The most contentious and critical policy-making convention in Episcopal Church history opens this week in Minneapolis. Votes were scheduled on whether to confirm the election of openly gay priest V. Gene Robinson as a bishop in New Hampshire, and whether to authorize development of liturgies to "bless" the union of same-sex couples.
As bishops and clergy and lay delegates packed for Minneapolis, Rev. Robinson, who has a live-in lover, told reporters he had no intention of withdrawing from his selection, even if it means fracturing the 2.3 million-member denomination and disrupting the unity of the largely conservative worldwide Anglican Communion. The communion represents more than 70 million Anglicans in 38 autonomous "provinces" encompassing 164 countries. The Episcopal Church is one of the provinces. Only once, in 1874, has an Episcopal convention overturned the election of a bishop.
Rev. Robinson made his comments following the release of an open letter on July 15 from 24 conservative Episcopal bishops (out of some 300 active and retired bishops) to heads of Anglican provinces. Presiding over some of the world's largest provinces, biblically orthodox primates helped force the withdrawal of a gay bishop-select in the Church of England (WORLD, July 19). They also recently severed relationships with the Anglican Church of Canada's New Westminster diocese in Vancouver for instituting same-sex liturgies.
Never before have the American church's bishops been so divided in public. In their letter, the 24 bishops cited the Robinson election and the push for same-sex liturgies in their church as "symbols of a desperately confused, errant, and disintegrating Anglican province." They affirmed the primates' "moral and spiritual authority" to "address the situation" in the American church and pledged to cooperate "under your leadership" for a solution.
Some of the primates stand ready to declare the Episcopal Church out of bounds and apostate, to establish a biblically faithful Anglican province on North American soil, and, ultimately, to set up an alternative Anglican communion across the world: schism. It's that serious.