Conservative Anglicans have spurned their denomination's Lambeth Conference and are holding the Global Anglican Future Conference this week, to protest homosexual ordinations and same-sex blessings. The conservatives (1,200 leaders from 29 countries) claim that they're not seeking schism. But is avoiding schism possible?
Peter Jensen, chairman of GAFCon's organizing committee and Archbishop of Sydney, told Christianity Today, "I don't hear much interest in breaking up the Communion or splitting it or dividing it further than it is divided." In a press conference, Jensen corrected media assumption that conservatives want to split: "What GAFCON is doing is saying that given that new state of affairs, how now can we live together and how can we sustain the highest level of communion and work well together." As Archbishop Peter Akinola puts it, "We have no other place to go, nor is it our intention to start another church."
Instead, there has been talk of forming a new organization within the Anglican Communion for those opposed to homosexual practices. But demographic and ideological divides will make that difficult.
According to a Pew Forum analysis, the geography of Anglicanism has shifted south. Today 55% of Anglicans live in sub-Saharan Africa, and they're far more theologically conservative than their northern counterparts. The minority (33%) that lives in England is also barely committed -- only 1 million (4% of the Anglican population) actually attend church.
This demographic divide may make unity more difficult. According to Pew, "Now that the Anglican Communion is majority African, and the vast majority of African Anglicans are theologically conservative, there is a real question as to whether the historical ties of the Anglican Communion are strong enough to counter the forces that seem to be pushing the church toward schism."
The ideological divides will be hard to patch, too. Archbishop Greg Venables, GAFCon attendee, says it comes down to two different types of Christianity - original and postmodern: "So in terms of what we believe, you've already got two - I won't say two churches - but there is definitely a split." On Crunchy Con, guest blogger Erin Manning adds, "I don't see any possibility of common ground or compromise between these two disparate notions of what it means to be a follower of Christ, so I don't see how schism can be averted in the long run."