Today’s Guardian has an article by Stephen Bates Williams condemns breakaway bishops in gay rights row. That is an edited version and Stephen has kindly sent us his original full article which follows below.
Archbishop slams the splitters
Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the worldwide Anglican communion, yesterday condemned attempts by conservative church leaders to undermine the US Episcopal Church for its support for gay rights and effectively refused calls to disinvite American bishops from next year’s Lambeth Conference of all the church’s bishops.
In a long-anticipated Advent message to the 38 primates of the communion at which the archbishop had promised to respond to the crisis, Dr Williams criticised African and other church leaders who have consecrated their own American bishops and offered to look after the small number of dioceses whose conservative American bishops have said they wish to separate from the US church and seek oversight from foreign provinces. The first American diocese, San Joaquin in California, formally announced its secession at its synod last weekend and its intention to align itself to the tiny Anglican archdiocese of the Southern Cone, which covers most of South America.
In words which directly rebuke conservatives who claim theirs is the true and only voice of authentic Anglican identity, Dr Williams stated: “Not everyone carrying the name of Anglican can claim to speak authentically for the identity we share as a global fellowship….A great deal of the language that is around in the communion at present seems to presuppose that any change from our current deadlock is impossible, that division is unavoidable and that such division represents so radical a difference in fundamental faith that no recognition and future co-operation can be imagined. I cannot accept these assumptions and I do not believe as Christians we should see them as beyond challenge.”
In a passage which will be particularly galling to conservative evangelicals, especially those who regard the archbishop as Biblically unsound, Dr Williams cited St Paul, the sole author in the New Testament to explicitly condemn homosexuality and so regarded as a definitive spokesman for orthodoxy, saying: “The gospels and the epistles of Paul alike warn us against a hasty final judgement on the spiritual state of our neighbours….The challenge is not best addressed by a series of ad-hoc arrangements with individual provinces elsewhere…this is not doing anything to advance or assist local solutions that will have some theological and canonical solidity.”
Dr Williams’s lengthy and detailed statement, which went through numerous revisions by his staff at Lambeth Palace, is likely to infuriate conservative Anglican pressure groups who have been demanding that the church should discipline or expel the Americans for electing the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. The archbishop met all the US bishops in New Orleans in September when they formulated a statement agreeing not to endorse any further gay bishops or to authorise formal blessings services for same sex couples.
His silence since that meeting has created a vacuum which has exasperated both liberals and conservatives anxious for him to give a lead. The statement now directly contradicts the assertion of the Most. Rev. Gregory Venables, the English Evangelical presiding bishop of the Southern Cone, who has made no secret of wishing to recruit disaffected American dioceses and who let it be known, following a meeting in London with Dr Williams in September that he believed the Archbishop thought the plan was “a sensible way forward”.
Lambeth Palace did not publicly criticise Bishop Venables until this week. One senior insider at the Palace told the Guardian that the idea that Dr Williams supported the move was complete nonsense.There are signs of divisions between senior members of the archbishop’s staff and frustration over his perceived dithering.
As the message makes clear that Bishop Robinson will not be invited to next year’s conference either, the official said it contained “something to annoy everyone.”
Dr Williams put forward two proposals to keep the American Church inside the Anglican communion: “professionally facilitated conversations” between US leaders and their American and outside critics to see if they can achieve better mutual understanding, reduce tensions and clarify options and the setting up of a group of primates to produce proposals to put to next year’s Lambeth Conference on the issues that the gay crisis has thrown up. Neither last night seemed likely to satisfy the church’s conservatives who have maintained for several years that the time for listening is past.
Other press reports
Ruth Gledhill in The Times Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, warns American church leaders to curb their pro-gay agenda
Jonathan Petre in the Telegraph Williams warns bishops in gay rights row