Episcopal, Anglican Leaders Gather to Address Gay Divide

A group of Episcopal and Anglican leaders will be meeting this week to resolve the conservative-liberal divide over homosexuality that has threatened to tear apart the worldwide Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, USA.

The Sept. 11-13 gathering is part of a broad effort by Anglicanism’s spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, to preserve the global Anglican fellowship despite a hardening conservative-liberal divide over whether the Bible bars gay relationships. The Episcopal Church represents Anglicanism in the United States.

Tensions within the American denomination have increased since the meeting of its top policymaking body earlier this summer.

Conservative Anglican leaders worldwide had asked U.S. delegates for a moratorium on confirming any more openly gay bishops, in light of the uproar over the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who lives with his longtime male partner.

But Episcopal delegates could not agree on the wording of the resolutions after days of debate. Instead, the convention adopted a last-minute, nonbinding measure asking church leaders to "exercise restraint" when considering gay candidates for bishops. The resolution stops far short of the moratorium on gay bishops that Anglican leaders demanded to calm conservative outrage, but left open the chance for discussion between leaders of the Episcopal Church and other members of the Anglican Communion, who are badly at odds over gay clergy. Traditionalists hold that the Bible specifically prohibits homosexuality.

The same convention elected Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada, who supports gay relationships, as the first female presiding bishop for the Episcopal Church. One day after her election, Schori said that she believes homosexuality is not a sin and that homosexuals were created by God “with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender.”

Since then more conservative Anglican leaders have rejected Jefferts Schori's leadership and appealed for an "alternative primatial oversight" in opposition to the Episcopal Church’s stance on homosexuality. This week’s summit will address the difficulty of responding to the appeal.

"Canon [Kenneth] Kearon's point was that such requests needed to be discussed and a resolution be sought within the Episcopal Church itself," stated the Rev. Frank T. Griswold, the U.S. Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop, referring to statements made by the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. After the Episcopal Church USA's 75th General Convention in June, Kearon informed Griswold of the conversations he had with the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the notion of "alternative primatial oversight."

"We agreed that the most helpful next step might be to have a candid conversation to include the Presiding Bishop-elect (Jefferts Schori) and me together with bishops who have expressed a need for 'alternative primatial oversight,'" he stated in a clarification issued late last month.

Griswold has called the upcoming meeting "an opportunity for those of differing perspectives to come together in a spirit of mutual respect to exchange views."

Although Williams is not expected to attend, Kearon will participate, along with Griswold; Jefferts Schori; Bishop Jack Iker of Fort Worth, Texas; Bishop Robert Duncan, head of the Anglican Communion Network; Bishops Edward Salmon of South Carolina; James Stanton of Dallas; Don Wimberly of Texas; Dorsey Henderson of upper South Carolina; Rob O'Neill of Colorado; Mark Sisk of New York; John Lipscomb of Southwest Florida; and Peter Lee of Virginia.

Lee told The Associated Press in a phone interview, "We're trying to hold together people who have differing views and to respect those differing views."

Separately, a group of conservative bishops, led by Texas Bishop Don Wimberly, is scheduled to meet in Navasota, Texas, next week to discuss their future in U.S. church. Wimberly said in a statement that "my intention is to stay within" the denomination.

Church of England Bishops N.T. Wright of Durham and Michael Scott-Joynt of Winchester are expected to attend the Sept. 19-22 conservative gathering "with the blessing of the archbishop of Canterbury," Wimberly said.

Christian Post reporter Lillian Kwon in New York, and Christian Post correspondent Daniel Blake in London contributed to this report.