Thursday, July 30, 2009

Rowan Williams suggests secondary role for U.S. Episcopal church

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has suggested that the U.S. Episcopal (Anglican) Church may have to accept a secondary role in the worldwide Anglican Communion after voting to allow gay bishops and blessings for same-sex unions.

Archbishop Williams, the spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, said on July 27 that “very serious anxieties have already been expressed,” about the pro-gay resolutions approved in July by the Episcopal Church at its general convention in Anaheim, California.

While “there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness,” Archbishop Williams said, certain churches, including the Episcopal Church, may have to take a back seat in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue because their views on homosexuality do not represent the larger Anglican Communion.

Many of the world's Anglican churches oppose homosexuality as sinful and unbiblical, Religion News Service reported.

“It helps to be clear about these possible futures,” Archbishop Williams said, “however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are - two styles of being Anglican ...”

The Episcopal Church declined on July 27 to respond to Archbishop Williams statement.

As spiritual head of the Church of England, Archbishop Williams serves as guide of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide fellowship of churches that includes the 2.1 million-member Episcopal Church as its U.S. branch.

Before the Episcopal convention, Archbishop Williams had urged the U.S. church not to take steps that would exacerbate tensions in the communion, which has been brought to the breaking point by the consecration of an openly gay bishop in the U.S. state of New Hampshire in 2003.

Despite the warning, Episcopalians overwhelmingly voted to lift a de facto ban on consecrating other gay bishops and approved a broad local option for bishops who wish to allow gay and lesbian couples to receive nuptial blessings from the church.

Episcopal leaders later sought to cut off criticism with a letter to Archbishop Williams that described the measures as simply “descriptive” of a church ministering to a culture with rapidly changing understandings of homosexuality.

Archbishop Williams responded with a nuanced, five-page reflection that gently chided Episcopalians for overturning centuries of Christian understanding of marriage and homosexuality without wider consensus from other Anglicans.

“The doctrine that 'what affects the communion of all should be decided by all' is a venerable principle,” Archbishop Williams said.

Rev. Susan Russell, president of the pro-gay Episcopal group Integrity USA, said it is clear the steps her church took in Anaheim “were contrary to what the archbishop said he hoped would happen.”

But Ms. Russell said she does not expect Episcopalians to back off on consecrating gay bishops or blessing same-sex unions. In fact, she said, the diocese of Los Angeles, where Ms. Russell is a priest, is expected to consider electing a gay or lesbian candidate as suffragan (assistant) bishop later this year.

“I expect this church to move dramatically forward in the rest of the year,” Ms. Russell said, “and our deepest hope is that the rest of the communion, or at least large portions of it, continue to be at the table with us.”

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