The ongoing controversy over gay equality within the worldwide Anglican Communion is taking a number of nasty turns that finally could lead to a long-threatened split of the centuries-old denomination.
The issues of same-sex marriage and ordinations of gay people have long been a source of tension within the Communion. But it took the 2003 consecration of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire to ignite furious flames of Anglican division. Robinson is a partnered gay man, and his elevation — along with blessings of gay unions at churches in the US and Canada — enraged conservative leaders throughout the Church. Since then, the fury has worked its way up to Category 5 status. It appears a schism could rip the church into pieces sooner rather than later. In fact, a split already is under way.
Who or what is to blame? Fingers are pointing in numerous directions:
- Denominational leaders blame its American branch, the US Episcopal Church, for installing Robinson — and they have spent the last two years making liberal Episcopalians pay. Earlier this year, the Church’s primates issued its Windsor Report, which, among other things, barred US and Canadian church leaders from denominational leadership posts for three years.
- Right-wing Episcopal churches in the US, in turn, blame their liberal American colleagues. Numerous conservative churches are threatening and/or planning to sever ties from the US church because of the Robinson controversy. One Virginia church has made good on its threat: The South Riding Church in Fairfax is breaking from the Episcopal Church to join the virulently anti-GLBT Anglican Province of Uganda. (African Anglicans are among those most opposed to Bishop Robinson’s consecration.) Meanwhile, four Ohio churches have aligned themselves with the Diocese of Bolivia. As Rev. Phil Ashey, South Riding’s pastor explains it, “I think you’re going to see an increasing flow of congregations who are choosing to be Anglicans rather than to subscribe to the false gospel of the Episcopal Church and its bishops.”
- An op-ed writer blames “racial” and cultural incompatibility. Writing for the Caribbean Net News, attorney Anthony Livingston Hall makes an interesting observation:
[I]t just so happens that those who feel most aggrieved are (non-white) Anglican Communion Network Bishops [the ACN represents Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, India and Latin America); whereas, those most responsible for mounting this challenge are white Anglicans. Therefore, though few dare to say it, this schism is – at its core – one where race and culture are almost as determinative as subjective interpretations of the Bible.
To his credit, Hall scolds the anti-gay ACN: “African and Caribbean blacks are using the same perverse religious and cultural rationalisations to discriminate against gays that white bigots used to rationalise their discrimination against blacks not so long ago.”
- And this very evening, conservative Anglican leaders laid blame at the feet of Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for an alleged lack of leadership. From the UK’s Telegraph:
The conservative primates said they were “troubled” by [Williams’] reluctance to use his moral authority to challenge the liberal north American Churches, who triggered the crisis by consecrating Anglican’s first openly gay bishop and endorsing gay blessings.
“The apostle Paul never invoked law for his Churches,” said the primates, who are mainly from Africa and Asia and who are led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. “But he nevertheless exhorted them to be of one mind with him and to conform their lives to apostolic tradition.”
The Telegraph reports that the primates’ criticism of the archbishop is “the most direct challenge yet to his authority” and “will make schism in the 70 million-strong Church increasingly inevitable.”
Just as some marriages can not and should not be saved, denominational schism is sometimes the only rational course. It may simply be impossible for people who interpret Scripture so differently to coexist in a spiritual communion. If that is indeed the case, may they part with love and respect.
Schism may be necessary, but it is also very sad. Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, speaking against discrimination recently at the University of North Florida, expressed regret that his denomination, which “used to be known for embodying the attribute of comprehensiveness, of inclusiveness, where we were meant to accommodate all and diverse views, saying we may differ in our theology but we belong together as sisters and brothers” now appears “hellbent on excommunicating one another.”
“God must look on and God must weep,” Tutu said.
There has been and will be plenty of weeping over the harsh divide within the Anglican Communion. Tears or no, however, a split seems unavoidable. The only question no longer is if schism will occur — the question is when.