Anglicans fragmenting over homosexuality

Anglicans fragmenting over homosexuality

Babette Francis

Following the Anglican Communion's 2004 Windsor Report, which had instituted a total ban on consecrating homosexual bishops, the Episcopal Church in the USA (ECUSA) at their 75th General Convention in 2006 agreed "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion".

However, worldwide schism within the Anglican Communion now appears to be happening after the US Episcopalian Bishops voted 99-45 in July at their 76th General Convention in Annaheim, California, to officially allow and affirm the ordination of practising homosexuals "to any ordained ministry". The decision is interpreted as allowing the consecration of openly homosexual bishops, and breaches the 2006 moratorium.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, expressed his disappointment at the 2009 decision. Speaking to the General Synod of the Church of England, he said, "I regret the fact that there is no will to observe the moratorium in such a significant part of the Church in North America."

But the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, is unrepentant and stated they would continue to embrace homosexuality, bless same-sex unions, and consecrate homosexual bishops.

In the meantime hundreds of conservative parishes in the USA and Canada, formerly associated with the Episcopal Church, are forming the Anglican Church in North America. The new denomination seeks "to ensure an orthodox Anglican Province in North America that remains connected to a faithful global Communion." The church professes adherence to Sacred Scripture, the first four ecumenical councils, parts of the fifth, sixth, and seventh ecumenical councils, the Thirty-Nine Articles "in their literal and grammatical sense," and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

The official launch of the Anglican Church in North America in June was attended by 800 people in Bedford, Texas, where the group ratified its provisional constitution and elected its first archbishop. It comprises approximately 700 parishes in North America with 100,000 members, making it bigger than the Anglican provinces of Wales and Scotland. While the church has yet to achieve acceptance by the Anglican Communion, it is in communion with the Anglican Churches of Nigeria and Uganda.

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, has twice written to support an emergent group of conservative Anglicans in Britain that rejects the ultra- liberal and sexually permissive direction of the Church of England. The Queen recently wrote to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans that she "understood their concerns" and "understands the commitment to the Anglican Church" and that she wished them well on the day of their official launch.

Fellowship leaders had written to the Queen to assure her of their loyalty to the Church of England. Palace spokesmen said that her letters did not constitute an official endorsement of the Fellowship which is an alliance of evangelical and Anglo- Catholic parishes in Britain and Ireland. Their formation was precipitated in part by the acceptance of homosexuality by segments of the Anglican leadership in the developed world.

Traditional teaching

Among the five bishops supporting the Fellowship, one of the most prominent is the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who has stirred controversy on many occasions with his vocal defence of Christian moral teaching and the traditional Christian cultural foundations of British society.

In a recent statement, issued just hours before Sarah Brown, the wife of the Prime Minister, was due to march in the London Gay Pride parade, Nazir Ali said of active homosexuals, "We want them to repent and be changed." He said the Church of England must uphold the Biblical teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman. "We want to hold on to the traditional teaching of the Church. We don't want to be rolled over by culture and trends in the Church," he said.

In a sermon on the Sunday before the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans launch, Bishop Nazir Ali said, "If we continue in God's way then we will flourish as persons. Marriage will be strong, family will be strong and society will be strong. It's not rocket science."

Another supporting the Fellowship, Bishop Wallace Benn of Lewes, denied accusations that the group is "divisive." To an audience of approximately 1,600 people from 300 parishes across the UK and Ireland, Benn said it is those "parts of the Church of England who do not adhere to the biblical teaching who are moving away from the historic Biblical Christianity. We're trying to move back to the core of our Christian faith."

Apart from members in Britain, the Fellowship has attracted parishes in Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America as well as the USA and Canada. It claims membership of nearly half the world's 77 million baptised Anglicans and was a project of the Global Anglican Futures Conference, established at the time of the 2008 Lambeth Conference. While the group rejects active homosexuality and actively homosexual clergy, it remains divided on the issue of female ordination.

The Global Anglican Futures Conference section of Anglicanism currently represents two-thirds or more of the worldwide Anglican Communion's active lay membership of approximately 55 million and a third of its bishops.

The Episcopal Church has pushed the boundaries further by blessing homosexual unions and announcing in at least two Episcopal dioceses that openly homosexual clergy are potential candidates for appointment as new bishops (see report on page 4).

Babette Francis is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., a pro-life, pro-family women's organisation which includes members of several Christian denominations.

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