- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

LONDON — Church of England bishops have drawn up plans for a “rule book” of beliefs and propose to expel liberals who refuse to abide by it.

The confidential document from the House of Bishops, seen by the Sunday Telegraph, says a “narrower definition of Anglican belief” is crucial to prevent the Anglican Communion from becoming embroiled in more disputes over issues such as homosexual clergy.

The paper reveals the determination at the highest levels of the church to impose powers to quash dissenters, backing a covenant — or set of rules — that would block Anglican clergy from pursuing liberal and potentially divisive policies.

No official policy governs clergy behavior; instead, each of the world’s 38 Anglican provinces is autonomous.

Members of the General Synod, which meets next month in York, England, will be asked to endorse the creation of this covenant, which would mark the most significant shift in the Anglican Church since it was created in the Reformation during the 16th century.

The bishops’ paper warns that in order to preserve the unity of the church, those who do not conform to a more prescriptive statement of faith will be “forced out.”

The paper states: “It is possible to envisage the development of a form of covenant that was in effect a highly detailed code of international canon law … and to envisage such a code leading the Anglican Communion to becoming an increasingly rigid entity in which legitimate change and development became very difficult to effect.”

It has pre-empted criticism from liberals in the church by saying that Anglicanism has always had limits.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams first announced the concept of a covenant last year, but most liberals did not think the church would back it.

“A covenant should indicate those areas of faith (including morals) and order where unanimity of heart and mind belong to the nature of the faith itself and are essential for eucharistic communion,” said the Rt. Rev. John Hind, the bishop of Chichester, who is from the church’s conservative wing.

He said that establishing a set of rules risks creating “intolerable tensions within the Church of England,” but that the lack of a “sufficient statement of what it means to be Anglican” has led to the present crisis.

Although any set of Anglican rules would need approval from the majority of the communion’s provinces, if the synod rejects the archbishop’s plan, it would effectively leave the covenant dead in the water.

It also would shatter any remaining chances of finding a solution to the crisis, which was sparked by the election of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, an open homosexual, as the bishop of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church in the United States.

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