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Conservatives in Episcopal Church Seek to Split into New Denomination

November 23, 2008 08:00 AM
by Anne Szustek

Disagreements over the role of gays in the church and the interpretation of scripture are pushing conservative Episcopalians to leave the church in favor of a new U.S. church also under the Anglican Communion.

Conservatives Seek to Break Free From Episcopal Church

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Bishop Martyn Minns, a leader of conservatives in the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican Communion, is part of a board that is drafting a constitution for a new church that would be a "separate-but-equal" conservative counterpart to the Episcopal Church.

"I have tried to see if we can create a safe haven (for traditional views) within the Episcopal Church, but failed," Minns told Reuters.

A rift over doctrinal interpretation had been dividing the church for some time. The Canadian Anglican Church and the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, have quietly accepted church blessings of same-sex couples for some time. And in 2003, the Episcopal Church ordained openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson in New Hampshire.

The liberal shift has alienated some American Episcopalian parishes to the point of disaffiliating their parishes from the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion in favor of joining African branches of the church, who generally maintain conservative views on gays. 

Out of the 110 Episcopalian dioceses in the United States, four have split from the American province of the Anglican Communion. Previous to their dissafiliation, fewer than 100 out of 7,100 parishes had agreed to leave, according to the Episcopal Church.

Robinson's ordination is thought to be a main sticking point for traditionalist bishops from the developing world, of whom 230 boycotted the Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of bishops from the Anglican Communion, instead attending the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon), which was held in Jerusalem in June.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said in August, during his closing statement at Lambeth, "If the North American churches don't accept the need for moratoria...we are not further forward. That means as a communion, we continue to be in grave peril."

Williams' statements were meant to stop the church from further schism. Robinson was not invited to the Lambeth Conference.

The role of gays was a main topic of a meeting of 160-odd Episcopal bishops in New Orleans in September 2007. In a move to assuage conservative dioceses, the clergy pledged to “exercise restraint” and not instate more gay bishops or formulate a liturgy for same-sex matrimony.

The 1998 conference ruled that gays should be embraced as members of the church, yet it “cannot advise” ordination of homosexuals or bless gay marriages.

Questions over the role of women as clergy in the Anglican Communion have also come to the fore as of late.

This past summer, the Vatican admonished the Church of England, that country's branch of the Anglican Communion, for passing a resolution confirming the right of women to serve as bishops on the grounds that it “is a rift to the apostolic tradition” of only having men in that church position.

The Episcopal Church has had a female bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, as its head since June 2006.

Video: ‘Anger at Church “Gay Wedding”’

Background: The 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution on gays, lead-up to 2008 conference

Related Topic: ‘Vatican Puts Its Foot Down on Female Priests’

Reference: The Anglican Communion

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