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Thursday, August 07, 2003

Anglican Schism?

Now that the vote has finally gone ahead I think it is time to comment directly on the Episcopalian decision to appoint a practicising homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson. The issue is mixed up with that of homosexual marriage. The whole homosexual issue is highlt charged, and many headlines have been generated. What has been missed however is the real battle. That current field that is being fought on is homosexuality, but homosexuality is nothing more than an issue in a wider context.

That wider context is the Anglican approach to Scripture. As a Protestant Church the Anglican Communion has subscribed to the idea of Holy Scripture as the sole basis of religious authority. This position was developed during the Reformation (Catholicism and Orthodoxy believe in constant revelation, where Scripture is the most important but not the sole source of authority). The position of the Anglican liberals inevitably means weakening that principle, and perhaps de facto doing away with it altogether. This may not be the intended result, but it will be what results.

Why? Because Scripture is very clear on the matter of homosexuality. It can be stretched so far, but liberal interpretations stretch it to breaking point. And this is the position of the Evangelicals who want to maintain this principle. Women priests were another battleground, but one where the Scriptural issue was significantly clouded enough (for Anglicans) that they could fudge. This issue is Scripturally more clear-cut.

What will it mean? I think it is quite possible the Episcopal Church in the USA will divide. I think it more unlikely that there will be a formal Schism yet - though I think it is quite possible the next Lambeth Conference will produce one.

What I think will be missed in all of this is the heroism of Canon Jeffrey John. I have utmost respect for this man. He decided not to push the Church down the path of confrontation, and not become the Bishop of Reading. Canon Gene Robinson on the other hand must be acutely aware that he is the cause of the current crisis. Perhaps being in the UK Canon John was/is simply more aware of the international dimension. I have no doubt that he resigned to maintain the unity of the Communion, and that sacrifice of personal position for a wider good is something I deeply admire. Canon Robinson must bear the burden for forcing this issue. I imagine he sincerely believes that the Holy Spirit has guided him here. If he does fracture the Anglican Communion though he must ask himself the question, and accept the responsibility.

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