Anglicans postpone their schism
- Sent: Tuesday, March 01, 2005 9:44 AM
Subject: Anglicans postpone their schism
Anglicans postpone their schism
The Age, March 1, 2005
The Anglican rift over gays will not be healed while good people fail to
act, writes Muriel Porter.
In a classic Anglican manoeuvre, the primates of the international Anglican
Church have bought some time in the face of the threat of a major split
over the issue of homosexuality.
At the conclusion of a crisis meeting held in Northern Ireland last week,
the leaders asked the American and Canadian Anglican churches to withdraw
from full participation in world Anglicanism for the next three years. They
have agreed. The intention is that there will be further discussion on the
issues during the breathing space.
But make no mistake, last week's compromise has only postponed the
inevitable. Unless the Americans and Canadians decide to abandon the cause
of gay clergy and same-sex marriages by 2008 - and please God they won't -
the threatened split will still happen.
The traditionalists, championed from the sidelines by Sydney's Anglican
Archbishop, Peter Jensen, have had a major victory. Dr Jensen has issued a
statement "cautiously welcoming" the temporary dismissal of the two North
American churches, describing it as "disciplinary action" for
"transgressing scriptural teaching".
Some media reports have suggested that the leading traditionalist primate
at the Northern Ireland meeting, Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, went
even further, holding a celebratory dinner as the primates' statement was
All this dramatic posturing has come about mainly because, in 2003, one
American diocese chose a gay priest, in an open long-term same-sex
partnership, as its bishop. It was no maverick act; New Hampshire's
decision to consecrate Gene Robinson was ratified by the whole Episcopal
Church of the US through complex and demanding constitutional processes. At
the same time, a Canadian diocese, after decades of careful consideration,
decided it should offer church blessings for same-sex partnerships.
The real tragedy is the failure of more reasonable and inclusive church
Both these churches were legally and constitutionally entitled to make
their decisions. The worldwide Anglican Communion is not an international
church like the Catholic Church. Rather, it comprises 38 separate,
autonomous churches loosely linked by their historic relationship to the
mother Church of England. Their strongest connection is that they are all
in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is a "first among
equals", not a pope.
But the issue of homosexuality has become the rallying point for
conservatives in a determined campaign to impose their views on the rest of
the church. Traditionalist Anglican churches in Africa, Asia and South
America, financed by shadowy right-wing American religious groups and
supported by conservative dioceses such as Sydney, have made homosexuality
the "line in the sand". Over a period of a decade and more, they have
worked solidly and deliberately towards last week's decision.
Under the influence of this coalition, known as the "Global South", a
hardline anti-gay stance was forced at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the
10-yearly meeting of the world's Anglican bishops. In one of the most
bitter debates in its history, the conference resolved that homosexual
practice was "incompatible with Scripture", and condemned both same-sex
blessing services and the ordination of gay people in same-sex
partnerships. The Lambeth Conference, though influential, has no
jurisdiction over the independent churches of the Anglican Communion. It
can only advise.
The real tragedy in the humiliating dismissal of the North American
churches is not the behaviour of the Global South bullies. It is the
failure of more reasonable and inclusive church leaders, of whom there are
significant numbers in the Western church at least, to stand up to them, to
refuse to give way so readily in the name of preserving church unity.
The fragile unity left to the Anglican Communion is no unity at all. It is
an unworthy appeasement, bought at the price of the many gay people who are
faithful, worshipping Anglicans. Numbers of them are priests, and some are
even bishops; Gene Robinson is certainly not alone, though he is the only
gay bishop to have declared he is not celibate.
While some traditionalists, such as the primate of Nigeria, may be
celebrating, these vulnerable people are in deep dismay. Like all gays,
they are in constant danger of being marginalised and even attacked for
their sexual preferences. In the Anglican Church, once tolerant and
generous, they now fear personal public rejection. But few will hear their
pain, because they dare not speak.
So moderate church leaders should speak out on their behalf. They should
vehemently reject the Global South's claim that adherence to the authority
of the Bible is centred in one particular interpretation of its (limited)
references to homosexuality. Since when has sexual practice been the
supreme test of Christian orthodoxy?
It is a pity they have not instead publicly named the conservatives' power
trip as a form of abuse, and their bullying as a failure of Christian
compassion and a form of judgementalism, against which Jesus specifically
preached. This is the scriptural teaching to which they should require
As the saying goes, evil things happen only when good people do nothing.
Dr Muriel Porter, an Anglican laywoman, writes regularly for The Age on