A Crucial Moment for Anglicans
Saturday, July 19, 2008
For centuries, Anglicans have prided themselves on finding the via media -- the middle way -- through theological and political thickets.
But the decades-long debate on homosexuality within the worldwide Anglican Communion seems stuck in a cul-de-sac, many say.
As Anglican bishops from around the world converge on Canterbury, England, for the three-week Lambeth Conference that began Wednesday, their 77 million-member communion again finds itself at a crossroads.
"The circle has come around again," said the Rev. Ephraim Radner, a leading North American theologian who is helping draft a new constitution for the communion.
The once-a-decade conference, held at the University of Kent, will draw more than 650 bishops, including an estimated 135 from the communion's U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church. Spread across 162 countries, Anglicans trace their common historical and liturgical roots to the Church of England.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the communion and the one who issues invitations to Lambeth, said this year's conference will feature bridge-building, not rulemaking.
Such rules are of little value, Williams has said, because each of the communion's 38 autonomous provinces makes and enforces its own laws.
For example, a resolution passed at the last Lambeth Conference, in 1998, called homosexual acts "incompatible with Scripture" and condemned same-sex relationships.
Five years later, the Episcopal Church elected and consecrated an openly gay priest, V. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire. Meanwhile, blessings of same-sex couples in Canada and the United States continue. Robinson joined with his longtime partner in a civil union in June.
To placate conservatives, Williams did not invite Robinson to Lambeth, but the New Hampshire bishop will be in Canterbury to advocate for gay rights.
Conservatives, a powerful bloc in the communion, say the time for dithering is over. They want clear doctrinal standards barring homosexuality and the power to enforce them. If the U.S. church is not disciplined, the Anglican Communion must be radically rearranged, they say.
"They see this as the very last chance," said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, a conservative leader from the Diocese of South Carolina. "If the [North American churches] aren't stopped, the breach won't be healed."