New Episcopal Head May Cause Deeper Wounds

Conservative ecumenical leaders expressed little optimism for the future of the Anglican Communion with the installment of the Episcopal Church's first woman head.

"Sadly, Bishop Jefferts Schori's investiture may exacerbate tensions already existing in the Anglican Communion, which is still deeply wounded as a result of [the Episcopal Church's] actions in consecrating an openly gay bishop and approving same-sex blessings as a local option subject to the approval of the diocesan bishop," stated Jim Tonkowich, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an ecumenical alliance of conservative U.S. Christians.

Jefferts Schori formally took office as presiding bishop of the U.S. Anglican body on Nov. 4, becoming the first woman to hold such a position in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The start of her nine-year term, however, was not a joyous occasion for all Anglicans. Several U.S. Anglican leaders will not acknowledge Jefferts Schori as head, and instead are seeking a new overseer from the global body. Her openness to ordaining homosexuals and blessing same-sex "marriage" has kept conservative leaders at odds with her.

"As bishop of a small diocese that failed to show any substantial growth in attendance, despite being located in the fastest growing state in the nation (Nevada), it is unclear how Schori is prepared to address the same problems taking place in the wider Episcopal Church from her new national office," noted Tonkowich.

After the consecration of openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003, the Episcopal Church has remained divided and disputes have intensified with the new woman head.

Leading up to her investiture, Jefferts Schori made further controversial comments, saying homosexuality is "how one is created" and that Jesus Christ is not the only way to God.

"While the bishop is meant to be a symbol of unity for the entire church, Bishop Jefferts Schori has continually made comments that make orthodox Anglicans feel less and less a part of [the Episcopal Church]," said IRD Anglican Action Director Ralph Webb. "She has made comments concerning 'Mother Jesus,' repeatedly expressed her conviction that Jesus Christ is one of many ways to salvation, and communicated her vision for the mission of the church with progressive social justice terminology.

"All of this has not helped heal a rapidly splintering church."

Days before her installment, Jefferts Schori invited Anglican leaders from around the world to dialogue and build toward a "missional relationship."

Webb recognized that she has been praised as someone adept at building bridges with those who disagree with her. But he added that conservative Anglican leaders have yet to witness that.

"So far, orthodox Anglicans really have not seen those characteristics of her for which she has been praised. We hope we will soon since [the Episcopal Church] is bleeding profusely from a self-inflicted wound that has spread to impact the Anglican Communion worldwide."