Out of the Guardian (UK).
(Bishop Stanton has posted a scathing reply to this article: http://www.anglican.tk/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=318)
Anglicans face schism over gay row
Conservative US bishops prepare to take on liberal British wing in bitter struggle for Church's soul
Jamie Doward, social affairs editor
Sunday September 14, 2003
They are wealthy, well-connected and on the warpath. To their critics they are fundamentalists who belong in the Dark Ages of the Church. To their supporters they offer the only true road map to salvation.
And, for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, they are very bad news indeed. The powerful cabal of conservative American bishops who are opposed to gay clergy and same-sex marriages are preparing to shake the fragile Anglican Communion to its foundations in the coming weeks, as the church prepares for an unprecedented emergency meeting of Anglican primates in London next month to discuss homosexuality and the church.
The conservative bishops jet around the world, networking at religious conferences and spreading the message that there will be no surrender to the liberal wing of the Communion.
They have built an influential hardline coalition among leading conservative Anglicans in the developing world who argue that the Bible decrees homosexuality a sin. 'God is leading us to a new home within our worldwide Anglican family. We have not left - the Episcopal Church has left us,' runs the coalition's mission statement.
While some may dismiss their views as reactionary, what the conservative bishops say is influential. Their supporters argue that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice which people can 'grow out of'. Some of their more extreme followers have tried to exorcise gay and lesbian Anglicans.
At the centre of the group - known as the American Anglican Council - are two charismatic bishops who have access to millions of dollars which help bankroll their message. James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas, and Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, along with the bishops of South Carolina, Florida and Orlando, are slick operators with generous congregations who dig deep into their pockets. Dallas, for example, is the second-richest diocese in the US and is expected to bring in more than $4 million this year, a huge sum by Church standards.
Members of an overwhelmingly gay parish in Dallas say that although Stanton rarely visited them, it was only after this summer's appointment of the openly gay Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire that he emerged as a hardline evangelical. 'I'm disappointed he's chosen to take this line,' said one gay Dallas vicar.
Following Robinson's appointment, Duncan preached a sermon in which he talked of American students struggling with 'homosexual temptations... Many grew past their homosexual leanings; many did not'.
The American Anglican Council's influence stretches far and wide. Earlier this year several of its members flew to Britain for urgent talks with leading members of the Oxford diocese following the decision to appoint the gay but celibate Canon Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading.
After intense talks behind the scenes John stood down, dismaying liberals within the Anglican Church who now talk openly of an American-sponsored conservative plot to undermine them.
The John affair brought back echoes of the Lambeth Council of 1998, when Anglican primates last met to consider the Church's attitude to homosexuality. Back then the American council hired a nearby conference centre and mounted a vigorous lobbying blitz designed to win over ambivalent delegates. 'It was very slick, very effective. They had planned for it for months,' recalled Richard Kirker, secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christians Movement.
Stories abound about secret deals between the traditionalist American and African bishops. In exchange for blocking a liberal agenda on gay issues, the Americans promised the Africans support for cancellation of Third World debt. Outside the conference, in amoment captured on camera, Archbishop Chukwuma of Nigeria attempted to exorcise Kirker's homosexuality.
The alliance between the African and American conservative bishops has been revitalised in recent months. Following the appointment of the ostensibly liberal Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury, which confers upon him the position of spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, leading conservative theologians have pushed the issue of homosexuality and the church to centre stage.
Under Williams's predecessor, George Carey, all talk about homosexuality and the church was suppressed, but liberals say it is clear the conservative element of the Communion has 'drawn a line in the sand' as it seeks a definitive outcome on the issue.
In recent months the American council has rolled out a series of high-profile African primates including Emmanuel Kolini, Archbishop of Rwanda, Bernard Malango, Archbishop of Central Africa, and Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria, to attack the liberal wing of the Communion.
Akinola's speech has astonished even conservative theologians. 'We argue that it is a blatant lie against almighty God that homosexuality is their God-given urge and inclination. For us, it is better seen as an acquired aberration,' he said.
Last week, Stanton and Duncan, along with several other leading conservative theologians, flew to New Westminster in Canada to support a group of parishes which had effectively declared their inde pendence from the local bishop because of their disgust with their Church's decision to bless same-sex unions. 'People here are surviving day to day. They feel they can't trust their bishop,' said Chris Hawley, a spokesman for the dissident group.
It is a picture repeated across the Anglican Communion. As more North American parishes threatened to declare independence following Robinson's appointment, Williams had little choice but to call an unprecedented emergency meeting of primates in a bid to save the Communion from irreparable schism. The conference follows a similar meeting in Brazil earlier this year when, according to those present, Williams tried to discourage debate on the issue.
'I think he felt there would have to be a discussion on the issue one day but he was hoping it would be years down the line, when he had more influence, rather than months,' said one Church insider.
Such a tactic appears profoundly naive. 'He has been astonished at the hatred directed towards homosexuals and him personally,' said a friend.
Hopes that the October conference will heal rifts looks equally misplaced. The American council is to hold a conference of its own prior to the London meeting next month. The event, entitled: 'A Place To Stand: Declaring, Preparing' will outline the American council's strategy to take to London.
If Williams had been under any illusions how deep the schism within the Anglican Communion lies, he needs only to read item four on the agenda: 'To prepare our congregations and ministries for possible realignment to insure an orthodox and vital Anglican presence in the United States.'
As one vicar in a liberal London parish put it: 'This is the church's equivalent of the San Andreas fault and it's just ripped wide open.'
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