An international commission to head off schism in the global body
representing 77 million Anglicans has taken unprecedented steps in
what it calls "a pilgrimage towards healing and reconciliation."
The commission, in a report released Monday, strongly rebuked the
Episcopal Church, the US arm of Anglicanism, for consecrating a gay
bishop, and called for an apology and commitment to refrain from any
such future action. It also proposed a new covenant that would have
all Anglican churches commit to a shared understanding of basic
teachings and the ties that bind them together.
The report also called for apologies from conservative bishops in
Africa and elsewhere who have begun forming relationships across
geographic boundaries with Episcopalians alienated from the actions
of their US church leadership.
But it warned that "if realistic and visionary ways cannot be
agreed ... to reach consensus on structures for encouraging greater
understanding and communion ... it is doubtful if the Anglican
Communion can continue in its present form."
Presbyterians and Methodists are also divided over issues of
homosexuality and biblical authority, but neither has officially
departed from traditional teaching as have Episcopalians.
Unlike the hierarchical Roman Catholic church, Anglicanism has 38
self-governing provinces that are part of what is called the
Anglican Communion because of their historical relationship with the
Archbishop of Canterbury. His only authority, however, is that of
As a result, a lengthy process lies ahead, as Anglican bishops,
clergy, and lay people meet in regional and global groups to discuss
the report and how to respond. It's unlikely the covenant would be
formalized before the 2008 Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade
gathering of all bishops. Some say it offers a typically Anglican
way - persuasive not juridical - to permit churches to stay in or
But what will be crucial is what happens between now and then.
The archbishop formed the commission a year ago after outrage
spread in the Communion when the American church consecrated the
Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire and permitted
dioceses to bless same-sex unions. A diocese of the Anglican Church
of Canada authorized a same-sex rite.
Conservative bishops in Africa, Asia, and Latin America said they
felt "betrayed" as the steps went against resolutions passed
overwhelmingly by the bishops at their 1998 Lambeth Conference,
which declared gay practice "incompatible with Scripture." Some 17
of the 38 church provinces in the global Anglican Communion have
declared their relationships with the US church "impaired."
Conservatives within the Episcopal Church have formed a Network
of Anglican Dioceses and Parishes as a refuge for those who no
longer accept the leadership of bishops that supported the actions.
Ten of the church's 110 diocese have joined the network, and members
say others have been waiting for the report before acting. …