It was a tense moment at the six-day closed-door meeting of 130 active and retired Episcopal bishops in Texas last month.
Episcopal Church (ECUSA) Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold singled out Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh and five other leading conservative ECUSA members for criticism. He accused them of helping to foment sentiment against ECUSA by primates, or top leaders, of the worldwide Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality. (The ECUSA is one of 38 "provinces" of the Communion.)
To avert a split in the Communion, the primates at a February meeting in Northern Ireland had called on ECUSA to observe a moratorium on consecrating any more noncelibate homosexuals and on same-sex blessings (see "'Broken' Communion," March 12). They asked ECUSA to refrain from sending delegates to periodic meetings of the important Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) until 2008, when all the world's Anglican bishops will gather for the decennial Lambeth Conference. This gesture meant the American church was considered "outside" the Anglican family until it agreed to repent and abide by biblical Anglican teaching.
The primates also asked ECUSA to send representatives to the next ACC meeting, in June, to explain the reasoning behind ECUSA's pro-homosexual actions.
In Texas, ECUSA's bishops now had to make an initial response to the primates. Clearly, Bishop Griswold was angry about having to do so.
Bishop Duncan, who heads a network of conservative ECUSA dioceses and churches, stood up and denied having manipulated the primates or using sinister means to influence their deliberations.
Then New Hampshire bishop V. Gene Robinson, the open homosexual whose consecration in 2003 had triggered the crisis, rose and told Duncan: "I don't believe you."
Other bishops stepped in to defuse the explosive exchange, whose details were leaked to The Living Church, a conservative ECUSA-targeted magazine, and confirmed by several bishops afterward.
Things settled down, and a bipartisan group of bishops crafted an interim response to the primates aimed at being acceptable to all sides. In a "covenant" statement, the bishops said they took the primates' concerns seriously and wanted to remain full participants in the Anglican Communion. They expressed deep regret for the pain the controversial ECUSA actions had caused others in the Communion (but didn't say that what they had done was wrong).
At the urging of Bishop Robinson, who complained that singling out homosexuals for a moratorium would be discriminatory, the bishops decided to extend the moratorium to include consecrations of all new bishops (about 10 are pending), but only until next year's ECUSA General Convention.
The bishops in their covenant pledged not to authorize same-sex blessings until at least next year's convention. But they left open a loophole that allows individual priests to perform the ceremonies. Many are expected to continue doing so.
They also promised not to cross diocesan boundaries to provide "episcopal ministry" to dissidents, and they asked the primates to refrain from intervening in ECUSA dioceses, as some abroad have done to provide support to conservatives stranded in liberal-run dioceses.
They approved the covenant by a near-unanimous vote, but priest David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, an evangelical alliance of more than 300 churches, denounced it as "insulting" to the primates and the Communion. He said that although the bishops pledged allegiance to Anglicanism, they failed to repent of their recent decisions and actions that were contrary to both Scripture and Anglican faith and order. He declared as "outrageous" the inclusion of all future bishops in the moratorium-a bow to the homosexual agenda, he complained.
The document is filled with "double-speak" that, among other things, fails to ban same-sex blessings in private, he said.
Bishop Duncan acknowledged the response falls short of what the primates sought. But, he added, it buys time and shows the bishops are finally facing up to the consequences of what they did in 2003-and to the reality that differences within ECUSA and the Anglican Communion may be "irreconcilable."