U.S. Episcopalians Near Deadline

Less than a month remains before U.S. Episcopalians are expected to respond to Anglican leaders worldwide on whether they will remain in step with the Anglican Communion or walk apart.

Their response may determine a possible split in the 77-million member global body that has struggled over the years to avoid schism. Currently, many conservative Anglicans are not hopeful that The Episcopal Church – the U.S. branch of Anglicanism – will "give up its liberal agenda" and remain aligned.

The Episcopal Church faces a Sept. 30 deadline to respond to the requests made earlier this year by Anglican primates, who lead the communion's 38 provinces, to make an unequivocal pledge not to consecrate another openly gay bishop or authorize official prayers for same-sex couples.

Controversy had heightened when The Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003. New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson recently announced plans to enter civil partnership with his gay partner next summer.

"With the clock rapidly running out on The Episcopal Church, the pressure is on for the denomination to place the good of the worldwide Anglican Communion above its own interests," stated Ralph Webb, director of Anglican Action for The Institute on Religion and Democracy. "Unfortunately, the denomination still gives little hope that it will rise to meet the needs of not only the Communion to which it belongs, but the entire body of Christ."

Earlier this week, the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago announced that an openly lesbian priest was included among five nominees for bishop. If elected in November, the Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, would become the second bishop in the U.S. branch who lives with a same-sex partner.

"The nomination clearly goes against the spirit of the primates' requests and illustrates the hardness of heart toward the primates demonstrated by many in the Episcopal Church today," said Webb. "[T]hat goal (of the 'full inclusion' of gays and lesbians) and many other examples of jettisoning biblical, traditional Anglican faith have led thousands of orthodox Anglicans to leave the Episcopal Church."

Providing a spiritual home for U.S. Anglicans discontent in The Episcopal Church over homosexuality and what conservatives argue a departure from scriptural authority, the Anglican archbishop of Kenya, Benjamin Nzimbi, consecrated two conservative American bishops on Thursday. The new bishops are to lead U.S. congregations who have split from The Episcopal Church. Nzimbi joins three other African leaders who have set up offshoots in the United States to take conservative Anglicans under their wings. The offshoots have been rejected by Episcopal leaders who say alternative oversight from overseas bishops would be "injurious" to the polity of The Episcopal Church.

Days ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline, The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops will meet in New Orleans to discuss the primates' requests. Anglican spiritual leader Dr. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, has been invited to give an address and answer questions.

Williams has expressed hope but not optimism in the unity of the Anglican Communion.

Meanwhile, Anglican Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana, also dean of the Province of Central Africa, says Anglican churches will soon return to other priorities and abandon a "fixation" with homosexuality.

"Very few of us take the homosexual debate as a top priority issue because there are more pressing issues facing the African church," Mwamba told Ecumenical News International. "Most African Anglicans want to get back to basics and concentrate on poverty, disease, injustice and the need for transparency in governments."

Mwamba said he believes there is still a lot of time for Anglican bishops to agree to attend next year's Lambeth Conference – the decennial gathering of the world's top Anglican leaders. African bishops have threatened not to attend the meeting in protest of the invitation of Episcopal leaders who have not repented over their controversial actions.

"I believe that quite number of African bishops who have threatened not to attend next year's Lambeth Conference in Canterbury may change their minds," he said. "Yes, there are problems, but a week is a long time in politics and we still have almost a year to go before the next Lambeth Conference."