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Navasota, Texas--“Although we are unable to accept the proposed Pastoral Scheme, we declare our passionate desire to remain in full constituent membership in both the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church.”
That statement, part of a resolution released by a private meeting of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church on March 20, may be the “shot heard ’round the world” about the church’s pro-gay stances.
It could result in a lessening of the U.S. church’s role in the Anglican Communion, the worldwide body of national churches that grew out of King Henry VIII’s Church of England, or in a complete separation.
The message came in reaction to a February meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania that called on the Episcopal church to back away from some of their pro-gay stances in order to remain in the Anglican Communion.
The leaders of the Episcopal church released three resolutions after their spring meeting, held March 16-20. The first recommended that the Executive Committee, the main policy-making body that has authority between the denomination’s triennial conventions, reject the world church’s call for a parallel institution inside of the main Episcopal church to provide “pastoral oversight” for dissident congregations that oppose its pro-gay stances.
The bishops said that a “pastoral scheme” called for by the Tanzania meeting “would be injurious to the Episcopal church.”
The second resolyution was a message communicating this to the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Anglican Communion.
“We believe that there is an urgent need for us to meet face to face with the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the Primates’ Standing Committee, and we hereby request and urge that such a meeting be negotiated by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury at the earliest possible opportunity,” it read in part.
Primates are the heads of the individual national churches.
The third was a letter explaining the situation to members of the Episcopal church. It noted the efforts made by the church to adhere to requests made in the Windsor Report, the communion’s response to the 2003 consecration of the denomination’s first openly gay bishop, Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
“Still, our efforts were not accepted by the primates in the Dar es Salaam communiqué,” the bishops said.
Robinson’ ascension brought to a head the divide between the main body of the Episcopal church, which is a progressive denomination, and conservatives in their ranks who hold to “scriptural orthodoxy.” Some congregations, clergy and lay members have formed dissident organizations like the American Anglican Council, and sought pastoral oversight from bishops in other Anglican Communion churches, despite local governance being a main tenet of the communion.
“Other Anglican bishops, indeed including some primates, have violated our provincial boundaries and caused great suffering and contributed immeasurably to our difficulties in solving our problems and in attempting to communicate for ourselves with our Anglican brothers and sisters,” the letter states. “We have been repeatedly assured that boundary violations are inappropriate under the most ancient authorities and should cease . . . None of these assurances has been heeded. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué affirms the principle that boundary violations are impermissible, but then sets conditions for ending those violations, conditions that are simply impossible for us to meet without calling a special meeting of our General Convention.”
The primary opposition to the Episcopal policies comes from what is termed the “global south,” including Africa, parts of Central and South America, and Asia. These areas often oppose the full inclusion of women and many have strict anti-gay laws.
“We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences,” the U.S. bishops wrote. “The Dar es Salaam communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject.”
That sentence appears to be a reference to a draconian anti-gay law currently before the Nigerian legislature that would bar gays and lesbians from even meeting. Gay sex is already illegal there.
Nigeria’s Anglican primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola, is one of the main forces behind attempts to introduce foreign bishops into the United States to oversee rogue congregations and dioceses.
Rev. Richard Kirker, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said, “In the acrimonious power struggle that has dogged the Anglican Communion since 2003, the lives and spiritual well-being of lesbian and gay Anglicans have been reduced to a bargaining chip in an attempt to buy unity. These resolutions say we are not to be gambled away.”
Kirker, whose group has its headquarters in England, continued, “At last some sanity is breaking into the debate. There is an obvious realization that the consequences of this pandering to the Puritans means an increasing hostility lesbian and gay people so clearly demonstrated by the Archbishop of Nigeria, who is fiercely promoting anti-gay legislation in his country contrary to Scripture and all the decisions of Anglicanism over the last 30 years.”
He said the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rev. Rowan Williams, was sacrificing LGBT people in favor of unity of thought.
“The Archbishop of Canterbury has much to answer for. His decision to sell us down the river in the short term to buy time has backfired,” he said. “The Americans are having none of it and we hope he will now come to see his strategy has failed.”
“If the Americans are expelled from the Anglican Communion, this will encourage those already bent on our destruction to persecute lesbian and gay people even more,” he concluded.