Conservatives within church leadership threaten to ostracize Episcopal Church’s female primate; canon predicts “‘difficult meeting’
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania A conference of Anglican leaders opened Wednesday, Feb. 14, as the 77-million-member church struggles with a potentially disastrous fight over the Bible and homosexuality.
“I anticipate this will be a very difficult meeting,” said Canon Jim Rosenthal, a spokesman for the Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest church body. “The basic issue here is what to do about those who decided they don’t want to stay in the main Anglican body.”
Splits between Anglican liberals and conservatives have been growing for years. The struggle reached a crisis in 2003 when the Episcopal Church the U.S. wing of the global Anglican Communion consecrated its first openly-gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
The problems mounted in 2006 with the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports ordaining gays and is the first female leader of the U.S. church.
Conservative Anglicans are demanding that the group take a stand against homosexuality, and some have threatened to refuse to sit with Jefferts Schori at this week’s meeting. Some have already broken their ties with the American church.
But Rosenthal said Wednesday she is welcome at the six-day conference, which brings together the archbishops who head the 38 provinces in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
“Her presence here is absolute. She is here as the primate of the Episcopal Church. She is here by invitation,” Rosenthal said.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the communion, has struggled to hold off one of the biggest meltdowns in Christianity in centuries, but he lacks any direct authority to force a compromise.
Supporters of ordaining gays believe the Bible’s social justice teachings take precedence over its view of sexuality. However, most Anglicans outside the United States believe gay relationships are sinful, and they are distancing themselves from the U.S. church.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 16, 2007.