Southern Africa Bishops Call for Unity as Anglican Schism Looms

Bishops within the Anglican Communion in Southern Africa have called for the worldwide church to “choose to remain united” as the threat of a split looms over the issue of homosexuality.

A statement was released Friday following a gathering in Johannesburg, South Africa, in which the two dozen bishops affirmed their desire for the unity of the Communion to be maintained and said they "extended a message of hope" to Anglicans.

“As bishops, we remain convinced that within the Anglican Communion what unites us far outweighs what divides us,” stated the Southern African bishops led by Archbishop of Cape Town Njongonkulu Ndungane, who is notorious among conservative African Anglicans for his liberal stance on homosexuality.

The current split over homosexuality was ignited globally in 2003, when an openly gay clergyman, Gene Robinson, was consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, USA.

Despite continued efforts to reconcile the two warring factions, the divide over the issue between the new liberalist wing of the Church and those that remain with the traditional biblical interpretation has been ever-widening.

A majority in the worldwide Anglican Communion support the traditional teachings based on biblical Scripture and are firmly against homosexuality. Others, however, and a majority within the U.S. Episcopal Church, believe that homosexuality is compatible inside the Church.

In an attempt to keep some degree of unity within the worldwide Church the Archbishop of Canterbury earlier this year suggested a two-tiered system of membership. The “covenant system” proposes that churches should be asked to sign a formal covenant, which would allow some to be fuller members of the Anglican Communion than others.

The proposed dual system would accommodate full “constituent” members to the Communion that have conformed to the traditional biblical views of the Church, but also another section of “associate” members which would incorporate more liberally-viewed churches.

The move came following the U.S. Episcopal Church's failure to “repent” for its actions to liberalize the gay agenda of the church at its General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this summer. At the triennial gathering, Episcopalians also rejected demands from conservative Anglicans overseas and at home that they elect no more gay bishops for now, voting instead to call for "restraint."

In response to Williams’ two-tiered model, Africa's largest Anglican Church — the 17.5 million member Church of Nigeria, viewed by many as a leader among Anglicans in the developing world —criticized the proposal. It called instead for the removal of what it called "a cancerous lump in the body".

In their statement Friday, the two dozen Southern African bishops appealed for "generosity of spirit and a respect for diversity," pledging themselves to continue to work and pray for reconciliation and unity.

The Southern African Anglican Church's own official theological standpoint on the homosexuality issue is that it recognizes "marriage in the eyes of God" as being only between a man and a woman.

The Church of the Province of Southern Africa (CPSA) has set up its own commission to examine gay issues and the church.

Christian Post reporter Joseph Alvarez in Washington contributed to this report.