Boycott lays bare rift in Anglican Church - Strait Times, Singapore

July 18, 2008

Absence of a quarter of its bishops from Lambeth summit puts spotlight on divisive issues of sexuality and scripture

By Mark Rice-Oxley

IN LONDON - THE deep fractures in the Anglican Church were laid bare, as the Archbishop of Canterbury opened a once-a-decade summit with a quarter of the world’s Anglican bishops boycotting because of a row over sexuality and a liberal interpretation of scripture.

Some 230 of 880 Anglican bishops, most of them from Africa and conservative American and Australian parishes, cold-shouldered the Lambeth Conference, which opened on Wednesday. The reason: They disagreed fundamentally with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and other liberal church leaders on the place of homosexuals in the life and ministry of the Church.

Many of the boycotters were behind a breakaway movement launched last month that wanted to return to what they saw as scriptural orthodoxy. They had been agitating for decisive action against gay clergy since the liberal Episcopal Church in the United States ordained the Reverend Canon Gene Robinson - an openly gay priest - as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

Dr Williams made a point of not inviting Bishop Robinson to the Lambeth Conference - but that was not enough to assuage conservatives.

‘One reason many of these people are not going to the conference is that they feel it would be hypocrisy to spend three weeks in fellowship and prayer and Bible study with those who have consecrated a homosexual as a bishop,’ said Canon Chris Sugden, a supporter of the traditionalist movement.

‘It’s the first time that the Lambeth has had a boycott,’ added Mr Theo Hobson, an author and theologian. ‘The aim of this year’s conference is to avoid divisive issues, but that’s why the evangelicals have boycotted because they think there’s a need for clarity at the moment to determine orthodoxy.’

With 77 million members in 164 countries, the Anglicans claim to be the third-largest Christian denomination. The Anglican Church has always been the broadest of churches, and as such has been divided on a wide range of issues, from Darwinism to slavery, polygamy to scriptural interpretation and ecclesiastical rites.

The homosexuality issue, however, has perhaps emerged as the most divisive of all, ever since the last conference in 1998 issued a resolution that failed to clear the matter up.

Some parishes in the US have since ruptured with their local diocese and joined with African provinces that better reflect their conservative outlook. African archbishops have declared themselves no longer ‘in communion’ with their US counterparts and have accused Dr Williams of apostasy and leading the Church into a crisis.

Unlike the 1998 event, this year’s Lambeth Conference, which will last for three weeks, will avoid any firm decisions or resolutions that could be contentious. Instead, the bishops will meet in small groups to discuss a broad range of issues, from social justice to climate change, the multi-faith world and, yes, human sexuality, without taking a firm stance.

‘The essence of what the conference is about is meeting together in this ‘indaba’ form - it’s a Zulu word which means meeting but not forming a decision on any subject - so it’s an excellent way for people with diverse backgrounds and languages to get together,’ said Mr Jim Rosenthal, an Anglican spokesman from the campus in Canterbury, where the conference is taking place.

A secondary division chipping away at the Anglicans involves the consecration of women bishops. This is more of a problem for the English ‘mothership’ (known as the Church of England), which has signalled it will press ahead with legislation to introduce women bishops, despite the objections.

‘This is something that is troubling the Church of England, though it’s less of a fight in the wider Anglican communion,’ said London vicar Giles Fraser, who noted that around 20 women bishops will attend Lambeth. ‘The issue of homosexuality, by comparison, is a bare-knuckle brawl.’

mark.riceoxley@btinternet.com

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