- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — Anglican leaders demanded yesterday that the U.S. Episcopal Church unequivocally bar official prayers for same-sex couples and stop consecrating any more homosexual bishops to undo the damage North Americans have caused within the Anglican faith.

In a statement ending a tense six-day meeting, the leaders said that past pledges by the U.S. denomination on homosexual unions and consecrations have been so ambiguous that they have failed to mend “broken relationships” in the 77-million-member global Anglican Communion.

The Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of Anglicanism, must clarify its position by Sept. 30 or its relations with other Anglicans will remain “damaged at best.”

“This has consequences for the full participation of the church in the life of the communion,” the leaders said.

Discussions at the closed-door gathering this past week were so highly charged that debate over the final statement took hours longer than originally expected. The Anglican leaders, called primates, were said to be working on revisions until the last minute.

The meeting in Tanzania was the latest of several summits to try to keep Anglicans unified despite deep divisions over how they should interpret the Bible. The long-simmering debate erupted in 2003 when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly homosexual bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Anglican traditionalists believe such relationships violate Scripture and have demanded that the U.S. church adhere to that teaching or face discipline.

Supporters of ordaining homosexuals believe biblical teachings on justice and inclusion should take precedence. They have accused theological conservatives of demanding a conformity of belief among Anglicans that never before existed.

In the final document, the leaders said they were confused by resolutions on homosexual issues passed by the 2006 Episcopal General Convention — the church’s top policy-making body. The primates had asked the denomination for a moratorium on electing homosexual bishops and on developing official prayer services for same-sex couples.

The General Convention has also repeatedly rejected resolutions over the years that would have allowed for a churchwide liturgy for blessing same-sex couples. However, a few dioceses have formed committees to develop local prayer services, while other dioceses have allowed individual priests to conduct the blessing ceremonies privately.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the church’s spiritual leader, does not have the direct authority to force a solution on the two camps. He said the requests contained in the document released yesterday “will certainly fall very short of resolving all the disputes, but will provide a way of moving forward with dignity.”

The final statement expressed deep concern over feuding within the Episcopal Church. Some of the 38 Anglican provinces around the world have broken ties with the U.S. denomination.

Nigerian Archbishop Peter J. Akinola recently set up a network for conservative U.S. parishes as a rival to the Episcopal Church. Lawsuits have been filed in the Diocese of Virginia over two prominent churches, Truro Church in Fairfax and the Falls Church, along with several smaller churches, that have joined up with Archbishop Akinola and want to take their property with them.

Anglican leaders called on all sides in the conflict to end their lawsuits and recommended the creation of a pastoral council and a special vicar to oversee traditional U.S. dioceses and parishes that feel they cannot accept the leadership of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Canon Kendall Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina, a leader among Episcopal traditionalists, said last night the document “is not everything I would have wanted,” but he was encouraged that Anglican leaders “made specific calls with specific deadlines.”

However, the advocacy group Integrity, which represents Episcopal homosexuals, accused the leaders of bigotry, and urged Episcopalians to lobby their bishops to reject the demands.

Bishop Jefferts Schori, who supports same-sex relationships, said in a brief statement after she left the meeting that talks among Anglicans must continue.

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