As the current issue of AD2000 goes to press, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is meeting 38 leaders of the communion in London, to discuss decisions of the General Convention of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the US which, last August, confirmed the election of an openly homosexual bishop in New Hampshire and left the issue of blessing same-gender unions to the discretion of individual bishops in their dioceses.
While the reaction of most Anglican leaders in other countries has been restrained criticism, those from Africa - where the Church is growing rapidly - have been outspoken in their opposition. For example, Archbishop Bernard Malango, primate of the Province of Central Africa, was quoted by Episcopal News Service as saying that the decision of the General Convention "has shattered the Anglican Communion".
Sydney's Evangelical Archbishop, Peter Jensen, writing in the Anglican magazine New Directions, said he believed that the limits of communion had been reached with these decisions.
In a meeting with Archbishop Williams in Rome, Pope John Paul II warned him that "new and serious difficulties" in Catholic-Anglican relations had emerged as a result of the decisions. While these were not publicly specified, United Press International reported that Rome told the Anglican Primate that if the decisions were allowed to stand, it would just about end ecumenical relations between the Churches.
However, the strongest response will come from African and Asian Church leaders, who constitute a majority of the Anglican communion, and are in no mood to temporise.
If the Anglican leaders face up to the crisis, Archbishop Jensen pointed out, it would "send a powerful moral and spiritual message to the Churches of the West that our flirtation with secularism has gone too far and we are in real danger of losing the moral and spiritual imperatives of the Gospel." If it does not, the unity of the Anglican communion could be sundered forever.
Peter Westmore is Publisher of AD2000.