Cover Story

Fast and furious

Conservatives and liberals have responded quickly to last month's tumultuous Episcopal Convention. With the world's Anglican primates set to meet in September, the long Episcopal war over liberals' homosexual agenda seems likely to end in denominational splintering

Issue: "Katie can't bar the door," July 15, 2006

Over time, church denominations come and go, but one, now known as The Episcopal Church (TEC)-formerly part of the Church of England, and then the Episcopal Church, USA-has had a special spot in American history.

Its first congregation: Jamestown, Va., 1607. Its prominent members: George Washington and one-fourth of all U.S. presidents, as well as many of the country's most notable and influential citizens. Its social prestige: high.

And now, in the aftermath of last month's triennial Episcopal Convention in Columbus, Ohio, (see "Nothing resolved," July 1/8), denominational unity that has been cracking for years now seems shattered. Among the post-convention moves by theological conservatives:

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• Seven TEC dioceses, dismayed by the election of pro-gay-agenda Bishop Katharine Schori as the church's next presiding bishop and primate (top leader), say they are looking for "alternative primatial oversight." Several other dioceses are poised to join them. All are distressed by TEC's failure to repent for consecrating a partnered gay, Gene Robinson, as a bishop in 2003.

• Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, leader of the two-year-old, theologically conservative Anglican Communion Network, told supporters that "pastoral and apostolic care has been promised without regard to geography. . . . The shape of this care will depend on a very near-range international meeting." The Network's members include 10 dioceses and nearly 1,000 parishes.

• One of the largest Episcopal churches, Christ Church of Plano, Texas, announced it will leave TEC "as soon as possible." The church, whose rector is evangelical activist David Roseberry, has nearly 5,000 active members. Bishop James Stanton of Dallas, also an evangelical, said he supports Roseberry and the church. As for the church property, "It's theirs," he said, "They paid for it." TEC may fight for the property in the courts.

• At least two other TEC megachurches, Truro Church and The Falls Church in northern Virginia, have been negotiating with the local diocese over their properties (worth $27 million combined). This month both churches announced plans for a 40-day "discernment" period in the fall for prayer, fasting, and discussion over whether to leave TEC. "There's no predetermined outcome," said Rev. John Yates of The Falls Church. Two dozen other Virginia churches also are reportedly discussing a possible exit.

• Archbishop Peter Akinola, primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria who considers TEC's "revisionism" of Scripture and doctrine a blight on Anglicanism, appointed Truro rector Martyn Minns as "missionary bishop" to a cluster of churches known as the Convocation for Anglicans in North America. Akinola established the churches as a safe haven from TEC for African immigrants, but he may have bigger things in mind.

Foreign bishops aren't supposed to trespass on TEC's turf. Akinola said he "deliberately held back from the move" but decided to go ahead after the convention showed TEC was committed more than ever to an "unbiblical revisionist" agenda. (Among other actions, the convention declined to address the matter of clergy offering same-sex blessings, called on church members to oppose any state or federal amendments that would prohibit same-sex marriage or civil unions, and rejected an amendment putting the church on record as affirming biblical authority.)

Meanwhile, theological liberals are not backing off. The diocese of Newark, N.J., announced the candidates for its next bishop, among them a partnered gay, Rev. Michael Barlowe of San Francisco-despite the convention's call for no more consecrations of non-celibate gays for at least three years.

Left trying to glue together the pieces of a badly-cracked shell is the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Several days after the convention ended Williams issued "reflections" that included a rebuke of TEC for unilaterally consecrating a partnered gay bishop in 2003. Lacing his paper with references to Scripture and Anglican teaching, he also warned against accusing churches of blind bigotry when they say they cannot remain fully in communion with TEC because of what it did in 2003.

Williams clearly was trying to buy time to keep the Anglican Communion (see sidebar below) from unraveling. He called for an Anglican Covenant to which all members could subscribe. He also suggested the Communion could have two tiers of membership: constituent and associate (for those who couldn't go along with everything the majority decided). The proposals would take years to implement; others weren't waiting.

Williams also noted that "actions have consequences-and that actions believed in good faith to be 'prophetic' in their radicalism are likely to have costly consequences." Outgoing TEC Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold cautioned people not to read too much into Williams' statement. Much discussion remains, he said.

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