Notebook > Religion

Calculated response

Religion | U.S. House of Bishops buys time with worldwide Anglicans-but changes little in stand on gay consecration

Issue: "Preach it," Oct. 6, 2007

Why were two leading Anglican archbishops speaking on evangelical campuses while the U.S. House of Bishops met in New Orleans to consider their call back to biblical orthodoxy? "Because they have nothing new for us to hear," explained Archbishop of Uganda Henry Luke Orombi, who along with his colleague, Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola, skipped the primates' consultative meeting in New Orleans in favor of accepting the college invitations.

In the end Orombi was right. Facing a Sept. 30 deadline from the worldwide Anglican Communion to stop ordaining gay clergy, stop blessing same-sex unions, and return to biblical orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church (TEC) instead reaffirmed its previous ambiguous statement. It calls on bishops and other leaders to exercise "restraint" by not consenting to consecrate any bishop candidate "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church." In New Orleans the bishops acknowledged for the first time that the statement refers to "noncelibate gay and lesbian persons."

Meeting in Tanzania earlier this year, the Anglicans' top leaders-or primates-asked for specific assurances regarding the ordination of homosexuals and implied TEC could be expelled from the Communion if its response was inadequate.

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The controversy over biblical authority and discipline began nearly a decade ago but intensified following the decision of TEC in 2003 to consecrate partnered gay bishop Gene Robinson in defiance of Anglican Communion teaching. TEC is the small but affluent U.S. member of the 77-million-member worldwide Communion.

The approval by voice vote of a formal response by TEC's House of Bishops came Sept. 25 at the end of the six-day New Orleans meeting. In their response, as earlier, the bishops pledged "as a body" not to "authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions," but they did not address the growing practice of individual bishops approving and even taking part in such blessings.

Conservative commenters seemed to agree that TEC presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Los Angeles bishop Jon Bruno, Washington, D.C., bishop John Chane, and the majority of their liberal cohorts were "buying time" to help Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams keep TEC in the Communion and get past next year's once-a-decade Lambeth conference in England. Following that, they hope same-sex blessings will be given greater acceptance.

But orthodox primates are likely to press to delay the 2008 gathering. "Many of us are not ready for Lambeth," said Orombi, who spent three days speaking at Covenant College, a Presbyterian Church in America school, while fellow colleagues debated with TEC in New Orleans. "We are not being honest to bring the church together next year. What we are doing is buying time-the Episcopal Church is buying time. And it is time to stop playing these games."

Most of the New Orleans deliberations and speeches were behind closed doors. But Archbishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt, primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, circulated a copy of his remarks, a deft but scathing indictment of TEC's "very different truth from that of the majority in the Anglican Communion . . . not just about sexuality, but about your views of Christ, the Gospel, and the authority of the Bible."

Many conservative commenters said they doubted the Global South primates, who account for the largest segment of the Communion, would find TEC's response acceptable. Since Williams and his advisors seem to think otherwise, that could lead to a split-up of the Communion.

Afterward, Akinola of Nigeria, who bypassed New Orleans in favor of a Sept. 24 chapel address at Wheaton College, said in a statement: "While we await a meeting of all the primates to receive and determine the adequacy of the Episcopal Church's response, it seems clear from first reading that what is offered is not a wholehearted embrace of traditional Christian teaching. . . . The unequivocal assurances that we sought have not been given; what we have is a carefully calculated attempt to win support to ensure attendance at the Lambeth Conference and continued involvement in the life of the Communion."

-with reporting by Mindy Belz

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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