Progressive thinking for some, an unholy abomination for others, the ordination of women and homosexual bishops has brought the Anglican Church to breaking point.
Both movements started in the liberal Episcopal Church – the American branch of Anglicanism. Its leader has always argued that a strong Church cannot afford to close its doors to anyone.
Speaking after being elected in 2006, Katharine Jefferts Schori said:
“I believe that God welcomes all to his table, whether you agree or people who disagree. And the Episcopal Church has always been a strong voice for including a variety of theologies, a variety of opinions.”
These sentiments are shared by the leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, Doctor Rowan Williams, who last month spoke out against traditionalists’ demands for a male-only preserve of so-called super-bishops.
“From the position of someone who is committed to the ordination of women to the episcopate, I am deeply unhappy with any scheme or any solution to this which ends up, as it was, structurally humiliating women who might be nominated to the episcopate,” he told the Anglican Church’s General Synod.
Last month, traditionalist Anglicans opposed to women and gay bishops held their own conference in Jerusalem to discuss the future of the Church and their possible defection to Catholicism. Most of them are boycotting the Lambeth Conference because they believe the time for debate is long past.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, says the church is so divided that divine intervention is needed.
“The conflicts are so very deep, and these are spiritual matters, there are not just sort of political matters by any means, but they are spiritual matters that depend upon deeply-held opinions being changed. Well, maybe it is we who need to change. I don’t think so, but maybe it is. We need to hear what God has to say,” he said.
The Lambeth Conference is unlikely to avert a final split.
Unlike the Pope for Catholics, Dr Williams does not have a determining voice in the debate because his powers are limited as the Anglican Church’s spiritual leader.
That may be why some members felt it was alright
to heckle Gene Robinson, the openly-gay Bishop of New Hampshire when he delivered a sermon last weekend in London.
As a result, the Archbishop of Canterbury has excluded him from Lambeth to preserve what he calls the unity of the Church.