Jerusalem conference may widen Anglican rift
Church members, who are opposed to gay clergy and to what they consider liberal interpretation of scripture, are meeting to discuss the church's future.
On the scale of global religious movements, it is only a small gathering – a few hundred bishops, clergy, and laypeople – but its significance to one of the world's biggest churches is ominous.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
This weekend, about 1,000 traditional Anglicans implacably opposed to what they consider liberal leadership will descend on Jerusalem for an eight-day meeting that threatens to solidify the deep divisions, particularly over homosexuality, that have fractured the church.
Though organizers insist they are not breaking away from the 77-million strong Anglican communion, the conference throws down the gauntlet to the church's mother ship in England: Some delegates are openly calling it a "crossroads" and a "moment of decision"; others have said they will boycott the once-a-decade summit of Anglican bishops known as the Lambeth Conference, which takes place next month in Canterbury.
Even the summit's title – Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) – hints at an attempt to redefine the church and chart a new path forward. Think of it as a very strong tail trying to wag the dog.
"The objective is to think about the future of the Anglican Church," says Lawrence Dena, a Kenyan bishop, who is joining the Lambeth boycott because of the homosexuality question. "We have been handling this issue for a long time. We have already had a lot of time discussing this matter over 10 years now; so how much more time do we need?"
The Nigerian primate, Archbishop Peter Akinola, was blunter. "Now we confront a moment of decision," he wrote in a pamphlet for the conference. "If we fail to act, we risk leading millions of people away from the faith revealed in the Holy Scriptures."
"There is no longer any hope... for a unified communion," he added. "The intransigence of those who reject biblical authority continues to obstruct our mission, and it now seems that the communion is being forced to choose between following their innovations or continuing on the path that the church has followed since the time of the Apostles."
Giles Fraser, a London vicar who describes himself as from the more "progressive" wing of the church, says the conference is "an attempt to destabilize things ahead of the Lambeth Conference, an attempt to set up the beginnings of an alternative church, which they are threatening if they don't get their own way over issues like homosexuality."
A long history of disagreement
It comes as little surprise to discover that the term "broad church" was originally coined for the Anglicans. They are Christianity's third-largest communion, spread across 160 nations as a result of missionary work over the past 400 years. They occupy a wide-spanning theological and ecclesiastical bridge between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, accommodating liberals and conservatives, high-church Anglo-Catholics and low-church Calvinists, with widely differing views on liturgy, the Eucharist, vestments, social matters, and lifestyle.
As such, division and disagreement have been endemic for decades, if not centuries, over issues from slavery to the ordination of women priests.