Archbishop of Canterbury Says Gay Ban Needed to Preserve Unity

Daniel Burke | Religion News Service | Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Archbishop of Canterbury Says Gay Ban Needed to Preserve Unity


August 5, 2008

CANTERBURY, England -- The spiritual leader of the global Anglican Communion said the communion will be in "grave peril" if its North American churches ignore temporary bans on gay bishops and same-sex unions.

"If the North American churches don't accept moratoria" on gay bishops and blessings, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said on Sunday (Aug. 3), "as a communion we are going to continue to be in grave peril."

The archbishop also said conservative archbishops from the so-called Global South must stop transgressing traditional geographic boundaries and seeking to adopt like-minded parishes in the U.S. and Canada.

Williams' comments came at a press conference at the conclusion of the Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade gathering that brought together more than 650 bishops representing the world's third-largest Christian body.

Nearly 200 bishops, mostly from Africa, boycotted the conference because they refused to meet alongside bishops from the U.S. or Canada who allow same-sex blessings or approved of the election of an openly gay man, V. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

Though there was no recorded vote, a majority of bishops at Lambeth agreed with Williams and said the moratoria, although "difficult to uphold," are necessary to keep the Anglican Communion from breaking apart.

Yet in a sign of problems ahead, at least two California bishops had already earlier said they will continue to bless same-sex relationships in their dioceses.

The bishops' closing statement, which is not binding, came in a 40-page "Reflections from the Lambeth Conference."

The bishops here said same-sex blessings and Robinson's consecration have led to "many negative results." Mission partners have been lost, interfaith partnerships damaged, and the church is ridiculed in some quarters as "the gay church," the bishops said.

Bishops also gave strong approval for a proposed new covenant that would outline Anglican beliefs -- and penalties for churches that flaunt them -- as well as a "pastoral forum" to deal quickly with crises in the communion.

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said: "We have not resolved the differences among us, but have seen the need to maintain relationships, even in the face of significant disagreement and discomfort."

Jefferts Schori generally favors gay rights in her church, and voted to approve Robinson's consecration. Robinson was not invited to the conference but has been in England advocating for gay rights.

Throughout the three-week conference, bishops have studied the Bible and met in groups modeled on the African concept of villagers convening to hash out serious disputes.

The "reflections" document attempts to capture those conversations, but was also debated by the full body of bishops beneath a big blue circus tent here at the University of Kent.

No binding resolutions were produced, however, after Williams and conference designers determined they would be too polarizing.

But a majority of bishops here clearly want the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to not allow gay bishops and same-sex unions. The U.S. church says it effectively banned gay bishops two years ago, and has never authorized public liturgical rites for same-sex unions.

Some blessings of same-sex unions still occur in the U.S., however.

"I'm not very happy about that," Williams said Sunday.

As head of the Church of England, the archbishop of Canterbury is spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, but lacks the power to bring autonomous national churches into line.

Still, liberals in the Episcopal Church acknowledged that Sunday was a setback.

"We don't see this as a permanent marginalization," said Bishop Dean Wolfe of Kansas. "This is a dance that will go on for some time."

The Rev. Susan Russell, a California gay rights activist here for the conference said, "This means I'm going to have to work harder to get the Episcopal Church to do the right thing."

Bishop Hector Zalava of Brazil said Sunday that "the communion will split," if Episcopalians allow gay bishops and blessings. "If the Episcopal Church continues that way I don't have any hope for the future," he said.

Some bishops expressed frustration with the conference's design, comparing it to "Bible school for bishops," with endless talk but little action.

"I don't think we've done anything to resolve the crisis," said Bishop Keith Ackerman, a conservative from Quincy, Ill.

Williams said the bishops have taken positive steps.

"We may not have put an end to all our problems," he said, "but the pieces are on the board." 

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