Notebook > Religion

No pain, no gain

Religion | Worldwide Anglicans, facing split, prepare for key meeting that's all about losing

Issue: "Marathon man," Feb. 17, 2007

"There is no way forward from here without pain. . . . There are not going to be winners and losers. There are going to be [only] losers."

So predicted Church of England bishop N.T. Wright to a London reporter on the eve of the Feb. 14-19 meeting of the world's Anglican primates, or top bishops and archbishops, at a seaside hotel near Dar Es Salaam, capital of Tanzania in East Africa.

At issue is the future of The Episcopal Church (TEC), the Communion's 2.3-million-member American (and wealthiest) member, torn by strife over theological liberalism. At least 14 primates already have declared broken or impaired communion with TEC for consecrating a partnered gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, and tacitly approving same-sex blessings, in direct contradiction of Communion teaching, and for refusing to repent, as called for by the primates in the 2004 Windsor Report.

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The primates' agenda was structured to make attendance at daily Eucharists (communion services) optional, and a Sunday liturgical service in neighboring Zanzibar will omit the Eucharist. Some primates said they would refuse to participate in Eucharists with TEC presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the new American (and only female) primate. Not only does she represent TEC, but she also approved same-sex blessings when she was a diocesan bishop, voted to approve Robinson's consecration, and is on record saying Jesus isn't the only way to God. She was granted a large chunk of time at Tanzania to explain TEC's response to Windsor.

The future of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion itself may hang in the balance. Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria (the Communion's largest province, at an estimated 19 million strong, with nearly 100 bishops) and several other primates in the fast-growing "Global South" regions of the Communion have threatened to bolt the Communion and establish their own international alliance if TEC remains undisciplined and if biblically faithful dioceses, parishes, and clergy in TEC are not protected. Much depends on whether the primates press ahead with plans for a "day of judgment" for TEC at next year's decennial Lambeth conference in England, when all the world's Anglican bishops plan to gather.

Much also depends on Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the leader of Anglicans in 164 countries who trace their heritage to the Church of England. Williams has been rushing to hold the Communion together, even as he has indicated TEC failed the Windsor test when at its convention in Columbus last year it declined to enact a moratorium on gay bishops and same-sex blessings. He also has shown strong sympathy toward conservatives in TEC who declare they are Windsor-compliant and want to remain truly Anglican (and out from under oversight by an unrepentant TEC). But each province is autonomous, and his and the Communion's authority to intervene is severely limited.

He hurriedly appointed conservative archbishop Drexel Gomez, primate of the West Indies, to head a committee in January to design a proposed Anglican Covenant. The primates were expected to fine tune it for use at Lambeth next year. Ostensibly, it will consist of a series of agreements; provinces that accept them will be full members of the Communion; those that don't will be relegated to "associate member" status with few participatory rights. Conservatives see the covenant as a means to force TEC into self-exclusion from the Communion.

Williams also invited two Windsor bishops, Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh and Bruce McPherson of Western Louisiana, and pro-TEC bishop Christopher Epting to state their positions in the conflict during a "recess" session in Dar es Salaam. Duncan, an evangelical, heads the Anglican Communion Network, the largest conservative network, which includes 10 TEC dioceses and hundreds of parishes.

Among those listening intently will be Akinola, whose Church of Nigeria established a mission in America for faithful Anglicans. Eleven Virginia parishes recently voted themselves out of TEC, joined the Nigerian mission, and are now being sued by the Diocese of Virginia-at the behest of a coordinated plan by TEC national leaders-for their property.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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