Oil and Water: On the Road to Schism

Schism may be the best course for pro-GLBT Anglicans and Episcopalians. I wonder: Did the newly elected Episcopalian Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, expect the fuss over his consecration to become so ugly and relentless? I suspect not. Surely he was aware that there would be controversy; anyone watching the situation unfold after the openly gay cleric’s nomination knew this would be the case. But I am sure few on the liberal side imagined that the August decision by the US Episcopalian General Conference would start a landslide that could obliterate the unity of the centuries-old Anglican Communion. It appears that such obliteration is likely.

For weeks, AF&O has presented stories telling of deep disagreement and threats of schism from within the Anglican Church, a global community of 70 million members in more than 160 countries. (Its US wing is the Episcopal Church, which has 2.5 million members.) Well, today there is more to report — and there will be much more to come.

On Saturday, the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida voted to stop its convention in order to avoid a conservative-backed mass exodus from the national church over the Robinson election.

“In light of the rapidly unfolding events that surround us, I ask that we break and reconvene,” Bishop John B. Lipscomb told 500 delegates attending the diocesan gathering in Punta Gorda, FL.

The diocese hopes to reconvene and finish its conference in six to eight weeks. At issue is money: The diocese is scheduled to give $428,000 this year to the national church, but some anti-GLBT delegates balked at that because of their disagreement with the gay bishop’s election.

Speaking of filthy lucre, the Guardian reports that an anti-gay American businessperson is bankrolling the conservative effort.

Howard F. Ahmanson Jr does not like publicity. The fiftysomething multimillionaire, who lives in Newport Beach, California, is something of a recluse.
Calls to Ahmanson’s multitude of companies and foundations requesting an interview go unreturned. Organisations which enjoy his largesse decline to talk about their benefactor.

What is known is that in the 1990s Ahmanson, whose family made a fortune in banking, subsidised a number of controversial right-wing causes. These include a magazine called the Chalcedon Report , which carried an article calling for gays to be stoned; a think-tank called the Claremont Institute which promoted a video in which Charlton Heston praises ‘the God-fearing Caucasian middle class’; and a scientific body which rejects the theory of evolution.

Now Ahmanson has a new crusade, whose repercussions will be felt far beyond the United States. He is using his cash to stir up the most divisive row facing the Anglican Church, one that threatens to rip it apart.

Be sure to read the full article; it will blow your mind.

The focus of the controversy now turns to London, where the denomination is based. On Wednesday, an emergency summit of 38 Anglican leaders takes place at Lambeth Palace. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, who is the spiritual leader of the denomination and was once considered a pro-gay liberal, is expected to jab knives into the backs of his onetime allies and step fully into the anti-gay camp, reports the UK’s Observer.

Williams, spiritual head of the 70 million-strong global Anglican community, will dismay modernisers who had hoped he would encourage a more liberal agenda than his predecessor, George Carey.

“People think Rowan is a liberal, but he’s much more complicated. He proved he would take action to preserve the unity of the Anglican Church over the Jeffrey John affair and he will do so again this week,” said one senior cleric.

British gay celibate Canon Jeffrey John was chosen to be an Anglican bishop this spring -- in July, he was forced to resign his post because of anti-gay sentiment within the denomination. Canon John, who is homosexual but celibate, was appointed Bishop of Reading earlier this year. The move prompted a fierce backlash from the orthodox wing of the Church and, following meetings with Williams, John resigned.

Liberals said the conservatives used John’s appointment to attack Williams and send a warning shot that they were not prepared to give in to modernisers. “Rowan Williams was the target and Jeffrey John was the victim,” said Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark Cathedral and a staunch supporter of John.

Yet it appears that anti-gay conservative church leaders may be out of step with many, perhaps most, of the denomination’s rank-and-file membership. A new poll by the UK’s Telegraph shows that more than half of all Church of England worshippers surveyed believe that gays should be allowed to join the clergy and more than two-thirds favor the ordination of celibate gays. More from 365Gay.com:

[The poll] found that 52 percent of those questioned supported the idea that active homosexuals should be ordained. An even greater number – 69 per cent – supported the admission of non-practicing gays into the clergy.

However, the poll also pointed out the deep divisions within the faith over the issue. A quarter of churchgoers said they would not attend services or would leave the Church altogether if gays were ordained.

Read more about the survey’s findings at the Telegraph site. (You’ll have to register, but it’s fast and free.)

New York Newsday reports that closeted gay priests in the denomination are feeling the heat, as well they should. It is possible, they believe, that they could be found out and stripped of their orders.

The Rev. David Page is a gay priest and says there are many like him ministering to Church of England parishes in London.

But at a time when bitter divisions over homosexuality threaten to split the worldwide Anglican Communion, he’s one of the rare gay clerics who feel confident enough to speak up.

“Many don’t want to compromise the development of their ministry by declaring themselves gay and with partners,” said Page, vicar of St. Barnabas, Clapham Common in south London. To win promotion or ever become a bishop they realize “having to be quiet is the price I have to pay.”

Members of UK GLBT direct-action group OutRage! protest outside Westminster Abbey on Oct. 9.Not all gays are taking the Anglican situation quietly. GLBT human-rights group OutRage! picketed the Oct. 9 consecration of bishops ceremony at Westminster Abbey, which, save for the church’s gay debate, would have included Canon Jeffrey John. According to group spokesperson Brett Lock, “We [could] not allow the ceremony to go ahead as if nothing has happened. The Church of England has demonstrated that homophobia is alive and well and that lesbian and gay people are not welcome as equals in its ranks.”

