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Anglicans postpone their schism

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  • John.Schott@phila.gov
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2005
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      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
      being finalised.

      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
      leaders.

      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
      Anglican allegiance.

      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
      religion.
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