june 28, 2006
Archbishop of Canterbury Outlines Plan to Expel Episcopal Church in the U.S. Over Gay Bishop
The Archbishop of Canterbury has outlined plans to expel the Episcopal Church of the US from the worldwide Anglican Church. The leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, Archbishop Rowan Williams, has said the worldwide church will likely split to end a bitter row over the consecration of homosexual bishops by the Episcopal Church in the United States.
A dispute has been growing between liberals and conservatives among the world's Anglicans since the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson, the first openly homosexual bishop in more than 450 years of Anglican history. Anglicans in Africa, in particular, condemned the move, saying homosexuality is un-biblical and morally wrong. The row deepened earlier this month when the U.S. Episcopal Church chose a liberal female bishop as its first woman leader since the ordination of women was approved 30 years ago.
In a bid to appease an increasingly alienated worldwide Anglican community, the U.S. Episcopal Church (ECUSA) recently agreed to try and avoid the consecration of more gay bishops, but commentators said this was not enough to resolve the feud.
Despite his bleak assessment of the current situation, Reuters is reporting that Williams has also proposed that churches should be asked to sign a formal covenant, allowing some to be fuller members of the communion than others. Dr Williams is proposing a two-track Anglican Communion, with orthodox churches being accorded full, "constituent" membership and the rebel, pro-gay liberals being consigned to "associate" membership.
All provinces will be offered the chance to sign up to a "covenant" which will set out the traditional, biblical standards on which all full members of the Anglican church can agree.
But it is highly unlikely that churches such as The Episcopal Church in the US, the Anglican churches in Canada and New Zealand and even the Scottish Episcopal Church would be able to commit themselves fully to such a document. These churches and any others that refused to sign up could opt to cut ties to Canterbury altogether, or could choose to remain in associate status.
"Those churches that were prepared to take this on as an expression of their responsibility to each other would limit their local freedoms for the sake of a wider witness," Williams writes in a lengthy statement issued by his Lambeth Palace office on Tuesday. "Some might not be willing to do this,"
"We could arrive at a situation where there were "constituent" churches in the Anglican communion and other "churches in association," which were bound by historic and perhaps personal links, fed from many of the same sources, but not bound in a single and unrestricted sacramental communion -- and not sharing the same constitutional structures."
The Archbishop stressed that this proposal was not meant as any kind of decree and should be discussed in detail over the coming years. Williams declared, "The church had to change to survive."
"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," he said.
"The tacit conventions between us need spelling out -- not for the sake of some central mechanism of control, but so that we have ways of being sure we're still talking the same language."
The American Anglican Council, a conservative group in the ECUSA that opposed Robinson's consecration, welcomed Williams' proposal, but said interim measures were crucial to stop individual parishes splitting away from the Episcopal Church before the covenant plan was implemented.
Some churches and dioceses have asked to be put under the authority of more conservative bishops in Africa and Latin America, and the AAC said more could follow. Splits in the U.S. Anglican community also threaten to fuel legal battles over church property.
"We fear tens of thousands of individuals will be lost from Anglicanism forever unless immediate, though interim, intervention is provided," it said in a statement.
"The situation in the American church is rapidly deteriorating and it is critical to act now in order to prevent the 'Balkanisation' of the entire Anglican Communion."
Some commentators said Williams' plan would represent a "schism in all but name." Britain's Times newspaper said on Wednesday the plan would effectively expel the Americans from the worldwide Anglican Church and warned: "The repercussions within the American Church will be profound."
According to Ruth Gledhill of the London Times, "It is highly unlikely that churches such as The Episcopal Church in the US, the Anglican churches in Canada and New Zealand and even the Scottish Episcopal Church would be able to commit themselves fully to such a document."
The proposals will be discussed soon at the next meeting of the standing committee of the 38 Primates, and then at the Primates' meeting in February. They will come to the table of the worldwide church, along with the wording of the proposed covenant, at the Lambeth Conference in 2008.
It is then that The Episcopal Church and others will face the choice of signing up to biblical orthodoxy, or walking away from the Anglican Communion table to the hinterland of "associate" status.
What do you think?: What are your thoughts on the ordination of openly gay ministers in the Episcopal and Presbyterian (USA) denominations in America?
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Related Blog: Episcopal Leaders Want to Have it Both Ways -- While Presbyterians (USA) Approve Homosexual Ordination
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