July 1, 2006
Revolt under way within Episcopal church
By Jim Christie
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Six conservative Episcopalian
bishops opposed to the liberal drift in the U.S. branch of the
Anglican Communion are asking for a trial separation, a move
hinting at an eventual divorce over irreconcilable differences,
some analysts say.
Texas, South Carolina, Central Florida, Springfield, Illinois,
and San Joaquin, California, appealed this past week to
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to be assigned somebody
other than Katharine Jefferts Schori as their leader.
Conservative Episcopalians say Schori, presiding
bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church, would continue to steer
the church away from its traditional teachings. She backs
church blessings of gay relationships and voted to confirm Gene
Robinson, the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop.
The move by the bishops underscores the tension within the
2.4 million-member Episcopal Church USA between its
conservative and liberal clergy, a schism rooted in views on
scripture and church politics concerning homosexuality.
Their appeal suggests the gap between the two sides has
grown too wide to bridge.
"It's overdue," said Steven Randall, who resigned as an
Episcopalian priest in Maryland to protest Robinson's election.
"They believe completely different things."
The appeal coincided with the nomination of the Rev. Canon
Michael Barlowe, who is gay, as a finalist to become bishop of
the Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, and came as Williams
proposed conservative dissenters in the U.S. church be allowed
to stand apart from it as associate members.
'TWO DIFFERENT CHURCHES'
"We've essentially got two different churches living in the
same house," said the Rev. Van McAlister of the San Joaquin
diocese. "We're identifying that there is a problem and it
needs to be addressed."
A few other dioceses may join the six bishops who appealed
to Williams as well as many individual congregations, said
Cynthia Brust, a spokeswoman for the American Anglican Council,
a group for Episcopalians at odds with the U.S. church.
"We're in uncharted territory," Brust said, noting there is
no precedent for the bishops' appeal.
The request is troubling but Williams has offered the U.S.
church a middle ground, said Bishop William Swing for the
Diocese of California.
"The Archbishop of Canterbury has asked all of us in the
Anglican Communion to enter into a deliberate process over time
to see what an Anglican covenant should look like," Swing said.
There are about 77 million Anglicans worldwide, making it
the third-largest communion after the Roman Catholic and
Eastern Orthodox churches. National or regional Anglican
churches are autonomous, but are all in communion with the
Church of England and its primate, the Archbishop of
Introspection may only harden divisions, said Archbishop
Robert Morse, who helped found the conservative Anglican
Province of Christ the King in the late 1970s in a break with
the U.S. church over scriptural and cultural issues.
"What's happening today is an increasingly confused
picture," Morse said. "Thirty years ago, we predicted this
The U.S. church may again be "pruning" itself, said Rev.
Susan Russell of All Saints Church in Pasadena, California and
president of Integrity, a group for gay Episcopalians.
"Episcopalians like to think of themselves as being a broad,
generous church," she said. "We may have reached the point
where some can no longer live within the tent."