The rift within the worldwide Anglican church over homosexuality is focusing attention on this month’s meeting, from Sept. 20-25, of the Episcopal Church’s bishops, since the national archbishops, or primates, of the worldwide Anglican Communion gave the bishops until Sept. 30 to agree to their demands concerning sexuality.
The controversy is also causing turmoil in the planning for the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the once-per-decade gathering of all the world’s Anglican bishops.
The primates want the U.S. church to agree not to authorize a blessing rite for same-sex couples and not elect another bishop in a same-sex relationship “unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the communion.”
The bishops will be meeting in New Orleans and will be joined for two days by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The sessions are not open to the public, but news conferences are scheduled.
In their communique after a meeting in Tanzania last February, the primates said that “if the reassurances requested of the house of bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the church in the life of the communion.”
However, in mid-June, the American church’s Executive Council, meeting in Parsippany, N.J., “questioned the authority of the primates to impose deadlines and demands upon any of the churches of the Anglican Communion.”
Various groups are talking of boycotting the July 16-Aug. 4 Lambeth Conference, since Archbishop Williams has invited American gay bishop Gene Robinson as a “guest” (rather than a full participant) and declined to invite American conservative Martyn Minns, consecrated a bishop by African bishops outside the U.S. Episcopal Church.
Although Archbishop Wil-liams’ letter told the invitees that a response by July 31 “would be a great help,” the five bishops of the conservative diocese of Sydney, Australia, said they could not reply to the Lambeth invitation until they had seen the U.S. bishops’ response to the primates’ communique.
A meeting of conservative leaders called the Global South Steering Committee in mid-July warned that they would not participate in Lambeth without “discipline” and “reconciliation” in the Communion. However, a prominent Church of England cleric, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, warned conservative leaders that they would effectively expel themselves from the communion if they stayed away.
In late July, a breakaway group of U.S. dioceses and parishes, the Anglican Communion Network, heard its leader, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, state that the Episcopal Church is “lost and something will have to replace it.” He also said the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference are lost as instruments of unity in the Communion.
These statements led prominent conservative Rev. Ephraim Radner on July 31 to announce he was resigning from the network, which he had helped found, saying that Bishop Duncan’s statements “so contradict my sense of calling within this part of Christ’s Body … that I have no choice but to disassociate myself from this group.” Bishop Duncan, he said, has “decided to start a new church. He may call it ‘Anglican’ if he wishes, though I do not recognize the name in these kinds of actions that break communion rather than build it up.”