This comes from the group’s press release on the protest:

OutRage! believes that Archbishop Rowan Williama, in spite of [his] apparent liberal views, has shown a singular lack of leadership or backbone. “He is a coward,” says Lock. “He clearly does not have what it takes to stand up to the Church’s right-wingers, and they will exploit his weakness. It will also set the Church increasingly at odds with the lesbian and gay rights movement. There will be no peace for an Archbishop who refuses to take a stand or to show moral leadership. No “spin-doctoring” will make the issue disappear. It has to be resolved one way or another and the battle-lines have already been drawn.

OutRage! is correct in its view of the situation. Clearly, the Anglican divide is one that is too wide to be bridged.

There is a solution to bearing the hate and silence and fear engendered by the Anglicans’ division. If the Archbishop of Canterbury, as expected, lives down to the speculation, liberal Episcopalians and Anglicans should keep this in mind: Conservatives are not the only ones who can walk away. As I have said before, schism is sometimes the best solution. Leaving a denomination is a painful, difficult course to take. I know, having left the Roman Catholic Church over the same issue over a decade ago. In this case, however, schism seems to be the only way to stop the abuse, slander, and spiritual violence committed against you by your own faith community.

The same gaping divide exists in other mainline denominations, where anti-gay right-wingers are considering schism. One example is the Presbyterian Church (USA), where about 300 representatives of denominational-renewal groups gathered in Portland, OR, to devise strategies to reform – or leave – the church. The story comes from PCUSA News:

Many participants spoke of bolting the denomination as the preferable option, especially if a national task force on theology isn’t able to bridge the divide that separates liberals and evangelicals.

Despite decades of accumulated exasperation, and numerous threats of division, actual strategizing — to do mission and education within and across presbyteries, or to leave the PC(USA) — is something new for PC(USA) evangelicals.

The changed atmosphere at the 2003 Presbyterian Coalition Gathering might be attributed to a “pro-active shift” intended to galvanize the denomination’s right wing behind a plan of action.

There is still no consensus, but that really isn’t the point.

Ideas are being put on the table now so that, over the next four years, alternative strategies — several for staying, one for leaving, and one for creating a “denomi-network” that might be useful either way — can be tried on for size, and can vie for support.

The denomination’s Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church is scheduled to report to the General Assembly in 2006.

I suspect we may see a host of new churches — separate pro-gay and anti-gay denominations — come to life within the next decade. Should that tragic development come to pass, it may be for the best. There is no bridging where equality does not exist. No matter how hard one tries to mix them, oil and water will never combine. And you know what? Perhaps they shouldn’t.

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6 thoughts on “Oil and Water: On the Road to Schism

  1. As a straight Episcopalian who was in favor of the ordination of Bishop Robinson, I find the graphic above offensive.

  2. I thank you for your support and adherence to what I consider true Christian values.

    And I find the graphic offensive too. I posted it as a reflection of what could happen if anti-GLBT Anglicans and Episcopalians get their way and with the hope that those who are as upset by it as I am will talk with conservatives and plead for sanity, justice, and love as the debate rages. As horrid as I consider the graphic, I find the prospect of what could happen even more horrible.

  3. Thank you. As you can tell, I am proud of the true christain values shown by my church recently. I am equally distraught by the divisiveness sewn by the closed minded within our denomination. My own diocese appears safe with support of the convention’s decision. We will remain with the Episcopal Church. I only hope he Episcopal Church can remain with the Anglican Communion. My parent’s diocese in northern New York, is a different matter. The bisop there is bound and determined to leave the Episcopal Church. This is some heart-rending stuff for somebody like me who grew up proud of the thoughtfulness and tolerance of his denomination. I guess I thought we were all growing together, and didn’t realize that some around me had been stunted. Of course, the fact that the pot has been stirred by the “Institute on Religion and Democracy” which is funded by Olin, Scaife, and Bradley just adds insult to injury.

  4. Ah yes, IRD. Know them well. Very sad organization.

    You have every reason to be proud. I just pray that the Anglicans and conservative Episcopalians can see the light and love that comes from your side of the debate. My daughter was baptized in the Episcopalian Church, and I am still very proud and humbled about that. Stay strong, whatever happens.

  5. The current developments in the Episcopal Church are not necessarily as painful and tragic as they are being portrayed. For several decades, the liberals within the denomination have had free reign, and traditional Christians have seen our faith ridiculed and degraded in the name of a militant secular and political orthodoxy. Again and again, we have given in and allowed ourselves to become passive.

    Now that time has ended. The schism has already begun, and nothing can stop it. This is an exciting time – not a time for weeping and wailing. For decades, since the heretical antics of another Bishop Robinson forty years ago, the Anglican church has allowed heretics to frolic, and any attempt at discipline or even question them was met with accusations of “legalism”. Tolerance has been transformed into a word that includes absolutely everything; even broken and sinful sexual behavior is now paraded as a symbol of righteousness. There is no discussion of healing or redemption – only the sentimentality and tantrums of those who would replace Christian morality with worship of the instinct.

    The only question now is: Will the traditionalists keep moving towards the creation of a new denomination, or will we cave in to liberal demands? This is a wonderful opportunity.

  6. Hmm. From my POV, it seems that on the issue of treating GLBT people equally, it has been the liberals who have caved and caved. I believe the libs should have walked out on your side eons ago.

    In any case, I do think schism is sad, but I am also on record as opining that splitting is the best course so that GLBT Anglicans and Episcopalians and their supporters who follow Jesus’ dictate to love can practice equally and freely without having to live under the oppression and misguided interpretations and/or bigotry of the confessing and traditionalist side.

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