Magazine article The Christian Century

Anglicans Endure despite Divisions

Magazine article The Christian Century

Anglicans Endure despite Divisions

Article excerpt

Once again, as in 1978 and 1988, the prophets of doom got it wrong in predicting that seemingly unbridgeable gaps in culture and theology would split the Anglican Communion. In 1978 the schismatic issue facing the world's Anglican bishops gathered for their once-a-decade Lambeth Conference was women priests. In 1988 the issue was women bishops. And this year, in the months leading up to Lambeth '98, the doomsayers said the communion could not hold together because of its radically differing views on homosexuality.

While the issue of homosexuality did dominate the three-week meeting that ended August 8 with a celebration of the Eucharist, it did not divide. The conference, with bishops from African and other Third World nations in the forefront, restated its traditional view that homosexual activity is incompatible with scripture, while emphasizing that all baptized people, including gays and lesbians, are full members of the church. Supporters of increased gay rights in the church, led by North American and British bishops, issued their own statement pledging to continue to press their cause.

Indeed, Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, the spiritual head of the 80-million-member Anglican Communion, told a final news conference he believes that "our communion is significantly stronger than when we began," even with the differences over homosexuality. Why? One element in the three-week meeting the news media and other outsiders do not see, he said, is the friendships formed in casual meetings, at meals or over coffee and in small Bible study groups. Bishops from different parts of the world and diverse cultures get to know one another and learn to see things through each other's eyes. "Bishops have met each other face to face, shared their stories of pain, of joy, of hope," Carey said. Or, as Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. province of the Anglican Communion, said, "I've been stretched by the profound differences in worldview and culture."

For many, it was symbolic that a key resolution was passed affirming that both advocates and opponents of women's ordination have a place within the church. The resolution emerged from a small, ad hoc group consisting both of women and traditionalist bishops, demonstrating that for the 739 officially registered bishops what united them was more important than their sharp disagreements.

Still, it was Lambeth's expression on the issue of homosexuality that will mark the 1998 meeting, and it is unlikely the subject will fade from the scene. Carey, asked if the Lambeth resolution on sexuality would have any effect in parishes and dioceses now welcoming homosexual relationships, answered, "If we are a communion and not just a collection of independent churches, then we will pay attention to the voices of the communion.'

Griswold, while not disputing Carey, took a wait-and-see attitude. "We'll go back and live with the Lambeth experience and see how it becomes part of our experience," said Griswold, who as bishop of Chicago ordained gays in committed relationships to the priesthood. But as presiding bishop he now ordains only other bishops, and the question of ordaining an openly gay bishop has yet to come up, he said. "I'll simply have to wait until it does. …

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