Anglican conservatives fight to expel US liberals over gay issue

By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
(Filed: 01/09/2003)

The Archbishop of Canterbury is believed to be pressuring Anglican leaders in America to allow conservative American bishops to create a traditionalist enclave, taking millions of pounds of Church property with them.

In his article for the traditionalist magazine New Directions, he writes: "I suspect that those who speak of new alignments and new patterns, of the weakening of territorial jurisdiction and the like, are seeing the situation pretty accurately.

"But what then becomes the danger to avoid is an entirely modern or post-modern map of Church identity in which non-communicating and competing entities simply eradicate the very idea of a 'communion' of Churches."

Conservative archbishops are increasingly confident that they can force the expulsion of America's Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion over its liberal line on homosexuality.

They plan to use the emergency meeting of Anglican primates at Lambeth Palace in mid-October to press Dr Williams to suspend the American Church and, if it fails to repent, to declare it no longer Anglican.

But Dr Williams argues that, even if ties between parts of the 75 million-strong Communion are weakened, it should remain unified because of its common beliefs and practices.

He says in his article: "The task is to keep in focus the conviction that what makes a Church a Church, even through the struggles of major disruption and disagreement, is a shared divine calling.

"I don't expect the next few years to be anything other than messy as far as all this is concerned."

His efforts to avoid a split look unlikely, however, to placate a number of evangelical primates who want to punish the Episcopal Church for confirming Anglicanism's first actively homosexual bishop.

Archbishop Gregory Venables, the Primate of the Southern Cone, said: "There is a full head of steam on this issue. The mind of many is that this is a crisis which cannot be fudged."

Archbishop Drexel Gomez, the Primate of the West Indies, said that the Communion "cannot affirm what the Americans have done".

Archbishop Gomez said he expected the support of at least 14 primates out of the total of 38, and that figure could rise to 20 or more.

The conservative position could be bolstered at a gathering of "global south" primates to be held in Africa a few weeks before the Lambeth Palace meeting.

There is, however, no formal structure in place for disciplining "erring" provinces because liberal Church leaders have so far resisted attempts to curb their autonomy. Previous disagreements have largely been solved by the moral and personal authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr Williams's advisers hope that many of the differences between the primates will dissolve when they meet as a group and their sense of collegiality will prevail.

Bishop Frank Griswold, the Episcopal Church's liberal Presiding Bishop, insisted last week that nothing in scripture prevented Canon Gene Robinson, who has lived with his male lover for more than a decade, from becoming a bishop. In a letter, he warned his fellow primates against listening only to "the urgent voices which speak of crisis".

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