Having failed to have their way on other controversial issues, conservatives and evangelicals have rallied around the homosexual issue and are determined to win the ongoing battle for the “soul of Anglicanism,” says journalist and author Stephen Bates.”There’s a certain desperation on the part of conservatives that if they lose this issue they’ve lost everything,” the religious affairs correspondent for the Guardian newspaper told a symposium entitled Church at War: Anglicans, Homosexuality and Social Justice.”And if they get their way,” he cautioned, ” the church you know and love will not be the same.”Mr. Bates, author of A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality, was a featured speaker at the symposium sponsored by Toronto’s St. Philip the Apostle church in partnership with St. James Cathedral. Hosted by the Church of the Redeemer it drew about 120 gay and lesbians and their supporters.Retired Toronto archbishop Terence Finlay and Canon Douglas Graydon, co-ordinator of chaplaincy services for the diocese of Toronto and priest-in-charge at St. Philip, also addressed the symposium.Mr. Bates, a Roman Catholic, who said he spoke as an “outsider,” described the bitter debate within Anglicanism on the role of homosexuals in the church as labyrinthine and increasingly bizarre with Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, facing growing threats of schism and desperate to keep the worldwide Anglican Communion intact, sitting on the fence in the middle.The Toronto symposium ended shortly before the result of the election of a new bishop for the Episcopal diocese of California was announced. Three of the seven candidates for bishop were gay or lesbian priests in long-term relationships and there were fears the election of a gay or lesbian as bishop would exacerbate a crisis in the church.The election of a heterosexual, married priest prevented a repeat of events three years ago when the election of an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire sparked worldwide cries of outrage, condemnation and calls for sanctions against the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA).In an interview, Mr. Bates said the bitter internecine feud now raging in the Anglican Communion is as much about power and authority in the church as it is about what the Bible says about homosexuality. And much of it is fueled by “ambiguous clerics of evangelical” background, especially in Africa.While homosexuality is a deep concern to evangelical conservatives on a biblical basis it is also what “some will acknowledge when you talk to them, the representing issue,” he said “They’ve identified it over the last 15 or 20 years as the issue on which they can unite their constituency.”Asked if he believed the Anglican Communion would split, Mr. Bates said there are “certain tendencies” in the debate which make him pessimistic about the communion’s future. There is the cultural and theological divergence and the fact that the two factions are not even talking to each other – all of which make a civil war possible.The election and endorsement of another gay bishop in ECUSA could be the tipping point. It would indicate, Mr. Bates said, that the ECUSA “was heading for the Anglican Communion’s exit door and saying ‘we want to go our own way.'”In September, the ECUSA diocese of Newark, known for its strong liberal tendencies, will elect a new bishop. The candidates have yet to be announced but some church observers are already speculating one of the candidates could be openly gay or lesbian.
Michael McAteer is a former Toronto Star religion editor.