News Intelligence Analysis
From the New York Times
November 12, 2005
Conservative Episcopalians Warn Church That It Must Change Course or Face Split
By NEELA BANERJEE
PITTSBURGH, Nov. 11 - Conservative leaders of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and their Anglican counterparts from overseas intensified their warnings Friday about the possibility of a schism in the Anglican Communion if the Episcopal Church did not renounce the consecration of gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions.
About 2,400 Episcopal Church and Anglican bishops, clergy members and lay leaders from around the world gathered here Thursday for a three-day show of solidarity in preparation for a general convention of the Episcopal Church next June in Columbus, Ohio.
While Episcopal and Anglican conservatives have warned before of the possibility of a split in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion over these issues, powerful primates of national and regional Anglican churches from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean said Friday that a break was all but inevitable if the Episcopal Church did not vote to change course at the Columbus meeting.
"The primates will decide" if they consider the response of the Episcopal Church "adequate," said Archbishop Drexel Wellington Gomez, primate of the West Indies. He said, however, that he expected no change in the stance of the Episcopal Church, the American arm of the Anglican Communion, when it comes to gays.
If that is the case, "given our present mood, the convention will most certainly be followed by some action," Archbishop Gomez said. "We have worked too hard, too long, to leave it like that."
The Episcopalians and Anglicans were joined by well-known American evangelical Christians, most notably the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of "The Purpose-Driven Life." Mr. Warren gave encouragement to conservative church dissidents who are trying to break with the Episcopal Church but who have often been stymied by disputes with their dioceses over ownership of church property.
"What's more important is your faith, not your facilities," he told the crowd at the Convention Center here. "The church is people, not the steeple. They might get the building, but you get the blessing."
Mr. Warren was warmly received, but a panel of foreign primates elicited several standing ovations for sharply criticizing the Episcopal Church.
Archbishop Datuk Yong Ping Chung, primate of South East Asia, said, "We will stand with you as long as you remain faithful, biblical, evangelical and orthodox."
Tensions between the Episcopal Church and Anglican churches in the developing world, and within the American church itself, have simmered for years over issues like the ordination of women and the interpretation of Scripture. But for many conservatives, the last straw came when the Episcopal Church consecrated the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.
To avoid a split in the global communion, an Anglican commission issued a report in October 2004 urging the Episcopal Church to apologize for creating division by its consecration of Mr. Robinson. But the church did not renounce its actions, and impatience with it is boiling over, conservatives said.
"There's no way for these two conflicted faiths to live under the same roof," said the Right Rev. Robert W. Duncan, bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese and the moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, a group of 10 dissident dioceses in the Episcopal Church. The network organized the conference in Pittsburgh.
An Episcopal Church U.S.A. spokeswoman, the Rev. Jan Nunley, said the tensions voiced at the Pittsburgh conference were not new.
Ms. Nunley added: "We're trying not to get ahead of events. We sit, watch and trust God, and hope for the spirit of reconciliation."
Though it has lost members and even congregations in the past over issues like the ordination of women, the Episcopal Church has managed to stay together because of the autonomy it gives dioceses. "We basically have a long history of working things out," said Lionel E. Deimel, president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, who also attended the conference but did not support its views. "But this is the most serious thing to happen to the Episcopal Church, and it has mobilized people on both sides."
At the convention in Columbus, the church is expected to issue a response to the October 2004 report. In the meantime, conservative congregations throughout the country have moved to leave the Episcopal Church and place themselves under the guidance of foreign Anglican bishops.
Conservatives and liberals agreed that any split within the church would be complicated by feuds and lawsuits over property and assets. But the thought of such disputes did not seem to weigh heavily on those gathered here, who said they were eager to resolve their major disagreements with the church, even if it meant a break from it.
"We definitely get the sense that there is something on the horizon," said the Rev. Mike Besson, 40, assistant to the rector at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Tomball, Tex. "The church won't be the same shape and form as before. We just don't know when or where that will occur."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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