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Schism in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality

Events during 2007-January to August

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2007-FEB-19: Primate's communiqué:

The Anglican primates met in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from 2007-FEB-14 to 19.

The American Anglican Council, a group opposed to equal rights for gays and lesbians in the Anglican Communion, noted:

" 'This is the most important decision taken by the global Anglican Communion since the last Lambeth Resolutions were issued in 1998,' said the Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, AAC president and CEO. 'The clock is now running on The Episcopal Church, and it is running fast'."

"The primates’ communiqué, issued later than expected on Monday, Feb. 19 due to last-minute deliberations, issues an ultimatum to The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States with regard to its stances on human sexuality. In particular, the church is given seven months (until Sept. 30, 2007) to convey its definitive position on the blessing of same-sex unions and the elevation to episcopal orders of a candidate living in a same-sex relationship."

" 'The meeting in Dar es Salaam moved TEC firmly into the penalty box, which they will not emerge from without a true, 180-degree turn from the behavior and theology that has become the norm in many parts of the U.S. church over the past several decades,' Canon Anderson said. 'Fudging the issues is no longer possible because the primates are ‘on to’ TEC and understand that they have been saying one thing and doing another'."

' 'Before this meeting, many primates could not fathom that the bishops and presiding bishop would play fast and loose with their words in order to deceive the primates or avoid sending a clear message,' Canon Anderson continued. 'Now, a clear message is demanded, and if it is not given, the church will suffer the long-threatened consequence of losing full membership in the worldwide Anglican family'." 1

The primates' communiqué said in part:

"17. At the heart of our tensions is the belief that The Episcopal Church has departed from the standard of teaching on human sexuality accepted by the Communion in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 by consenting to the episcopal election of a candidate living in a committed same-sex relationship, and by permitting Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions. The episcopal ministry of a person living in a same-sex relationship is not acceptable to the majority of the Communion. ..."

"26. The interventions by some of our number and by bishops of some Provinces, against the explicit recommendations of the Windsor Report, however well-intentioned, have exacerbated this situation. Furthermore, those Primates who have undertaken interventions do not feel that it is right to end those interventions until it becomes clear that sufficient provision has been made for the life of those persons."

"27. A further complication is that a number of dioceses or their bishops have indicated, for a variety of reasons, that they are unable in conscience to accept the primacy of the Presiding Bishop in The Episcopal Church, and have requested the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates to consider making provision for some sort of alternative primatial ministry. At the same time we recognise that the Presiding Bishop has been duly elected in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, which must be respected."

"28. These pastoral needs, together with the requests from those making presentations to this meeting, have moved us to consider how the primates might contribute to healing and reconciliation within The Episcopal Church and more broadly. We believe that it would be a tragedy if The Episcopal Church was to fracture, and we are committed to doing what we can to preserve and uphold its life. While we may support such processes, such change and development which is required must be generated within its own life." 2

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2007-MAR-21: U.S. bishops reject ultimatum:

The Episcopal House of Bishops met at a retreat center near Houston, Texas to consider the Anglican Communion's ultimatum. In what the Associated Press called "strong and direct language" the bishops rejected the Communion's demands. The Toronto Star reported that:

"They said they had a 'deep longing' to remain part of the Anglican Communion, but were unwilling to compromise the Episcopal Church's autonomy and its commitment to full equality for all people, including gay men and lesbians." 3

On the topic of homosexuality, they stated that their understanding of the Gospel requires that "all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants" in the church.

They also refused to agree to have foreign bishops oversee the conservative American dioceses who cannot accept the Episcopal Church's positions. Their resolution stated:

"We cannot accept what would be injurious to the church and could well lead to its permanent division. ... If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.'

They said that ceding authority to a panel that included overseas Anglicans contravenes Episcopal church law:

"It violates our founding principles as the Episcopal Church following our own liberation from colonialism and the beginning of a life independent of the Church of England. ... And for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.''

As of 2007-MAR, six dioceses do not recognize the leadership of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori because of her support for same-sex relationships and a liberal/progressive interpretation of the Bible. Three of the six do not accept the ordination of women as priests.

On the Anglican Communion's demand that the denomination not consecrate a sexually-active homosexual bishop, they noted that they had previously met requests to not approve another gay bishop "at great cost to many, not the least of whom are our gay and lesbian members." However, that pledge was not sufficient for the Communion.

The statement by the House of Bishop will be reviewed by the Executive Council, and again by the House of Bishops in September.

Canon Kendall Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina called the bishops' statement "as strong a repudiation as you can get" of the Anglican Communion's ultimation. He said:

"The reality is that they've rejected what's been asked. They went out of their way to both push back on [Archbishop of Canterbury] Rowan Williams and the primates.''

The Rev. Susan Russell of Integrity, a gay-positive Episcopal advocacy group , said:

"This was a huge step that the American church was not willing to go back into the closet about its inclusion of gay and lesbian people in order to capitulate to those who would exclude us.'' 4

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2007-APR-16: Archbishop of Canterbury to meet with Episcopal Church leaders:

Speaking at a news conference in Toronto, Canada, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that he will visit the meeting of the bishops of the Episcopal Church, USA in New Orleans on SEP-20 to 25. At this meeting, a response of the American church will presumably be crafted to the ultimatum issued by the Primates in February.

Rowans said that his "minimum" hopes for the meeting:

"... is simply a better understanding of [their] issues and a better understanding of what the evident problems are about the American church's constitution, which are holding us up a bit."

When asked whether he believed that the Anglican Communion is headed towards a schism, he replied:

"I can't say. Naturally I hope we will find a way of working together on this because I believe very passionately that we need each other in the Anglican Communion. I believe that an Anglican Communion divided into a liberal and a conservative segment would be very, very much impoverished on both sides."

