Rifts in worldwide Anglican Communion over gays’ role in church continue to widen
Uganda’s Anglican church threatened Monday, Feb. 18, to secede from the rest of the 77-million member fellowship unless U.S. clergy condemn homosexuality.
The announcement was the latest salvo in a fierce debate about homosexuality has overtaken the global Anglican Communion since its U.S. wing the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003.
The threat came just three days after the head of the Anglican Church of Canada warned members who split with the church over its decision to bless same-sex unions that they will lose their church buildings and funds.
"In our Anglican tradition, individuals who choose to leave the Church over contentious issues cannot take property and other assets with them," Archbishop Fred Hiltz said in a letter released Feb. 15.
Hiltz’s letter came two days after St. John’s Shaughnessy, a large parish church in Vancouver, voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada and affiliate itself with a South American Anglican church, which has a more conservative stance on homosexuality.
The issues of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex marriages has divided members of the 700-year-old Anglican Church around the world.
In June, more than 700 Anglican bishops from around the world voted 9-to-1 against the blessing of same-sex unions at the decennial Lambeth Conference, held in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
In the U.S., clergy and lay members of the Diocese of San Joaquin became the first full diocese to break from the U.S. wing of the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican family when they voted to secede Dec. 6.
In Uganda this week, Church of Uganda spokesman Aron Mwesigye said, "Anglicanism is just an identity and if they abuse it, we shall secede. We shall remain Christians, but not in the same Anglican Communion."
There are about 9.8 million Anglicans in Uganda, according to the country’s last census in 2002.
Last week, Uganda’s Anglican bishops said they would boycott a once-a-decade gathering of worldwide church leaders this summer because of the Episcopal Church’s stance on homosexuality.
Mwesigye said the Ugandan church is now considering a complete severing of ties "because we have complained against homosexuality several times but no action is taken."
"If they don’t change, and continue to support homosexual practices and same-sex marriages, our relationship with them will be completely broken," Mwesigye added.
Tensions between more liberal and conservative branches of Anglicanism mounted in 2006 with the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports ordaining gays, as the first female leader of the U.S. church.
Supporters of ordaining gays believe the Bible’s social justice teachings take precedence over its view of sexuality. However, most Anglicans outside the U.S. believe gay relationships are sinful, and they are distancing themselves from the U.S. church.
Mwesigye said that if the Uganda church does break off, it would enlist other African churches to form a separate fellowship that does not condone homosexuality.
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.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, February 22, 2008.