Anglican Seeks to Ease Church's Conflict Over Gays
Monday, February 19, 2007
ZANZIBAR, Tanzania, Feb. 18 -- The Anglicans' spiritual leader, faced with a deepening rift over homosexuality and scripture in the worldwide Anglican Communion, called Sunday for humility among bishops as the conflict threatened to fracture the church.
Leaders of the world's 77 million Anglicans, meeting in Tanzania for a conference that ends Monday, traveled by boat from the mainland for a Holy Eucharist in Zanzibar, a predominantly Muslim archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
The Anglican Communion is struggling with a rift over ordaining gays and blessing same-sex unions. The U.S. Episcopal Church, the American wing of the fellowship, consecrated its first gay bishop in 2003, and last year elected its first female leader, Katharine Jefferts Schori, fueling the divide.
Conspicuously absent from Sunday's service was Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who has called the acceptance of gay relationships a "satanic attack" on the church and who now leads a rival network formed by conservative Anglicans in the United States.
On Friday, Akinola led seven conservative archbishops in refusing to take communion with Jefferts Schori.
"There is one thing that a bishop should say to another bishop," the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglicans' spiritual leader, told church leaders and several hundred worshipers in a packed cathedral Sunday. "That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great savior."
One of the leaders involved in Friday's boycott, the Rwandan archbishop, was seen again refusing to take communion Sunday, but it was unclear what the others did because all archbishops remained at their seats to receive communion.
The archbishops have agreed to not speak publicly until the conference ends.
Supporters of ordaining gays believe the Bible's teachings on social justice take precedence over its view of sexuality. However, many Anglicans outside the United States believe gay relationships are sinful, and they are distancing themselves from the U.S. church.
There is no formal structure for expulsion from the Anglican Communion, the world's third-largest Christian body behind the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches.
Williams, who lacks any direct authority to force a compromise, urged Christians to see and understand others' suffering as Zanzibar commemorates the 100th anniversary of the last slave sold here and the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade in the British empire.
Sunday's service was held in Christ Church, which was built in the 1870s on the site of Zanzibar's biggest slave market and has an altar where a whipping post once stood.
"It is so easy," Williams said, "to pretend that those dark and unacceptable parts of our history do not exist."