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Boycott underscores Anglican rift

One-fourth of bishops have declined to attend a once-a-decade gathering of clergy.

By Mark Rice-OxleyCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 17, 2008

Disputes: Archbishop Rowan Williams noted the church's 'conflicts' at the Lambeth Conference's opening Wednesday.

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London

The deep fractures in the 80-million-strong Anglican church were laid bare Wednesday as the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams opened a once-a-decade summit with a quarter of bishops boycotting the event because of a festering row over sexuality and liberal interpretation of Scripture.

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Some 230 of 880 Anglican bishops, most of them from Africa and conservative American and Australian parishes are cold-shouldering the Lambeth Conference because they disagree fundamentally with Archbishop Williams and other liberal church leaders on the place of homosexuals in the life and ministry of the church.

Many of the boycotters have already launched a breakaway movement that wants to return to what they see as scriptural orthodoxy. They have been agitating for decisive action against gay clergy ever since Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, was consecrated as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

Williams decided not to invite Bishop Robinson to the 2-1/2-week conference – but that was not enough to appease conservatives, who have openly broken with the US church leaders who consecrated Robinson.

"One reason why many of these people are not going to the Lambeth Conference is that they feel it would be hypocrisy to spend three weeks in fellowship and prayer and Bible study with those who have consecrated a homosexual as a bishop," says Canon Chris Sugden, a supporter of the traditionalist movement.

"It's the first time that the Lambeth has had a boycott," adds Theo Hobson, an author and theologian. "The aim of this year's conference is to avoid divisive issues, but that's why the Evangelicals have boycotted because they think there's a need for clarity at the moment to determine orthodoxy."

'Living through very difficult times'

In a welcome message, Williams, who has struggled to reconcile the irreconcilable over the past five years, acknowledged that the communion "is living through very difficult times, and we are bound to be aware of the divisions and conflicts that have hurt us all in recent years."

With 77 million members in 164 countries, the Anglicans claim to be the third-largest Christian denomination. They have always been the broadest of churches, and as such have been divided on a wide range of issues, from Darwinism to slavery, polygamy to scriptural interpretation and ecclesiastical rites. Lambeth conferences have habitually had to accommodate contradictory viewpoints.

But homosexuality has emerged as the most divisive issue of all, ever since the last Lambeth Conference in 1998 issued a resolution that failed to clear the matter up.

Conservatives argue it is not a question of homosexuality but of Scripture. They are alarmed at modern interpretation of the Bible. "I believe it [homosexuality] is against the Scripture because it is very clear in the Bible that it is not what the Bible teaches," says Lawrence Dena, a Kenyan bishop boycotting Lambeth.

• The Lambeth Conference is a meeting of Anglican archbishops and bishops held once a decade.

• Some 230 of 880 bishops – from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Australia, the US, and other nations – declined to attend this year's conference. They are boycotting due to the presence of US bishops who supported the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as bishop.

• The Anglican church has 77 million members in 164 countries.

Source: Reuters

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