Boycott underscores Anglican rift
One-fourth of bishops have declined to attend a once-a-decade gathering of clergy.
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But conservatives are not the only ones claiming that Scripture is on their side. Liberals argue that Jesus Christ said not one word about homosexuality, and that any dogma that denounces love between two people starts to look distinctly unchristian. "You've got all these people talking about gays and lesbians being an abomination before God. Does that make you want to run out and go to an Anglican church and sing God's praises?" Robinson said in an interview earlier this week.Skip to next paragraph
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But as if to underscore the furious antagonism between the two camps, the bishop was heckled on Sunday as he addressed a London congregation by a young man who told him: "Go back to your church and repent."
The Anglican church has started to unravel under the strain of two such diametrically opposed positions. Some conservative US parishes have seceded from local diocesan oversight and joined with African provinces that better reflect their traditional outlook. African archbishops have declared themselves no longer "in communion" with their liberal US counterparts, and one, Peter Akinola of Nigeria, has accused Williams of committing apostasy and leading the church into crisis.
Last month at a Jerusalem conference, traditionalists launched a splinter group called the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.
Lambeth will avoid firm decisions
To avoid antagonism breaking out into the open, this year's Lambeth Conference will avoid any firm resolutions that could be contentious. Instead, bishops will meet in small groups to discuss the broadest range of issues, from social justice to climate change, the multifaith world and, yes, human sexuality, without taking a firm stance.
Jim Rosenthal, an Anglican spokesman at the conference, says the format would be based on a Zulu form of meeting called indaba, where small groups gather to discuss important issues without reaching concrete decisions. "It's an excellent way for people with diverse backgrounds and languages to get together," he says.
He added that bishops would not be deflected by the boycott. "Although there are differences which no one denies over many matters, not just sexuality, the reality is that the 80 percent turnout shows we find enormous benefit in being in communion."
A secondary division chipping away at the Anglicans involves the consecration of women bishops. This is more of a problem for the English "mothership" (known as the Church of England), which has signaled that it will press ahead with legislation to introduce women bishops, despite the objections of hundreds of clergymen.
"This is something that is troubling the Church of England, though it's less of a fight in the wider Anglican communion," says Giles Fraser, a London vicar, who notes that about 20 women bishops will attend Lambeth. "The issue of homosexuality by comparison is a bare-knuckle brawl."
Few analysts expect an Anglican reconciliation anytime soon. "The church is already fragmented," says Mr. Hobson. "The Evangelicals don't really believe in the authority of a liberal archbishop and leadership. It's hard to see how it could reunite."
Mr. Fraser adds that the only way of keeping the Anglicans together "is to have a greater degree of subsidiarity so that each province is able to make theological decisions for [itself]."
• 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.
Who is – and isn't – at the Lambeth Conference?