LONDON – The Anglican Communion is heading towards a fresh breakdown in communications, after as many as ten Church of England bishops indicated that they may boycott the worldwide church body's decennial Lambeth Conference.
A number of Global South bishops have already raised the possibility of arranging a boycott of Lambeth 2008 in protest of the liberal stance of the U.S. and Canadian branches of the Anglican Communion on homosexuality.
However, a boycott by bishops from the Church of England, regarded as the homeland of Anglicanism, would be an unprecedented event in Anglican history and would signify a new low in the current arguments taking place in the communion.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Scott-Joynt, one of the most senior bishops in the Church of England, has said that between six and 10 bishops in England would discuss a boycott if The Episcopal Church in the United States did not give up its liberal attitude towards homosexuality in the Church.
Speaking to the Church of Ireland Gazette, the journal of the Anglican Church in Ireland, Bishop of Winchester Scott-Joynt revealed that up to ten diocesan and suffragan bishops from the church body's evangelical and Anglican-Catholic wings, would be "constrained" in their protest only by their loyalty to the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams.
Earlier this year, controversy broke out over the approaching 2008 Lambeth Conference as invitations were sent out to Anglican leaders across the globe. Eight bishops were excluded on the grounds that their presence could bring further disharmony.
According to The Times, however, openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson, who was among the uninvited bishops, will in fact be invited as a guest to Lambeth 2008 in a "non-voting capacity."
Global South traditionalists signaled after a meeting in London earlier this month that they were unlikely to attend next year's meeting of the Lambeth Conference, stating that "[i]t is impossible for us to see how, without discipline in the communion and without the reconciliation that we urge, we can participate in the proposed conference."
That provoked a sharp response on Monday from Archbishop of York John Sentamu, the Church of England's second most senior cleric.
On Monday, Sentamu, one of the closest allies of the Archbishop of Canterbury, warned conservative Anglicans from the Global South that boycotting the summit next year would mean they had effectively expelled themselves from the worldwide communion.
"Anglicanism has its roots through Canterbury," Sentamu told The Daily Telegraph.
"If you sever that link you are severing yourself from the communion," he warned conservatives.
"They would be the ones voting with their feet and saying, as far as we are concerned, we are the true Anglicans," the archbishop added.
The archbishop of Canterbury has battled – largely in vain – to placate the warring camps and bemoaned what many see as an Anglican obsession with sex.
In an interview last month with Time Magazine, Williams said of his church body: "It feels very vulnerable and fragile, perhaps more so than it's been for a very long time."
But he still insisted that, despite facing one of the gravest threats in the 450-year-old history of the Anglican Church, "I don't think schism is inevitable."
Now, however, Bishop Scott-Joynt has said to the Gazette that to avoid a boycott, the bishops of The Episcopal Church must meet the demands of the recent meeting of Anglican leaders in Dar es Salaam.
At that time, the Anglican leaders, called primates, gave U.S. bishops until Sept. 30 to agree to "make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions" and "confirm that... a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion."
The primates warned during that meeting, "If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion."
Bishop Scott-Joynt warned in the Gazette that if the bishops of The Episcopal Church do not meet those demands by the Sept. 30 deadline, and if the bishops of the Global South decline to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference, then between six and 10 English bishops could also stay away.