Anglican split deepens
Anglican conflict over the question of gay bishops has become sharper and more personalised since the Lambeth Conference. Writing in the Times newspaper the Archbishop of Uganda, The Most Rev. Henry Orombi, accused the Archbishop of Canterbury of ‘betrayal’ over the issue. In response, a number of UK bishops, led by the Bishop of Durham Dr Tom Wright, have rallied to Dr Rowan Williams’ defence.
Dr Williams was criticised for inviting American church leaders to the current Lambeth Conference despite the ‘unrelenting commitment’ of the US Church ‘to bless sinful behaviour’. Archbishop Orombi claimed that when the invitation was made, those churches seeking discipline for the American Episcopalians were ‘stunned’.
Writing from a biblical perspective, Archbishop Orombi wrote: ‘In every case, homosexual practice is considered sinful, something that breaks our relationship with God and harms our wellbeing. It is something for which one should repent and seek forgiveness and healing, which God is ever ready to do’.
During the Lambeth Conference Archbishop Williams claimed a solution to resolve the row over homosexuality was possible, saying the ‘pieces are on the board’ to avert the split-up of the Anglican Communion. He told the audience of 650 bishops from around the world they needed to ’embrace deeper and more solid ways of recognising and trusting each other’ if the Communion was to stay together.
In concluding the conference, Dr Williams said the Anglican Communion would be in ‘grave peril’ if member churches on both sides failed to observe a moratorium on precipitate action over the issue of human sexuality. The conference then reaffirmed the Anglican Communion’s official line on homosexuality, with bishops calling for an immediate halt to same-sex consecrations and blessings, and the suspension of cross-border interventions.
However, many observers felt the conference could have been a chance to move the Church on, particularly as Lambeth occurs only once every ten years. One senior archbishop present criticised delegates for talking about the gay issue merely in terms of its threatening to tear the community apart, and thereby missing an opportunity to deal with the problem.
Leader of the Anglican Church in Hong Kong, Archbishop Paul Kwong, said he was disappointed with the discussions. He claimed bishops at the Canterbury event spent more time defending their views about homosexuality than producing solutions to help heal the Church’s rift.
About 250 clergy boycotted the event, many travelling instead to Jerusalem. Here over 1000 delegates comprising The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) made a commitment to work together to re-establish the primacy of biblical authority in the affairs of the global Anglican Communion, as reported in ET last month.
In another development Dr Williams’ credibility amongst evangelicals and traditionalists took a further blow when private letters written by him in 2000 and 2001 were published, revealing he believed gay sexual bonds were ‘comparable to marriage’.
In the correspondence, he said gay partnerships may reflect God’s love like marriage if they showed ‘absolute covenanted faithfulness’.
The Archbishop endeavoured in the letters to distinguish between his personal views on the subject and the position he was obliged to promote in his official capacity as church leader. This, some people think, is the heart of Dr Williams’ and the Church’s dilemma.
Head of evangelical group Reform, the Rev. Rod Thomas, said: ‘One cannot help but wonder whether his personal views affect the ways in which he tries to resolve difficulties. Instead of leading the Church out of this crisis, we feel the Archbishop of Canterbury is prolonging it because of his personal unhappiness about disciplining a section of the Church with which he personally agrees’.