Mainline conflict > here

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Copyright 2000 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-SEP-24
Latest update: 2000-SEP-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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