Eve of Destruction?

Tomorrow is the day: Leaders of the global Anglican Communion will meet in London to address the interdenominational impasse over the equality of GLBT people and their relationships within the church. The stakes are high for this emergency closed-door summit — the tumultuous debate could result in the fracture of the institution, which has more than 70 million members.

Some interesting information has emerged as we await the Oct. 15 gathering: We already know that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, a onetime public liberal who is the denomination’s spiritual leader, is expected to side with anti-gay conservatives and take a hard doctrinal line against gay clergy and the blessing of same-gender unions. What is newly released, however, is one of their possible justifications for why church right-wingers seem so afraid of treating GLBT Anglicans and Episcopalians as full, equal members in the Body of Christ.

International Online reports that conservatives are worried about what their ecclesiastical neighbors might think:

Those bishops fear that pro-gay decisions anywhere within the communion will undermine their evangelism, especially in regions where Muslim extremists are gaining ground.

“It allows people in Islam to say, ‘Look, here’s what Christians do,'” said Canon Bill Atwood, general secretary of the Ekklesia Society, a Texas-based conservative mission to oversea Anglicans. “It makes moral mockery possible.”

Meanwhile, AF&O contributor Michael Hamar points to an Anglican hypocrisy. He writes:

Note how the Anglican conservatives in the USA and the UK attack gay marriage, etc., insisting that marriage is between “one man and one woman,” while at the same time ignoring the fact that in Africa their fellow “conservatives” (translated: homophobes and bigots) permit a man to have multiple wives rather reduce the number of converts they can claim to have gained. These “conservatives” are not honest either intellectually — probably an oxymoron in the context of the religous right — or by any objective standard.

Surely there are religious denominations that value women and decry polygamy — aren’t the right-wing Anglicans quaking in their vestments over the possibility that they will be made a mockery over that fact? And here is this: The news that some African Anglican churches tacitly accept the practice of polygamy has not affected evangelism, and these churches are among the loudest opponents of the US Episcoplian Church’s decision to appoint an openly gay bishop last August. The Christian Science Monitor reports that US churches — many of them passionately liberal — donate great sums of money to African churches, evangelistic efforts, and missions, despite their opposition to polygamous unions.

Still, it appears that many right-wingers will not give in on the issue of gay bishops and the blessing of same-gender unions. So, what may happen? In the US wing of the Anglican Communion, many Episcopalians say their part of the denomination could be censured in some fashion. Alternatively, the body may “agree to disagree” and let each province pursue its own doctrinal path. Many around the world, however, suspect that the quarrel could lead to the establishment of a second, non-geographic Anglican province in North America. The Monitor adds:

[American] conservatives had talked of a new province in which “orthodox” bishops would have oversight responsibilities across diocesan boundaries for those parishes that desire it. But they would prefer that the bishops who voted against the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the gay bishop-elect of New Hampshire, be declared the true leaders of the US church, replacing the current leadership.

But the Archbishop of Canterbury in fact has little power to do much of anything here. The Communion is a collective of autonomous churches, and it has no legal structure for disciplining its members. If the Archbishop issues a command, individual dioceses can simply ignore it. And there is no denominational authority for overruling provincial autonomy. “None of these family gatherings can tell any one of the siblings what they can or cannot do in their own context,” says the Rev. Ian Douglas, of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, told the Monitor.

So, unless the pro- and anti-gay church leaders can find some way to coexist peacefully, we may very well see a schism.

This much we know for sure: Tomorrow’s closed-door meeting will make for a most interesting spectacle.

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