Tomorrow, Feb 14th, a meeting of the world's 39 Anglican leaders will convene in Tanzania. Prior to the meeting, African and conservative American leaders said they will refuse to sit down with Episcopal presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori - who will also be the only woman among the 39 leaders (known as "primates"). The meeting is likely to point toward the future direction of the worldwide Anglican communion; final decisions to split or not will most likely be left until next year's Lambeth Conference in England, attended by all the world's Anglican bishops. (It remains to be seen if Bishop Gene Robinson will be invited to Lambeth; Archbishop Rowan Williams has indicated he is inclined to invite everyone - but we'll see.) A careful, comprehensive article by Jane Lampman in today's Christian Science Monitor gives background on tomorrow's meeting:
More broadly, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria and other church leaders say they have initiated steps to form an alternative ecclesiastical structure in the US. They have served notice that they will not sit down with the new Episcopal leader, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori...
...The Episcopal Church has "moved outside its own theological boundaries," Duncan says. He charges that the church does not trust the authority of scripture, "which is clear about God's purposes in creation of man and woman," and is disregarding "the uniqueness of Jesus Christ ... as the only way to the Father."
Jefferts Schori has been criticized for supporting gay leadership and for statements saying Jesus is unique for Christians, but that God may also act in other ways.
"The theology espoused by the presiding bishop is absolutely consistent with the creeds," says the Rev. Ian Douglas, of Episcopal Divinity School. "People are using scripture in a dangerous way – it is a living document and not something to be used as a proof text or a club."
Another piece, from the Independent (UK), offers a Q&A addressing, among other questions, how much effect Rowan Williams is likely to have on the dispute, and whether a schism would actually be a big deal or not. My personal view is that a split is inevitable but that the churches will try to find a way to continue to work together on issues of mutual interest and concern, just as they have since the western churches began ordaining women and the conservative Africans declared themselves out of communion with us. However, the vicious, self-righteous, very public rhetoric will not be soon forgotten.
I am most concerned about the message this gives to homosexuals everywhere - not just in Christian denominations - and the tremendous psychological and emotional damage it has done and continues to do, even to people who have long since left their religious communities or been forced out. Having seen this so closely, I'm dedicated to trying to redress this damage in my own communities through whatever means I have at my disposal. Those of us still in the church are responsible, I believe, for undoing the damage she has caused throughout her history -- and we shouldn't wait for a schism to give us a sufficient reason to begin.
PROFILES IN COURAGE: This news just came in. Davis Mac-Iyalla, the leader of the Anglican LGBT group "Changing Attitudes" in Nigeria has gone to Tanzania, despite threats on his life, to lobby the Anglican primates against the anti-gay bill which will be debated tomorrow in the Nigerian Parliament. I've written before about the courage of this man and the members of his group, who will be criminalized if the bill, which the Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, supports, is passed. Read the article if you think the actions of American conservatives, aligning themselves with Akinola, don't have any effect on real people. And if you pray or meditate with intention, I hope you will hold Davis Mac-Iyalla and the African LGBT community in your thoughts during the next few days.