Anglicans ready to ostracise US church over gay bishop  
 
by Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
THE LONDON TIMES
 
 

THE Episcopal Church in the United States faces exclusion from the worldwide Anglican communion as punishment for ordaining a gay bishop, The Times has learnt.

The draconian disciplinary measure is expected to be recommended by a commission set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, to resolve the crisis over homosexuality.

The suspension of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, known as ECUSA, from the 75-million strong Anglican Church is expected to be recommended at the final meeting of the Lambeth Commission in Windsor next week. [Sept. 5-10, 2004]

It comes after an outcry by evangelicals and Anglican churches in Africa at the ordination of a divorced gay father of two, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, as Bishop of New Hampshire. The commission’s findings, which will not be published officially until October, will cause widespread dismay among liberals and Anglican-Catholics in the West, who will regard it as a sign of capitulation to the conservative evangelical lobby.

But the alternative, an Anglican fudge, would alienate further the fast-growing churches in Africa and Asia, the Global South, leading inevitably to schism. A senior source last night told The Times: “This will not be a fudge. This report will have teeth.”

The exclusion of the American Church would not necessarily be permanent but would last until the province, which is financially powerful but numerically weak, “repented“ of its actions in the election of Bishop Robinson, who lives with his male partner.

It would be allowed back in when Bishop Robinson retired, or in the unlikely event that he was removed from his post, as long as ECUSA did not consecrate any more similar bishops, or commit the other “sin” of sanctioning rites for the blessings of gay unions.

The Anglican Church in Canada, where the diocese of New Westminster has authorised the Church's first same-sex blessings rite, is also likely to face disciplinary action, although not as severe as America. The General Synod in Canada agreed this summer to hold off on universal sanction of same-sex blessings. But if the Canadian Church were to pursue this, it too could find itself in the exclusion zone.

The disciplinary measures are expected to be made possible as part of a “radical“ restructuring of the Anglican Church in response to the crisis over gays. The Church of England was pulled back from the brink last year when Dr. Williams persuaded Dr Jeffrey John to stand down as Bishop of Reading for the sake of church unity. Dr. John was subsequently made Dean of St. Albans. The commission, chaired by Dr. Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armaghand Primate of Ireland, is made up of representatives of both the conservative, liberal and catholic wings of the Anglican Church from both the West and the Global South.

There is certain to be a bitter fight between the different factions before any recommendations are enacted. America is financially powerful and the commission’s recommendations must go first to the primates next February and then to the Anglican Consultative Council, the representative body of the Anglican Communion, before they can be enforced.

Sources at the highest level of the Church are understood to consider the whole situation a disaster for the lesbian and gay community in particular. But disciplinary action against America is thought to be the only way to preserve what little unity remains of the Anglican Church.

Already, some church leaders and provinces have declared themselves “out of communion” with America and Canada. The Nigerian Church is “planting” or founding new evangelical Anglican churches in America in response to the crisis, and bishops in Uganda have taken three parishes in America into their “care.”

The restructuring is the most radical of a number of options that have been considered by the commission. Another way forward would have been to persuade all provinces to agree a joint code of canon law, but it would have taken many years for all the separate synods to agree. This would also have turned the Anglican Communion into a pale shadow of the Roman Catholic Church, with the Archbishop of Canterbury an Anglican pope in all but name.

Instead, it is expected that the Anglican Communion will be reformed into a federation similar to that of the worldwide Lutheran Church.