“Breaking up is hard to do…”
Could the beginning of the end for the Anglican Communion as we know it be at hand? After the elevation of an openly gay US bishop and the blessing of same-sex unions in Canada, anti-GLBT denominational leaders have had enough. Primates of the worldwide denomination of more than 77 million members want US and Canadian churches to leave a key denominational decision-making panel until at least 2008. During that time, the Anglican’s anti-GLBT majority expects the liberal churches to explain their reasons for going against traditionalists and supporting GLBT equality.
From USA Today:
The North Americans have been asked not to attend the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is a body of bishops, priests and lay people from national Anglican churches who meet and consult in between the once-a-decade Lambeth Conferences for the primates.
However, Anglican leaders also recommended a hearing be organized at the council’s gathering in June to allow the North American churches to send representatives who could explain their views on homosexuality.
“In the meantime, we ask our fellow primates to use their best influence to persuade their brothers and sisters to exercise a moratorium on public rites of blessing for same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage,” the statement said.
Conservatives who lead the Anglican Communion Network, which represents dissenting Episcopal dioceses and churches in the United States, argued that the primates’ request meant that the two North American churches “have been effectively suspended” from the communion.
Voices from both sides of the split say this latest primates’ request — which the North American churches are considering — does not mean the Anglicans are on the road to schism.
James Naughton, a liberal spokesperson for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, DC, told the Associated Press that the temporary withdrawal from the council is an “elegant compromise” that would give both sides time to find ways to keep the denomination unified. Meanwhile, Archbishop of Perth Peter Carnley, primate of Australia’s Anglican church, echoed the sentiment that the withdrawal does not mean the denomination is heading for a breakup.
But there are those who disagree. As Alan Kirby opines for the BBC,
Anglicans are so deeply and bitterly divided over homosexuality that even their famously broad church may now buckle under the strain of maintaining the pretence of unity.
The conservative Anglicans say simply that the Bible requires gay and lesbian Christians to repent, and to have no sex life.
The liberals say the church must interpret the Bible in the light of modern knowledge, accepting that people are born with their sexuality and should not deny it.
Out of those polar opposites, even Solomon himself would find it hard to forge a united church.
Anglican leaders may call the next three years a cooling-down period, but the fact is that if North American churches step down from the consultative council, they walk away from full membership in the denomination (and yes, right-wing Episcopalians should be worried). And should they refuse to step down, conservative Anglicans likely will bar them from the council. In either case, a schism, sooner or later, will be the result.
“There do come times when the authority of the Bible is at stake — and this is one of those times — where to stay together becomes a great difficulty,” Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney told the BBC. “I hope we can stay together (but) … there are times where strong views are held and where division does occur.”
And even the first among equals in church leaders warns that the divide between liberal and right-wing factions could make a split permanent. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams notes that restoring denominational unity will be a tall order: “Any lasting solution will require people somewhere along the line to say, ‘Yes, we were wrong’,” he said.
Hardly likely. Can you imagine anti-gay forces — particularly the virulently homo-hating African primates — admitting their miseraable philosophy toward queer Anglicans is wrong? Not me, friend. And I can’t see pro-equality supporters backing down either. Frank Griswold, the US church’s presiding bishop, still insists that the ordination of gay New Hampshire bishop Gene Robinson was “right and proper.” How is there room for compromise when the Anglican Book of Common Prayer itself states that God does not hate was God has cteated and when one side — the antigay side — insists upon treating GLBT Anglicans and their supporters in such hateful fashion?
Interestingly, the left’s voluntarily acceptance of second-class status would bring the US and Canadian churches closer to the people they defend before church and god: the GLBT people denied from having full membership and equality within the church. Good for them for having the courage of their convictions, for doing what is right rather than what is easiest or most expedient. Because by going along with the primates’ request, the liberal churches in essence would hand the denomination to the conservative, anti-GLBT, right wing.
This request to step down is no mere time out — for all intents, it is a split. And I see no going back. This is not happy news, but I do believe distance is needed, that the pro-GLBT forces are better off away from anti-GLBT Anglicans who, in my estimation, are not living up to Jesus’ dictate to love one’s neighbors.
I’ll say it again: Sometimes schism — breaking apart — is for the best. Sometimes it is the only moral choice.