leaders consider barring more gays from becoming bishops to
prevent an Anglican schism, the world Anglican family is
already dying by a thousand cuts.
conflict over the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay
Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, is
draining the Anglican Communion of its global
Anglican conservatives who have been trying to maneuver
collectively have instead been scattering in different
directions, adding to a sense of chaos.
And while the
number of Episcopal parishes that have broken with the
national church is relatively small, observers say there's
another threat that's harder to measure: that some
parishioners upset by how leaders have handled the
crisis are falling away from the church.
people off,'' said David Hein, a religion professor at
Hood College in Maryland who specializes in Episcopal and
Anglican history. ''They never endorsed gay marriage.
They never said ordaining gay bishops was all right.
They just did this as an ad hoc thing.''
77-million-member Anglican Communion is a fellowship of
churches that trace their roots to the Church of
England. It is the third-largest Christian body in the
world, behind the Roman Catholic and Orthodox
churches, and is represented in the United States by the
After four years
of emergency summits and failed talks over Robinson's
consecration, Episcopal bishops are meeting in New
Orleans under enormous pressure to roll back
their support for gays.
called primates, have set a September 30 deadline for
the Americans to pledge unequivocally not to consecrate
another gay bishop or approve an official prayer
service for same-gender couples. Episcopal bishops
have dedicated their meeting here to crafting a
Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader,
has tried to play down the significance of the date, saying
''there is no ultimatum involved.'' However, he took
the unusual step of attending the meeting on its first
two days, warning Episcopal leaders behind closed
doors that they must make concessions to keep the communion
No one expects
the Americans to completely reverse course. Many Episcopal
leaders believe biblical teachings on justice and acceptance
are paramount. They celebrated Robinson's election.
That means that the damage already done to the
communion by all sides in the conflict likely won't be
repaired anytime soon.
The strain on
Anglican relations with other Christians was clear at an
ecumenical service in the Morial Convention Center Thursday
night with the archbishop of Canterbury and Episcopal
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans didn't attend. A
spokeswoman for Hughes said he had a scheduling conflict and
that Baton Rouge Catholic Bishop Robert Muench was
participating in his place. But Muench sat in the
audience so far back from the stage that few people
knew he was there until an Episcopal leader asked him to
stand up and wave.
This is no small
snub. Anglicans and Catholics have been in high-level
negotiations for years to rebuild ties between their
churches. Those talks have been complicated not only
by Robinson's election but also by the ordination of
women in Anglican provinces.
conservatives aren't in much better shape.
Episcopal parishes are joining a patchwork of separate
U.S.-based networks with leadership from all over the
Anglican world, including Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, and
Kenya, where theological conservatives are the
About 60 of the
more than 7,000 Episcopal parishes have either split off
or suffered serious membership losses, according to the
At least three
dioceses -- Pittsburgh; Quincy, Ill.; and San Joaquin in
California -- have taken the first steps toward breaking
from the national church.
Duncan of Pittsburgh is convening a meeting next week
called ''Common Cause Partners'' to unite Episcopal
conservatives. But even conservatives doubt its
bishop Jeffrey N. Steenson of the Diocese of the Rio Grande
in Albuquerque, N.M., planned to announce on Monday that
he's resigning and joining the Catholic Church.
''The movement is
in danger of fragmenting into so many pieces,'' said
Canon Kendall Harmon, a leading conservative thinker from
the Diocese of South Carolina. ''We look like American
Protestantism already and we've only been essentially
at this, depending on whose measuring stick you want
to use, three to five years.''
continues on the path of slow but steady splintering, it
will effectively do as much harm as a formal schism.
Anglicans in Africa, who derive much of their stature
from their global ties, will become just another
church. The 2.2 million-member Episcopal Church, which has
played such a central role in U.S. history, will also
happens, people will say, 'This wasn't much of a church
anyway,''' said Ephraim Radner, an evangelical Anglican and
a theology professor at Wycliffe College in Toronto.
''The results will be the disappearance and
dissolution of Anglicans as a whole in North America.''
(Rachel Zoll, AP)