Conservative members of the Anglican Church, long a bastion of Britain's lily-white upper class, say they are fleeing to a new communion dominated by African bishops in reaction to the official church's refusal to take a firm stand against homosexuality.
According to The New York Times, Anglican conservatives who insist they represent a majority of the 77 million members of the Anglican Communion say they will defy historic lines of authority and create a new power bloc within the communion led by a council predominantly of African archbishops.
At a week-long meeting in Jerusalem, the conservatives said a new council of primates – or church leaders – will include the archbishops of the provinces of Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, West Africa and the Southern Cone of South America. Tanzanian Anglicans may participate if they get an endorsement from their House of Bishops.
The dissidents, who say they are not breaking away from the Anglican Communion or creating a schism, charge the official communion is following a “false gospel” that permits them to interpret Scripture as they would have it seen.
Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, accompanied by the archbishops of Uganda, Rwanda and Sydney, Australia – as well as an American, the Rt. Rev. David C. Anderson Sr., who he consecrated as a bishop in the Church of Nigeria – say, “It’s quite clear we have been in turmoil,” adding that, “with this decision we have a fresh beginning.”
The Times reports that the statement released by the delegates says it is time to create a new ecclesiastical province in the United States and Canada to absorb the parishes that have been outraged by the American church’s consecration of an openly gay bishop in 2003 and the Canadian church’s blessing of same-sex unions.
Bishop Anderson tells reporters a new province would unite believers in North America who have abandoned the Episcopal Church because, in recent decades, they disagreed with the ordination of female priests and bishops, its interpretation of Scripture, and its acceptance of homosexuality.
“It brings them hope now, finally, of regathering the portion of the church that scattered when heterodoxy just became untenable and many were driven out – not all at once, but over the years in different stages,” Bishop Anderson says.
The authority of the archbishop of Canterbury is also being challenged, The Times reports, adding that the current archbishop, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, has disappointed conservatives by not disciplining the liberal North Americans or engineering their expulsion.
The archbishop of Canterbury historically has not had the power to decree policy in the Anglican Communion but has determined which churches belong to it.
Asked for his reaction, Bishop Mark Sisk, the Episcopal bishop of New York, tells The Times, “I don’t think you can be an Anglican and say the archbishop of Canterbury’s recognition is not critical. That becomes an innovation that moves beyond Anglicanism.”
Jim Naughton, canon for communications of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., tells The Times, “What the leaders of the communion may decide to do is just slowly erode the credibility of this thing, because even though they’ve presented it to the world as this large body of Anglicans, when push comes to shove, it remains five angry provinces and their allies in the West.”
Most of the conservatives at the meeting also tell The Times they will boycott the Lambeth Conference, a gathering of Anglican bishops from around the world that takes place once every 10 years in Britain. The conference begins in mid-July.
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