Monday, June 30, 2008

Anglican conservatives move to form power bloc

Anglican conservatives, frustrated by the ongoing stalemate over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion, declared Sunday that they would defy the church's historic lines of authority and establish a new power bloc within the church that will be led by a council of predominantly African archbishops.

The announcement came at the close of an unprecedented meeting in Jerusalem by conservatives, who contend that they represent a majority of the 77 million members of the Anglican Communion.

They depicted their efforts as the culmination of an anti-colonial struggle against the church's seat of power in Britain, whose missionaries first brought Anglican Christianity to the developing world.

The conservatives say that many of the descendants of those Anglican missionaries in Britain and North America are now following what they call a "false gospel" that allows a malleable, liberal interpretation of Scripture.

After more than 1,000 delegates to the meeting at a Jerusalem hotel affirmed their platform statement, African women, Australians, South Americans and Indians danced and swayed to a Swahili hymn and shouted full-throated hallelujahs.

Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who leads the largest province in the Communion, said at a news conference afterward: "It's quite clear we have been in turmoil. With this decision we have a fresh beginning."

He was accompanied by the archbishops of Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sydney, Australia, and a former American priest, David Anderson Sr., whom Akinola made a bishop of the Church of Nigeria.

They insisted that they were not breaking away from the Anglican Communion or creating a schism. But it is clear that, if carried out, their plans would create severe upheaval in the Communion, the world's third-largest grouping of churches after the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

A statement the delegates issued in Jerusalem said that it was time to establish a branch in the United States and Canada that would absorb the churches that have been outraged by the American church's consecration of an openly gay bishop in 1993 and the Canadian church's blessing of same-sex unions.

They also challenged the authority of the archbishop of Canterbury. The current archbishop, Rowan Williams, has been a disappointment to conservatives because he did not discipline or engineer an eviction of the liberal North Americans. The archbishop of Canterbury historically has not had the power to decree policy in the Communion, but in the past he determined which churches belonged to it.

The conservatives said that while they acknowledge Canterbury's historic position, they did not accept the idea "that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the archbishop of Canterbury."

They said that what would determine membership in their conservative alliance within the Communion is a manifesto they issued Sunday, called the "Jerusalem Declaration," which contains 14 principles of theological orthodoxy.

A majority of the conservatives at the meeting said they would boycott the Lambeth Conference, a gathering of Anglican bishops from around the world that takes place every 10 years in Britain. That conference begins in mid- July.

There was no immediate response Sunday from the archbishop of Canterbury, the Episcopal Church in the United States or the Anglican Church of Canada.

Some liberal American bloggers sought to play down the conservatives' actions, dismissing them as an attempt to hijack the Communion when, in their view, there are much more important issues for the church to confront, like poverty, AIDS and global warming.


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