Anglican-Episcopal gay dispute may affect other churches
October 27, 2003
NEW YORK — The fight over homosexuality in the international Anglican
Communion and its American branch, the Episcopal Church, isn't just
an internal squabble.
It could permanently alter the Anglicans' relationship with
Catholic and Orthodox Christianity and affect U.S. Protestant
denominations that also are struggling with their policies on gay
A Catholic bishop withdrew permission for the Episcopal Diocese
of Florida to use one of his churches for a ceremony because the
presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church planned to participate.
(The presiding bishop later withdrew.)
Last week in London, top leaders of the world's 77 million
Anglicans reaffirmed their opposition to gay sex and warned that
the Americans' planned consecration of an openly gay bishop November 2
will "tear the fabric" of the faith internationally. In the United
States, conservatives are threatening to quit the Episcopal Church
over its toleration of gay clergy and same-sex couples.
Other denominations are watching with concern as the situation
"Ecumenically, we're on new turf here," says the Rev. William
Rusch, referring to the long-running quest for unity among Roman
Catholics, Protestants and the Orthodox.
Rusch, organizer of a 2005 North American ecumenical conference,
says homosexuality "is certainly more than an issue of justice or
democracy" because many Christians believe it touches key
For conservatives, who cite Scriptural admonitions against
homosexual acts, the authority of the Bible is at stake.
The retired world Anglican leader, former Archbishop of
Canterbury George Carey, said this week that the approval of
Robinson by last summer's Episcopal convention is "an ecumenical
scandal." Orthodox reactions undergird his assessment:
-Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh said
Robinson's supporters are betraying Christianity's one "source of
truth, the Bible in the holy tradition of the church" and declared
that Orthodoxy's official talks with the Episcopal Church are
"defunct." Says another longtime Orthodox participant in the
discussions, the Rev. Paul Schneirla: "I cannot imagine going on."
-The bishops who head North America's nine Orthodox branches
jointly lamented that Christianity's 2,000-year tradition on
marriage is being "questioned, challenged or denied" in society and
in certain "faith communities" (politely avoiding mention of the
Roman Catholic leaders also have shown displeasure in various
At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II told Carey's successor,
Archbishop Rowan Williams, that "new and serious difficulties have
arisen on the path to unity." The pope said the problems "extend to
essential matters of faith and morals."
The Vatican's doctrinal overseer, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
sent warm greetings to this month's Dallas rally of 2,700
conservatives planning a break with the Episcopal Church.
Still, the Rev. J. Robert Wright of New York's General
Theological Seminary, a veteran Episcopal ecumenist, takes heart
that this month's Catholic-Episcopal dialogue session occurred as
scheduled - even though a key Catholic bishop said the Episcopal
actions will have "serious implications" for the talks.
"I was quite relieved at that, frankly," Wright says. He thinks
accord among Christians on gay issues is possible, but he's
thinking long term -perhaps 50 years down the road.
The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things magazine, a
conservative Catholic long engaged in ecumenical matters, said
Episcopal actions won't "slow down or dilute the commitment of the
Catholic Church to work for full communion with all Christians,
However, Neuhaus sees a "big pothole in the road" for the world
Catholic-Anglican talks, among the most fruitful of such
negotiations. His reasoning: The Anglican Communion could dissolve
into factions and even if it doesn't, Catholics can't be certain
whether Anglicans speak with a single voice.
Within other U.S. Protestant denominations, the Episcopal
quagmire also has implications.
Canon David C. Anderson, whose American Anglican Council is
leading the conservative Episcopalians' charge, thinks his
denomination's struggle could weaken pro-gay efforts in other
"If they see the Episcopal Church truly shipwreck, this will
give them pause about going down the same road," he says.
But a conservative leader in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),
the Rev. Parker Williamson, fears the opposite. He thinks
Robinson's victory "was a great encouragement to those who would
like to see endorsement of homosexual behavior in our
denomination." He says the Episcopal and Presbyterian situations
"are quite parallel."
The Anglican Council's Dallas rally all but overshadowed a
simultaneous meeting for 250 of Williamson's Presbyterian Coalition
That meeting featured a bombshell speech by Kansas attorney
Robert Howard, former chairman of the Presbyterian Lay Committee.
Howard said Presbyterians should consider a "gracious
separation" into two denominations, because conservatives and
liberals have "irreconcilable differences" on homosexuality and
other issues. Howard even offered a four-year plan on just how to
divide up the Presbyterians' 11,000 local congregations and assets. þSapa-AP
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