Further evidence of the escalating crisis in the global Anglican Communion came in a recent letter threatening suspension for one of the world's most esteemed Christian theologians: J.I. Packer. The author of Knowing God and general editor of the English Standard Version of the Bible, Packer has been an ordained clergyman in the Church of England since the 1950s. But now the Canadian Bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, in a February letter declared Packer, 81, "to have abandoned the exercise of ministry" after the Vancouver church where he is a member voted to separate from the diocese and join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone under the oversight of Anglican Archbishop Gregory Venables.
The largest congregation in the Anglican Church in Canada (ACC), St. John's Shaughnessy has voted overwhelmingly to leave the ACC. A dozen or so other ACC churches across Canada also are in the process of leaving, or have left, and others are expected to join the exodus.
Decline in rolls
The 2.1-million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) is projected to record the largest annual loss of members in its history. Losses in 2007 will amount to just under 100,000, about double that of the preceding year, PCUSA officials said last month. An estimated half are from congregations that left PCUSA over theological and sexuality issues. Many affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church; some are embroiled in court battles to keep their property.
For many of those who left, action by the 2006 General Assembly to provide a conscience exception to the PCUSA constitution's fidelity-in-marriage/chastity-in-singleness ordination standard had been the last straw. The exception was designed to make it possible for noncelibate homosexuals to be ordained at the regional level. (The assembly had ruled the ordination standard "non-essential" to core doctrine and thus open to conscientious exceptions.)
Some regional presbyteries served notice they would enforce the constitution's standards: Practicing gays need not apply. Individuals in two of the Presbyteries, Pittsburgh and Olympia, took the matter to church courts, contending the presbyteries had no right to do that. Upholding decisions in the lower courts, the PCUSA's highest court last month also ruled that the 2006 assembly's action was unconstitutional and that the chastity/fidelity requirement is "a mandatory standard that cannot be waived" or changed except by constitutional amendment to scrap the requirement.
Whether the ruling will slow the exodus of conservatives from the denomination remains to be seen.
Karachi police announced the arrest of three Islamist militants who have reportedly confessed to the unsolved murders of seven Pakistani Christians in September 2002. The suspects were captured Feb. 26 at a hideout in Karachi, where police said they also recovered a "substantial quantity" of weapons and explosives. A fourth suspect and alleged ringleader of the group remains at large.
The arrests reportedly came through a tip-off after the Feb. 15 arrest of 10 members of the same terrorist group, Tehrik-e-Islami Lashker-e-Mohammedi. Police officers told the Daily Times that this was "a new and lesser known" group "formed to target missionaries propagating their beliefs in Pakistan, and particularly in Karachi."
The arrests come five-and-a-half years after the execution-style shooting of seven Christians at the Karachi headquarters of one of Pakistan's oldest church-sponsored charities. The seven Christians were tied up, gagged, and then shot in the head at the Institute of Peace and Justice (IPJ) office in Karachi's Rimpa Plaza on the morning of Sept. 25, 2002 (see "Soft targets," Oct. 5, 2002).
-with reporting from Compass Direct