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Anglicans face specter of schism over gay rights
Tue Sep 20, 2005 06:23 AM ET
By Paul Majendie
LONDON (Reuters) - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams faces a recurring nightmare trying to stop Anglican liberals and conservatives heading for schism over the increasingly divisive issue of gay rights.
"That is why Rowan Williams is looking so haggard nowadays," Church Times editor Paul Handley said on Tuesday as the spiritual leader of 77 million Anglicans worldwide fought to keep the church united.
Two years of deepening divisions were sparked by the ordination of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same sex marriages in Canada.
Now the Church of Nigeria, the most vocal critic of liberal Anglicans in Western churches, has deleted all reference to Canterbury, the mother church of the Anglican communion, from its constitution.
"The longer this sort of rhetoric goes on, the less people will make the effort to stay together with people they disagree with," Handley told Reuters. "I can't see them wanting to leave each other alone."
The Nigerian Church, the second largest Anglican community after Britain, has opened its doors to other like-minded conservative Anglicans.
The newly formed Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in America hopes to accommodate thousands of conservative faithful in the United States who objected to the consecration of the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson.
"It looks as if we are heading in the direction of schism," said Rod Thomas, spokesman for Reform, an evangelical movement opposed to the ordination of women and gay priests.
"Rowan Williams is part of the problem and not the solution," he told Reuters.
In sharp contrast to the regimented hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican communion is a broad grouping of churches across 164 countries always run by consensus.
"Mutual respect and courtesy is one of the things that holds this vague organization together and that is in short supply," Handley said.
After the latest moves by Nigeria, liberals were reluctant to pitch into the increasingly bitter war of words.
The archbishop's office declined comment.
Robert Williams, spokesman for the Episcopal Church -- the U.S. Anglican province with 2.3 million members -- would only say: "The archbishop of Canterbury and his advisers are reviewing this matter at the present moment. I prefer not to make any statement."
The stakes are certainly high for the 450-year-old church.
Nigeria, home to quarter of the world's Anglicans, abhors the idea of gay clerics as does much of Africa where church leaders fear their followers will desert them for Islam or more conservative Christian churches.
The Church of England has also sparked the ire of traditionalists by allowing priests to register under Britain's new civil partnership law as long as they remain celibate.
Reform's Thomas argued that traditionalist churches in Asia, Latin America and Africa were thriving while the liberals in the West faced dwindling congregations.
"The Global South is booming. Churches which give in to a liberal agenda are going into decline. Churches which stand firm to the bible tend to be growing," he added.