After an enthusiastic rally that concluded with a strong protest declaration demanding that church leaders repent for their growing acceptance of gay relationships, conservative Episcopalians are waiting anxiously for an emergency summit meeting in London. A delegation from the American Anglican Council, sponsor of the Dallas meeting, will take its declaration to a Tuesday huddle with overseas archbishops who agree that the summer Episcopal Church convention violated church teaching
when it took steps toward accepting same-sex behavior.
The October 15-16 summit on the American church crisis and a parallel dispute in Canada involves the 38 heads of the national Anglican branches, one of which is the Episcopal Church. The session is chaired by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion. For all sides, it's a decisive moment for the Episcopal Church and the world's 77 million Anglicans.
The 2,700 Episcopalians who convened in Dallas on Thursday petitioned the London summit to discipline Episcopal bishops who back liberal actions regarding gays, to have special bishops intervene to lead conservative congregations in liberal U.S. dioceses, and to "guide the realignment of Anglicanism in North America."
The shape of that "realignment" is unclear, but the Dallas meeting began the process of creating a new U.S. conservative network and, very likely, its total break from the Episcopal Church. The conservatives assert that they are trying to preserve Anglican teachings and that it's the Episcopal majority to blame for any split.
Canon David C. Anderson, American Anglican Council president, said he met Archbishop Williams in London last month and warned him that if the London summit delays or avoids taking action, much of "the orthodox party of the Episcopal Church" could be lost to Anglicanism. Anderson says that sex "gets everyone's attention" but that the more fundamental left-right disagreements plaguing his denomination concern the authority of the Bible and the uniqueness of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The week following the London summit, the AAC board will meet in Fairfax, Va., and the week after that, like-minded Canadian leaders will gather. Beyond that, the AAC plans a strategy session within a couple of months for allied U.S. bishops and priests from major congregations, and then a rally early in 2004 at which U.S. conservatives will set their future course.
Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan told a news conference, "This is a defining moment in Christian history." He said there's a "life-threatening" disorder in the Episcopal Church and world Anglicanism that "must be dealt with now" by the London summit.
The issue of whether there's a binding scriptural ban on gay sex has long been disputed among Episcopalians, but two votes by the Episcopal convention brought matters to the boiling point: approval of a gay cleric, who has a longtime partner, as bishop of New Hampshire; and acknowledgment that some bishops "within the bounds of our common life" allow blessings of same-sex unions.
The Dallas declaration repudiated those actions, saying they broke "fellowship with the larger body of Christ." The majority of Anglican leaders worldwide support the U.S. conservatives' position on homosexuality, but they are in the minority within the Episcopal Church.
Presiding bishop Frank Griswold, who agrees with the liberal majority, is the Episcopal Church's leader and its representative in London. He issued a statement Thursday lamenting what he called the "inflammatory rhetoric" and "ultimatums" coming from the Dallas meeting. "In such a climate, mutual pursuit of ways to build up rather than tear down is made more difficult," Griswold said, though the church "must take seriously" the conservatives' "grief and anger."