Analysis: Will sex rip apart the Church (as the Archbishop said to his flock)?

 — Sept. 18, 200218 sept. 2002

Disputes over faith and sexuality between conservative African bishops and liberals in North America threaten Anglican unity, warns Carey

To virtually all the 70 million Anglicans spread in an arc from London to Kuala Lumpur, the name Capilano College has no significance. But, if the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury is to be believed, the college on the Pacific shores of Canada could soon be a name as infamous for religious schism as the Diet of Worms, the Edict of Nantes or the Council of Trent.

Earlier this month, the bishop and about 350 delegates from the Diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver crowded into the conference hall of Capilano College for their annual synod. As well as the usual votes on clergy stipends and the upkeep of church halls, there was a call for the diocese to authorise blessings of couples in same-sex relationships. When the motion was passed by 62.5 per cent and accepted by the Bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, nine delegates from the 80 parishes walked out and inquiries for bookings came flooding in.

Such a parochial dispute might have passed largely unnoticed in the wider world. But the spiritual leader of the Anglican global family, the Archbishop of Canterbury, told the Anglican Consultative Council this week that doctrinal divisions were threatening to tear apart the Church.

Read the rest of this article in The Independent

Dr George Carey, who steps down in the autumn to be replaced by Dr Rowan Williams, said the divergences over homosexuality, and other issues ranging from female bishops to who had the right to hand out the communion wine, had reached “crisis proportions.”

The archbishop said: “My concern is that our Communion is being steadily undermined by dioceses and individual bishops taking unilateral action, usually in matters to do with sexuality, and as a result steadily driving us towards serious fragmentation and the real possibility of two or, more likely, many more distinct Anglican bodies emerging.”

In short, he fears further Capilano College scenarios as the liberal and traditional wings of Anglicanismchoose to go their own ways. The Church of England, once the spiritual hub of the political might of the British Empire, has suddenly found itself struggling to hold together warring factions across its former dominions.

Anglicanism, which has spread throughout the globe since the reign of Henry VIII, is divided into 38 “provinces” across 164 countries. In Britain, the Church is fighting a long battle against decline in its 24 million membership, while in Africa it is thriving. In Nigeria and Uganda, the number of Anglican churchgoers has reached more than 25.5 million – more than the number of Anglicans in Europe.

But it is in North America that the liberal wing of Anglicanism is setting out a reforming agenda for the faith.

The decision by Bishop Ingham and his diocese threatens to break apart the consensus on homosexuality reached by Anglicanism’s highest body, the Lambeth Conference, in 1998. A resolution passed four years ago ruled that same-sex relationships were not equal to those between heterosexuals and that it could not “advise the legitimising or blessing of same-sex unions.” But it also recognised that the Church had many homosexual followers and said they were valued as true Anglicans “regardless of sexual orientation.”

Further south, in the American state of Pennsylvania, a liberal bishop defrocked one of his priests who had accused him of “heretical” teaching for supporting the ordination of women and gay marriages. On the other hand, the conservatives, who are dominant in Africa, are still fighting a rearguard action against what they see as Eurocentric impositions on true Anglicanism.

In most African archdioceses, the advent of blessings for same-sex relationships are, as a liberal clergyman put it, “about as likely as a Saharan snowstorm.” To make their point, conservative bishops in Africa have started ordaining priests by proxy in the liberal heartlands of the United Statesto lead the fight back against the reformers.

The result is at least two strains of Anglicanism bent on making their faith more relevant to their respective populations and a hierarchy in Lambeth Palace battling to keep the two halves together.

Observers of Anglican politics spot the influence of a coalition of conservative bishops from Asia and Africa in the broadside by Dr Carey. His speech may also be a warning shot to his successor, who is a liberal on homosexuality and who has already made clear his willingness to speak out on political issues by his comments on war in Iraq and Aids drugs.

Paul Handley, the editor of the Church Times, the main Anglican newspaper, believes the factions will eventually have to compromise under the aegis of their new spiritual leader.

“There is a strong conservative element who say that if the Church is going to go worldwide then it must stop being led by Western liberal doctrines,” he said. “There is a possibility that there will be schism. But Rowan Williams is a great unifier and Anglicanism has always been built on consensus – a consensus which all sides will be loath to lose.”

In Vancouver, Bishop Ingham, who was criticised by Dr Carey for taking decisions “without regard” to higher synods, hit back yesterday, accusing the archbishop of deepening the divisions.

“His remarks fail to honour the careful way both the synod and I have made decisions about the blessing of same-sex unions,” he said. “I regret he will confirm and deepen the impression that he has not heard the cry of his own children in the church. Until all voices are heard, the unity we all seek will remain elusive.”

Such “fanning of the flames of argument,” as Dr Carey described it, is likely to add further impetus to the debates at the heart of the Church of England, ranging from the ordination of women as bishops to its long-term finances.

But at the heart of the dispute are the beginnings of a more fundamental discussion: should the Church of England finally cast adrift its brethren overseas? The Rev Cassandra Howes, who chairs the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said: “The question has to be whether schism is a threat or an opportunity. Throughout the history of the Church, there have been times when there have been greater opportunities for different sections of people to go their separate ways. Maybe this is one of them.”

Flashpoints in the battle for the soul of a church

Vancouver, Canada The Diocese of New Westminster voted this month to allow its clergy to carry out religious blessings of homosexual couples. The decision, carried by 215 votes to 129, is the first time that an entire diocese, rather than individual priests, has sanctioned a formal recognition of same-sex relationships. The congregation of each individual church will be allowed to vote on the issue before any blessings go ahead.

Sydney, Australia A dispute has arisen over plans by the Archbishop of Sydney to allow unordained laymen and women to preside over communion. Dr Peter Jensen says the Bible makes no prescription about who should give the sacrament. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Primate of Australia have said such a move would create a schism.

Rosemont, Pennsylvania A conservative priest, David Moyer, was this month formally defrocked by his bishop, Charles Bennison, for “abandoning the communion of the Church.” The men had been locked in a five-year dispute during which the priest attacked his superior for being too liberal and barred him from visiting his church. Father Moyer has been readmitted to the Church by Dr Bernard Malango, the Archbishop of Central Africa.

Singapore Two American priests, Charles Murphy and John Rodgers, were ordained as bishops two years ago to “uphold basic Christian teaching” on sexuality in defiance of liberal US Anglicans. The ordinations were ordered by the Archbishop of South-east Asia, Moses Tay, and the Archbishop of Rwanda, Emmanuel Kollini. Lambeth Palace said it did not recognise Mr Murphy and Mr Rodgers as genuine bishops.

London Senior Church of England clerics are under pressure to follow the example of counterparts in New Zealand and America by allowing the ordination of women bishops.

Posted: Sept. 18, 2002 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: Anglican Communion, Anglican Consultative Council, Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, human sexuality, same-sex blessing
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Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : Anglican Communion, Anglican Consultative Council, Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, human sexuality, same-sex blessing

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