The “S” Word

As the days go by, the prospect of schism in the worldwide Anglican Church appears increasingly probable. The line is the sand is the US Episcopal Church’s August decision to consecrate an openly gay bishop.

An audience of angry, anti-gay conservative members gathered today in Dallas, TX, where they formally denounced the denomination’s growing acceptance of gay equality and asked Anglican bishops around the globe to help reorganize the American branch of the institution. The Associated Press reports (in a story published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) that if the right-wing Episcopalians don’t get their way, their fervor could lead to the creation of a new conservative denomination separate from the existing Episcopal Church.

This is a defining moment in Christian history,” Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan said at a news conference after the meeting. There’s a “life-threatening” disorder in the Episcopal Church and world Anglicanism, he said.

The issue of whether there’s a binding scriptural ban on gay sex has long been disputed by conservatives and liberals, but two votes this summer at the Episcopal national convention brought the issue to a boiling point.

One confirmed the election of a gay cleric with a longtime partner as bishop of New Hampshire, while the other acknowledged that some bishops are allowing blessings of same-sex unions. The conservatives’ declaration repudiated those actions, saying they broke “fellowship with the larger body of Christ.”

“Life-threatening disorder”? Sounds a lot like the rhetoric of fundamentalist Christians who say allowing marriage equality under civil law for gays and lesbians will “destroy” the US and the traditional family.

Pity the poor Rev. Frank Griswold, who stands in the middle of the conflict. Last week, the Presiding Bishop of US Episcopalians begged conservatives to “move beyond condemnation and reaction”. But the tension is so high, the split so deep, that four clergypersons representing Bishop Griswold were refused admittance to the Dallas gathering.

The UK’s Independent reports happenings across the pond aren’t any better.

Outraged at their church’s selection of a gay bishop, conservatives in the US Episcopal Church are formally demanding the reversal of the decision, setting the stage for a confrontation in London next week that could lead to a split in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The appeal was due to be issued yesterday [Thursday] by the American Anglican Council, after a three-day meeting in Dallas during which the AAC, representing the traditionalist Episcopalian wing, assailed the step as “apostasy” and “heresy” against the teachings of the church.

Next week, 38 leaders of the international Anglican community are to meet at a “crisis summit” in London to discuss what the Independent calls “open schism.”

[T]he dispute has brought liberals and traditionalists among 2.4 million US Episcopalians to the brink of rupture, with the conservatives summoning lawyers to advise on the division of church property and the rights of clergymen in the event of a formal schism.

Its ramifications are now stretching beyond North America, threatening the unity of the entire Anglican Communion, and casting a cloud over its relationship with the Vatican.

Days ago, the Pope told Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, that the elevation of the openly gay Rev. V. Gene Robinson to the post of Bishop of New Hampshire would disrupt interdenominational Christian unity.

Meanwhile, the US United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA), which continue to struggle with deep divisions between liberals and conservatives over the issue of gay equality — and the real meaning of Jesus’ edict to “love our neighbors” — are watching and, doubtless, taking notes.

I’ll say it again: Sometimes schism is the best solution.

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