Conservative African Anglicans Hope Schism Will Be Healed

July 7, 2008 - 7:18 PM

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Conservative Anglican leaders in Africa say they have done what is "humanly possible" to avoid a split from their U.S. counterparts ahead of a September deadline for liberals in the American church to follow orthodoxy on the issue of homosexuality.

When the Sept. 30 deadline arrives, Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola told Cybercast News Service, the U.S. Episcopal Church (ECUSA) leaders will have to make a decision as to whether they will stop blessing same-sex unions and consecrating homosexual bishops.

"This issue of homosexuality has torn the fabric of our communion," Akinola said in Nairobi.

Akinola heads conservative resistance against a liberalizing trend in the worldwide Anglican Communion, which is divided over ECUSA's 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson, a homosexual, as bishop of New Hampshire.

He said ECUSA had failed "woefully" in meeting the earlier requirements of a high-level church commission which called for an apology for ordaining Robinson, a promise not to repeat the action, and an end to church blessings for same-sex unions.

If the American church fails to meet the September deadline, "they will have opted to walk away from the Anglican Communion," whereas a ECUSA decision to meet the demands would result in a "great celebration."

A religious analyst here said the decision by the conservative bishops to hold off on breaking away from the global denomination was a bid "to give time to those who have wronged to repent."

Dr. Emily Adhiambo of the evangelical Christ Restoration Church in Nairobi said it was also possible the decision reflected just financially dependent poor African Anglican churches may be on wealthy Western churches.

Many African churches have refused to accept financial aid from Western churches over the homosexuality row.

Adhiambo forecast that at some point African Anglican congregations would increase pressure on their leaders to take action.

"If nothing changes, this is something we are likely to see in a near future. I think the congregation is strong enough to support the church [financially] although it appears the leaders may be afraid to take the risks," she said.

Anglicanism's top leadership on Tuesday wrapped up a five-day meeting in Zanzibar, Tanzania, at which the homosexuality dispute took center stage.

During the meeting in Tanzania, seven conservative Anglican leaders -- whose churches represent more than 30 of the 77 million global Anglicans -- refused to take Holy Communion with ECUSA Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, because of her support for Robinson.

"This deliberate action is a poignant reminder of the brokenness of the Anglican Communion," the protesting bishops said in a joint statement.

The meeting's final communique set the September deadline. It allowed members who oppose the notion of homosexual clergy to worship under a newly formed pastoral council.

Ephantus Mwangagi, an Anglican and a high school teacher in Nairobi said it was good for the African bishops to give time for their U.S. colleagues to change direction, saying "it may help to prevent the disintegration of the church."

Another Anglican here, banker Alice Wambui, said it was likely the church eventually would split.

"The U.S. church is basing its [stance] on the Bible's call for justice and equality and I do not see them going back on this. We are likely to see them break away from the mother church at some time," said Wambui.

Akinola has formed alliances with like-minded bishops within the American church, including Bishop Leonard Riches of the Reformed Episcopal Church. The archbishop of Sydney, Australia, Peter Jennings, is another outspoken leader in the Western church who has thrown his support behind the African conservatives' position.

Jennings said the communique "offered a chance to restore the communion but on the basis of biblical teaching."

At the same time, some African bishops are breaking from the conservative group and its pack

Tanzanian Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo, for instance, continues to accept donations from ECUSA, saying he is motivated by the need to help the poor, especially AIDS orphans, in his diocese.

Mhogolo said homosexuality was not a fundamental issue in the Christian faith, and that the push to make it a central issue is a form of oppression against homosexuals.

In a statement reacting to the communique, Jefferts Schori said those on both sides of the dispute were "being asked to forbear for a season."

"While those who seek full inclusion for gay and lesbian Christians, and the equal valuing of their gifts for ministry, do so out of an undeniable passion for justice, others seek a fidelity to the tradition that cannot understand or countenance the violation of what that tradition says about sexual ethics," she said.

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