Wednesday, September 26, 2007

US bishops offer lifeline in effort to keep world Anglican church intact

From Stephen Bates at the Guardian (U.K.):

A slender lifeline was offered to Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his attempt to keep the worldwide Anglican communion intact, when Episcopal bishops pledged at a meeting in New Orleans yesterday to maintain a moratorium on the consecration of gay bishops.

While the statement may satisfy parts of the Anglican communion, and just be enough for the archbishop to sell to other church provinces, it was dismissed by conservative evangelicals as inadequate. . .

. . .The eight point plan, endorsed almost unanimously, promised no consent for any more gay bishops, no public blessings, and the adoption of a plan for Episcopal visitors to conservative parishes which cannot accept their liberal bishops. [Bates does not mention here that the moratorium is not permanent.]

The crisis which has convulsed world Anglicanism over the last four years and has led to demands, particularly from African church leaders, that the 2.2 million-strong US church should be excluded from the rest of the communion, was sparked by the Episcopalians' decision to endorse the election of the church's first openly gay bishop, the Rt Rev Gene Robinson, in New Hampshire in 2003.

The statement also condemned incursions into US dioceses by African archbishops claiming to provide help to dissident parishes, and said it wished to explore with Dr Williams the possibility of Bishop Robinson being invited to next year's conference of all the world's Anglican bishops. It added: "We call for unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety and dignity of gay and lesbian persons." The battle, in which conservative Episcopalians anxious to wrest control over their church away from its traditionally-liberal leadership have made common cause with developing world leaders, has become both vicious and abusive.

Yesterday, the bishops haggled over their response, building on and amending a long portfolio resolution they hope will satisfy at least moderate archbishops across the rest of the church. Bishop J Jon Bruno, of Los Angeles, told journalists: "I do not believe we'll ever turn back the clock. Are we going to withdraw support for gays and lesbians in the church? No. They are fully enfranchised members of our body."

A few conservative bishops who withdrew from the meeting early are likely to seek membership of an Anglican province outside the US, probably the tiny province of the Southern Cone, covering most of South America, which has only 20,000 members and an English presiding archbishop, Gregory Venables, who never rose above the status of curate in England.

One bishop, the Rt Rev Jeffrey Steenson of the Rio Grande diocese, centred on Albuquerque, has also announced he will leave, though to join the Roman Catholic church. One moderate conservative bishop, the Rt Rev John Howe of Central Florida, who intends to stay, told the meeting: "We are deeply, tragically, horribly stuck, not only the Episcopal church but the Anglican communion as a whole."

Read it all.

And to understand how journalist Stephen Bates is approaching this (and maybe to explain his omissions of fact and snide tone), from his post at Religious Intelligence:
This week’s meeting between Rowan Williams and the American bishops will be my swan-song as a religious affairs correspondent, after eight years covering the subject for The Guardian. I’d have been less keen to attend had the venue been Detroit, but where better to end it? It is time to move on for me professionally, and probably for Anglicans too and this marks a suitable place to stop. There is also no doubting, personally, that writing this story has been too corrosive of what faith I had left: indeed watching the way the gay row has played out in the Anglican Communion has cost me my belief in the essential benignity of too many Christians. For the good of my soul, I need to do something else.

I had no notion in 2000 that it would come to this: I had thought then that we were all pretty ecumenical these days. I was soon disabused of that. I had scarcely ever met a gay person, certainly not knowingly a gay Christian, and had not given homosexuality and the Church the most cursory thought, much less held an opinion on the matter. But watching and reporting the way gays were referred to, casually, smugly, hypocritically; the way men such as Jeffrey John (and indeed Rowan Williams when he was appointed archbishop) were treated and often lied about, offended my doubtless inadequate sense of justice and humanity.

Why would any gay person wish to be a Christian? These are people condemned for who they are, not what they do, despite all the sanctimonious bleating to the contrary, men and women despised for wanting the sort of intimacy that heterosexual people take for granted and that the Church is only too happy to bless. Instead, in 2007, the Church of England and other denominations jump up and down to secure exclusive rights to continue discriminating against a minority of people it does not like. What a spectacle the Church has made of itself! What hope of proselytising in a country which has accepted civil partnerships entirely without rancour or bigotry?. . .

While I disagree totally with his approach and conclusions, as articulated here, to Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, I regret that he has seen and heard things from other Christians that have worked against his faith.

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