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Schism in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality

Events during 2006-May to August

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2006-MAY-06: CA: Election of new bishop:

For the first time in 27 years, the diocese of California met to elect a new bishop. This election could have had an international impact in the Anglican Communion because of the seven candidates, three are openly gay or lesbian priests in long-term relationships.

The Very Rev. Paul F. M. Zahl, is dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA and is a leading conservative in the Episcopal Church. He said that the election:

 "... has enormous and possibly decisive consequences. You almost can't exaggerate the importance it would have if they elected a partnered gay person as a bishop."

The Rev. Ian T. Douglas, professor of world Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA said:

"If, in fact, California elected an out gay and lesbian person living in a lifelong relationship, it would become in some measure a referendum on the Episcopal Church's place in the Anglican Communion."

Bishop Kirk S. Smith of the diocese of Arizona backs full inclusion of gays in the church. He said:

"My number one directive as a bishop is the unity of church, because schism is a greater sin than heresy. I think everyone will breathe a sigh of relief if it's not a gay candidate, and that's sad."

An unidentified senior minister in the diocese said:

"The average parishioner in the diocese of California is very aware that voting for a gay bishop would split apart the Anglican Communion at a time when dialogue has started." 1

The diocese backed away from the abyss and elected the Right Rev. Mark Handley Andrus of the diocese of Alabama to be bishop elect of California.

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2006-JUN-27: Archbishop of Canterbury suggests a path forward:

Approximately a week after the 2006 convention closed, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, issued a six-page "reflection" proposing what he regards as the "best way forward" for the Anglican Communion. He recognized that the Communion lacks processes to handle change. This inevitably produces massive strain to the Communion as it does to any religious movement that is has world-wide coverage. He noted that:

"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. ...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."

His path forward would involve:

bulletThe creation of a shared theological "covenant" -- a type of loyalty oath indicating their acceptance of traditional, historically held Anglican beliefs. This would presumably include special rights for heterosexual men, and limited opportunities for women and homosexuals.
bulletEach province would be asked whether they will agree to follow it.
bulletProvinces that agree would retain their existing full status as "constituent churches."
bulletProvince that do not agree would become "churches in association."
bulletChurches in association would be denied voting and decision making power in the Communion.

Williams 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."

Some reactions:

bulletRev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, suggested that the Archbishop's plan would take at least four years and six major meetings to implement.
bulletPrimate-elect Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church, USA said that she was encouraged by William's comments that he would not be able to heal the conflict by himself. She said:

"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."

bulletThe Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, a conservative reform group, 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."

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2006-JUN-28: Three dioceses refuse to accept authority of presiding bishop:

The dioceses of Pittsburgh, South Carolina and San Joaquin, CA have rejected the authority of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA. They have asked the Most Rev. Rowan Williams -- Archbishop of Canterbury and the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion -- to assign them an alternative leader. 2

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2006-JUN-28: Diocese of Newark nominates gay priest:

The Diocese of Newark has nominated four priests to become their next bishop. One of the four is gay. This appears to be a violation of Resolution B033 passed a week earlier at the General Convention. It asked that the denomination's nominating committees bodies to: "...exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." Presumably, the diocese did not consider homosexuality to be a challenge. 2

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2006-JUL-03: Six dioceses reject new Presiding Bishop:

Standing committees at six American dioceses asked their bishops to rejected the authority of Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferets Schori. They are the dioceses of central Florida, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, CA, South Carolina, and Springfield, IL. None of these requests have been ratified at this time by a diocesan convention.

The resolution of the Springfield committee stated, in part:

"The Standing Committee of this Diocese requests our Bishop to intentionally and deliberately explore avenues for alternative primatial oversight, and, as appropriate, notwithstanding this Diocese’s status as a constituent member of the Episcopal Church."

Also the Falls Church and Truro Church in Northern Virginia have decided to go through "40 days of discernment" during the fall of 2006 to decide what their future status will be. 3,4 Some commentators expect that when she officially takes office in 2006-NOV, five more dioceses will have bolted, making a total of 11 dioceses or 10% of the total.

In essence, they are asking the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to attach their dioceses to another province of the Anglican Communion on a temporary basis. This would involve reducing the geographical scope of the Episcopal Church, USA, and expanding the area covered by one or more other Provinces -- probably in Africa where cultures continue to oppress women and homosexuals.

An article in the Washington Post indicates that there are multiple reasons why these dioceses have decided to leave the denomination:

bulletSchori's gender. She noted that "Most of the bishops who protested have been protesting for years about the presence of ordained women in the church." This may well be a main concern for the Fort Worth and San Joaquin dioceses who still refuse to ordain qualified female candidates to the priesthood. Currently, 13 of the Anglican Communion's 38 provinces have no female priests. Only three provinces (Canada, New Zealand and the U.S.) have female bishops. Only the U.S. has a female primate.
bulletHer liberal views.
bulletHer vote (along with the majority of delegates) to confirm the election of V. Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire -- the first openly gay bishop in the denomination.
bulletHer permission to bless same-sex couples in her diocese of Nevada.
bulletShe used metaphorical language in a recent sermon, referring to "Mother Jesus." She defended this position by referring to medieval mystics and saints who used similar language -- including Julian of Norwich and St. Teresa of Avila. She said:

"I was trying to say that the work of the cross was in some ways like giving birth to a new creation. That is straight-down-the-middle orthodox theology....All language is metaphorical, and if we insist that particular words have only one meaning and the way we understand those words is the only possible interpretation, we have elevated that text to an idol. I'm encouraging people to look beyond their favorite understandings."

bulletA refusal by the 2006 General Convention to reverse its trend and return to a policy of special rights for heterosexuals.

