Rarely have the bishops and bureaucrats who lead the world's 77 million Anglicans awaited a moment with such intense anticipation. On Monday an emergency panel called the Lambeth Commission will issue recommendations on how the Anglican Communion can remain a coherent, united segment of global Christianity despite severe disagreements over homosexuality and interpretation of the Bible.
At stake may be the long-term future of the communion, the international association of churches with roots in the Church of England. Findings will also resonate beyond Anglicanism to Christians in all denominations who believe their faith has oppressed gays and lesbians, and equally for those who consider changes a direct attack on the Bible and 2,000 years of Christian teaching. Two top London newspapers said the commission would propose disciplinary measures against the Episcopal Church, Anglicanism's U.S. branch, for consecrating Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, a gay man who lives openly with his partner.
Other explosive matters include increasing ordinations of openly gay priests in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Last year's U.S. church convention recognized that Episcopalians "within the bounds of our common life" conduct same-sex blessing ceremonies, and this year's Canadian synod affirmed the "sanctity" of gay couples. Those events have divided North American parishes and dioceses and created acrimony among the Anglican Communion's 38 self-governing national churches.
Worldwide, Anglican conservatives are heavily in the majority. A 1998 conference of all Anglican bishops declared gay practices "incompatible with Scripture" and opposed gay ordinations and same-sex blessings in a 526-70 vote, with 45 abstentions. Ireland's archbishop Robin Eames, who chairs the Lambeth Commission, said Tuesday that the 17 members were unanimous and did not shirk issues. "It is not the bland report some feared. It has teeth," he said, though Anglican Church documents often use language to assuage both sides and allow various interpretations. There's talk the text will run 80 pages. The implications will play out through 2006, when the next U.S. Episcopal convention is held, 2007 (Canada's synod), and 2008 (the Anglican bishops' world conference).