Williams said that he is personally:

"... strongly and consistently opposed to anything which suggests that gay and lesbian Christians are less than human, less than fully baptized, good-faith members of the church. ... It's not just about nice people who want to include gay and lesbian Christians and nasty people who want not to include them. It's about what are the forms of behavior that the church has the freedom to bless if it wants to be faithful to scripture and tradition. That's the question that is tearing us apart at the moment because there are real differences of conviction." 5

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Our personal opinions on the Archbishop's plan:

Caution: Throughout our web site, we try to describe religious events, beliefs and practices objectively while trying to avoid filtering them through our personal prejudices. On rare occasions, we do make an exception. This is one of those cases. If you don't want to read of our opinions, please skip this section and continue below.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's first four proposals would create a schism within the Anglican Communion. It would divide the 38 provinces into two groups:

bullet Constituent churches: A large conservative group which promotes traditional Christian levels of discrimination and oppression against their membership on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.
bullet Churches in association: A small liberal group, which would presumably include the Episcopal Church, USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. They would be separated from the main body because they value inclusiveness and promote basic human rights on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.

Previous points of conflict in the Anglican Communion, such as the abolition of human slavery, the use of contraceptives have long been settled. However, there is a lack of consensus on sexually related matters among the provinces. We speculate that the covenant or loyalty oath will include the following restrictions:

bullet A bare majority of Anglican Provinces allow women to be ordained. However, a very large minority are opposed to female priests. We suspect that the covenant would be phrased to allow to either exclude or include women.
bullet Only a few of the provinces allow the consecration of female priests as bishops. These include Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Polynesia, Scotland and the U.S. Only one female Primate exists among the 36 provinces. Sexual discrimination limiting the roles of women in the constituent churches of the Communion might well form a major part of the covenant. Female bishops and female primates would probably be banned.
bullet A very large majority of provinces is currently opposed to homosexual priests, bishops and primates. They also disapprove of recognizing in any way same-sex relationships based on mutual love and commitment. Enforced discrimination against gay primates, bishops, priests and conceivably even members would certainly form a major compulsory part of the covenant.

Our concerns:

bullet In recent decades, provinces have been free to decide independently of the rest of the Communion to ordain female priests and consecrate female priests as bishops. Under the loyalty oath, they presumably would not be allowed to do this without losing their status. They would become a church in association, and lose all voting rights.
bullet In the past, provinces have been free to ordain celibate homosexual candidates as priests. Depending on the wording of the loyalty oath, this might not be possible without threatening the status of the entire province.
bullet With a two tier membership system, there does not appear to be any allowance for those provinces who wish to end discrimination against women as bishops and primates, while maintaining discrimination against homosexuals. Some provinces might be faced with the requirement of de-consecration of their female bishops in order to retain their voting rights.
bullet There is no indication whether the Communion will adopt a policy of revisiting the covenant at regular intervals to keep it current. The level of prejudice and oppression of women and homosexuals has been reduced greatly over the past decades. If past conflicts are any indication, this may well continue into the future.
bullet Membership in the Church of England, and in some other western provinces, might be adversely affected by the loyalty oath. Sexism and homophobia are gradually being considered in the same profoundly immoral category as racism by much of their cultures.

End of personal opinions.

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2007-AUG-29: Lesbian priest nominated as bishop of Chicago:

The Rev. Tracey Lind was nominated as a finalist for the post of bishop of Chicago in 2007. She is one of five candidates that includes two other women and two men. This is the first time in the history of the diocese that a woman has been a finalist. Other nominees are the Rev. Jane Gould of Lynn, Mass; the Rev. Margaret Rose of New York; the Rev. Jeffrey Lee of Medina, Wash., and the Rev. Timothy Safford of Philadelphia.

Lind is dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, OH and the author of "Interrupted by God." She said in a statement: "I believe that accepting this nomination is what God is asking of me. ... My life with my partner, Emily Ingalls, is the gift that most sustains me. ... Together, we tend our garden, travel, hike."

Referring to a 2006 request by the Anglican Communion that the Episcopal Church, USA exercise restraint in consecrating bishops whose "manner of life" might be an issue for much of the Anglican Communion, Bishop James Stanton of Dallas, TX said: "It's an action that says Chicago really doesn't care what the rest of the Anglican Communion says."

A diocesan search committee selected the five nominees. Individuals and groups can raise a petition to add more nominees to the list. Rev. Jeffrey Ley was elected as bishop of Chicago.

She was also nominated as bishop coadjutor in the New York diocese during 2011-NOV, but was again unsuccessful.

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References used:

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

  1. American Anglican Council statement on the primates' 2007 communiqué, American Anglican Council, Weekly Update, 2007-FEB-23.
  2. "The Communiqué of the Primates' Meeting in Dar Es Salaam," American Anglican Council, 2007-FEB-19, at: http://www.americananglican.org/
  3. Stuart Laidlaw, "Anglicans facing schism. Bishops in U.S. reject demands to end their support for gay marriages, clergy," The Toronto Star, 2006-MAR-22, at: http://www.thestar.com/
  4. "Episcopal bishops reject ultimatum. American church may split with global Anglican communion," Associated Press, 2007-MAR-21, at: http://www.thestar.com/
  5. "Rowan Williams will meet with Episcopal bishops in September," The Christian Century, 2007-MAY-15, at: http://www.christiancentury.org/
  6. Susan Hogan, "Lesbian could head Episcopal Diocese," Chicago Sun-Times, 2007-AUG-29, at: http://www.suntimes.com/

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Copyright © 2006 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-JUN-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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