It appears to be impossible to determine which of the above six factors is the most influential in each dioceses' decision.

Bishop Robert W. Duncan of Pittsburgh said:

"The incoming presiding bishop has made her positions very clear -- that she is committed to the new agenda, committed to same-sex blessings, committed to having same-sex partners in the leadership in the church -- which means she is also not committed to the faith as delivered to the saints."

Rev. Martyn Minns, the rector of Truro Church said:

"We prayed and hoped that the General Convention would really turn around and change direction, but obviously it didn't." He has recently been named a bishop in the conservative Anglican Church of Nigeria.

Alan Cooperman, of the Washington Post wrote:

"The message of her election, she said, is not that Episcopalians don't care what other Anglicans think, but 'that we're more interested in feeding hungry people and relieving suffering than we are in arguing about what gender someone is or what sexual orientation someone has'."

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2006-JUL: Seventh diocese bolts:

James Stanton, the Bishop of Dallas, has asked the Archbishop of Canterbury for a "direct primatial relationship for the purpose of mission, pastoral support, and accountability." This is different from the original six dioceses; they have simply asked for "alternative primatial oversight." Stanton is asking for direct oversight from the Archbishop.

Christ Church in Plano, TX, which recently pulled out of the Episcopal Church, USA, continues to recognize Bishop Stanton as its bishop. Canon Neal Michell, a spokesperson for the Dallas diocese, said: "We are treading uncharted waters here." 5

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2006-JUL: Bishop of Arkansas authorizes blessings for same-sex couples:

Right Rev. Larry Maze, Episcopal bishop of the diocese of Arkansas has written:

"It is my belief that seeking ways of recognizing and blessing faithful, monogamous same-sex relationships falls within the parameters of providing pastoral concern and care for our gay and lesbian members."

Associated Press reported:

"Maze noted in his letter sent to clergy Wednesday that no other national or state Episcopal leaders have produced or approved official rites for the blessings of same-sex unions. He said the ceremonies will be local observances in each church, not approved formal rites. Arkansas has banned gay marriage, so same-sex couples will have no legal standing in the state. Two churches -- St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Little Rock and St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville -- plan to offer the ceremonies."

The Rev. Ed Wills at St. Michael's Church in Little Rock, AR, said:

"God is about community, about belonging, about a relationship....[Couples are blessed in the church] not just so that they can be special but that they can be a blessing to other people."

The Rev. Lowell Grisham of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, AR said:

"My gay friends are very sensitive about the notion that we've been blessing animals for years and find it so difficult to bless their relationships." 6

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2006-AUG: Statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury:

Rowan Williams is the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. While a professor at Oxford University in 1989, he wrote in a paper:

"The pressure that some church figures put upon people of differing sexual identities is a greater disgrace than anything else seen in the church."

In the paper, he called for a revision of the Church's doctrine on marriage and sexuality to recognize same-sex committed relationships.

He appears to have since completely reversed his beliefs. During 2006-AUG, he said that he has supported a resolution which states that same-sex behavior is contrary to the teachings of Christianity and that homosexuals must change their behavior if they are to be welcome in the Anglican church. In an interview with a Dutch journalist from Nederlands Dagblad, he said:

"I don't believe inclusion is a value in itself. Welcome is. We don't say 'Come in and we ask no questions'. I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviors, ideas, emotions. ... Ethics is not a matter of a set of abstract rules, it is a matter of living the mind of Christ. That applies to sexual ethics."

Referring to the increasingly widening schism in the Anglican Communion, Williams said:

"I don't especially want to see the Anglican Church becoming like the Orthodox Church – where in some American cities you see the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church. I don't want to see in the cities of America the American Anglican Church, the Nigerian Anglican Church, the Egyptian Anglican Church and the English Anglican Church on the same street."

Rev Giles Goddard, the chairman of Inclusive Church, told the Telegraph that Williams’ comments were:

"astonishing. ... The implication is that there is no justification in scripture for the welcome of lesbian and gay people. It appears that he has moved into the conservative camp."

Life Site News reported:

"David W. Virtue, a conservative Anglican who maintains a website of news about the schism, said that Williams has remained 'steadfastly in the middle,' on the issue, much to the disgust of the African Primate, Peter Akinola, who has led the revolt against the hold of the liberal majority in England and the US."

"Virtue writes, 'Many American orthodox priests and laity I talk to are none too convinced of Dr. Rowan Williams' orthodoxy, and my talks with African Anglican leaders recently confirms [sic] that many on that continent do not think that Williams could lead a lost to soul to Christ if his pension depended on it." 7

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Neela Banerjee, "Episcopalians Divide Again Over Electing Gay Bishop," New York Times, 2006-MAY-05, at: http://select.nytimes.com/
  2. "Three Episcopal Dioceses Reject Presiding Bishop's Authority," Associated Press, 2006-JUN-29, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  3. Alan Cooperman, "Episcopal Protest of Top Bishop Increases. More Dioceses Reject New Female Leader," The Washington Post, 2006-JUL-03, Page A01. Online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  4. "Springfield standing committee asks bishop to 'explore' alternative primatial oversight," Episcopal News Service, 2006-JUL-05, at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/
  5. "Another Episcopal diocese seeks relief," UPI, 2006-JUL-06, at: http://www.religionandspiritualityforum.com/
  6. "Episcopal bishop in Ark. OKs gay blessings," Associated Press, 2006-JUL-22, at: http://www.gay.com/
  7. Hilary White, "Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Says Homosexual Sex Incompatible with Bible. Some conservatives sceptical [sic] about Archbishop’s sudden alleged orthodoxy," Life Site News, 2006-AUG-28, at: http://www.lifesite.net/

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Copyright © 2006 & 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-FEB-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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