In trying to deal with the most divisive controversy in the 75-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion-a conflict over homosexuality-the primates (heads) of the communion's 38 Anglican and Episcopal denominations last week may have only deepened it.
At issue was whether bishops can allow clergy to "bless" or preside over same-sex unions, as has happened in several dioceses in the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church (U.S.) and one in the 680,000-member Anglican Church of Canada.
Many primates, including most in the Southern Hemisphere (half the world's Anglicans are in Africa now), favored a strong condemnation of same-sex unions as un-Anglican and un-Christian.
Following a week of ecclesiastical arm wrestling behind closed doors on a remote hillside in Brazil, the primates finally settled on a less-than-decisive statement aimed at keeping everybody happy and in the church. Noting a lack of "theological concensus" on the issue, they acknowledged the independence of Anglicans to carry out "pastoral care [toward people] of all sexual orientations."
Liberals took the statement to allow diocesan bishops to authorize same-sex blessings under the cover of "meeting pastoral needs." Yet many of the primates at the Brazil meeting said later their "pastoral needs" wording intended no such interpretation.
In the United States, some bishops have been ordaining homosexuals, and proposals before the Episcopal convention this summer, if adopted, would sanction same-sex rites. The dioceses of Delaware and Kansas have approved the rites already. A new bishop is to be elected in New Hampshire on June 7; one of the four nominees, Canon V. Gene Robinson, is a homosexual who lives openly with a male partner.
In Canada, Bishop Michael Ingham in British Columbia ignited a firestorm when he OK'd same-sex blessings in his diocese. Eight conservative parishes, including some of the largest churches in the Vancouver area, protested and asked to be placed under the ministry of a conservative bishop. Bishop of Yukon Terry Buckle offered to take them under his wing, infuriating Bishop Ingham.
All of this has been going on despite a declaration at the 1998 Lambeth conference of all the world's Anglican bishops in England that opposed the ordination of noncelibate homosexual clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions. The new Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who helped to hammer out the Brazil statement, said he will uphold the Lambeth declaration even though it is at odds with his personal views about homosexuality.
Some African primates are warning that if the rebellion in the West continues, there will be two Anglican communions soon: a large one faithful to Scripture and a smaller apostate one.