The worldwide Anglican Communion may have to accept a "two track" system in which churches can hold different opinions about gay clergy and same-sex unions, the Archbishop of Canterbury said Monday in a bid to keep the church unified.
Rowan Williams outlined his thoughts on the future of the deeply
divided church body on his Web site in response to the recently
completed General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the
communion's U.S. branch.
At the meeting, Episcopalians authorized bishops to bless
same-sex unions and research an official prayer for the ceremonies.
The church also voted to effectively drop a pledge that it would
act with "restraint" when considering any more openly gay
candidates for bishop.
The moves dismayed more traditional Anglicans, and Williams, the
communion's spiritual leader, is now trying to keep the communion
He wrote that "a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the
authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a
whole," but suggested there may have to be a "two-track" model
where the church allowed different viewpoints on certain issues.
He said there could be "two styles of being Anglican, whose
mutual relation will certainly need working out, but which would
not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now
shared in the Communion." He urged that such an arrangement not be
spoken of "in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication."
The 77 million-member Anglican Communion is the third-largest
grouping of Christian churches worldwide, behind the Roman Catholic
and Orthodox Christian churches.
The Episcopal Church caused an uproar among some Anglicans in
2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson
of New Hampshire, and Williams has struggled since to keep the
church from splitting.
Four conservative U.S. dioceses and dozens of individual
Episcopal parishes have voted to leave the national denomination
since 2003. Many have affiliated with like-minded overseas Anglican
leaders. The Anglican Church of Nigeria started a Convocation of
Anglicans in North America, including breakaway Episcopal churches
Anglican leaders had pressed Episcopalians for a moratorium on
electing more gay bishops, and asked the church not to develop an
official prayer for same-gender couples.
But the Episcopal Church noted last week that a growing number
of U.S. states allow gay marriage, civil unions and domestic
partnerships, and gave bishops in those regions discretion to
provide a "generous pastoral response" to couples in local
Williams said in his article that homophobic violence and
prejudice was "sinful and disgraceful," but that the church's
Bible-based teachings on homosexuality could not be overturned
easily. He compared the state of those in gay relationships to
heterosexual couples living together without being married.
"Whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivities such
persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the
Church's teaching sanctions," he wrote.
Williams' article drew a mixed response in the U.S.
The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, the Episcopal
gay advocacy group, said she was disappointed that Williams
portrayed the U.S. moves toward inclusion for gays and lesbians as
"solely a political or rights-based position" when the Episcopal
Church has cited a theological basis. But she welcomed keeping the
communion together in a way that would not classify branches as
superior or inferior.
"What the archbishop is really stating is the reality: that the
structures that have served the Anglican Communion historically
need some work," Russell said. "The 21st century is different
than the 16th century."
Canon Kendall Harmon, a traditionalist leader in the Episcopal
Diocese of South Carolina, said while there are positives in
Williams' latest attempt to hold the Communion together, the
Anglican leader left unanswered key questions about how a
two-tiered system would function.
"It's going to increase the chaos in the province of the
American church, and in the Anglican Communion," Harmon said.