- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A lengthy essay posted Monday by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams downplayed the U.S. Episcopal Church’s recent decisions to consecrate gay bishops and allow blessings of same-sex unions, drawing criticism from the liberal and conservative wings of American Anglicanism.

While the archbishop said “very serious anxieties” have resulted from the Episcopal Church’s overwhelming votes on both matters at its July meeting in Anaheim, Calif., he refused to censure the 2.1 million-member denomination, one of 38 provinces in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion.

The archbishop attended the convention for two days and specifically asked delegates not to approve either of the two measures.

Now he is suggesting in “Communion, Covenant and Our Anglican Future,” that the Anglican Communion might move to a two-tiered structure under which certain of its members, including the Episcopal Church, could not participate in certain ecumenical meetings or official gatherings.

And in a nod to breakaway groups such as the roughly 100,000 former Episcopalians who have joined the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), he wrote that if a province — such as the Episcopal Church, though he did not specify in that paragraph — decides not to adhere to Anglican mores, “any elements within it” can sign on instead, he wrote.

He also criticized the Episcopal Church’s decision to nullify the Anglican Communion’s ban on gay bishops.

“Their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church’s teaching sanctions,” he wrote, “and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.”

He also criticized the logic of the church adhering to laws in six states that allow gay marriages, adding that “if society changes its attitudes, that change does not of itself count as a reason for the Church to change its discipline.”

No sooner had the archbishop posted his text on ArchbishopOfCanterbury.org, than the criticism began.

“Sadly,” said ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan, “the archbishop of Canterbury has given us another nuanced statement in the midst of a crisis.”

He added, “The Communion needs clear leadership at the moment and sadly, others will fill the void.”

Despite the archbishop’s “clarity” on sexual morality, he said, “the Episcopal Church in the United States is not conforming to that teaching.”

A spokeswoman at the Episcopal Church’s headquarters in New York said the denomination had no immediate response.

The Rev. Susan Russell, outgoing president of the gay Episcopal caucus Integrity said Archbishop Williams’ statement “falls sadly short of recognizing all the theological reflection that has both moved and motivated this church over the years.”

She added, “We are frankly tired of being told we ‘haven’t done the theology’ when the truth is that there are those in our wider Anglican family who do not agree with the theology we have done.”

The Rev. Phil Ashey, chief operating officer of the American Anglican Council, said the sentiment on the ground is: “Rowan has spoken. So what?”

“Our hopes rose,” he added, when the archbishop first postulated “a very biblical understanding of marriage and what’s permissable and sacramental. Then they were dashed by his opaqueness in everything that followed.

“He has abdicated his leadership in surrendering to the two-tier, two-track model of Anglicanism,” he said. “In typically Rowanesque fashion, he has left an open door for the Episcopal Church to dominate.

Judging from what he witnessed in Anaheim, Mr. Ashey said, “I heard enough to believe there will be a third wave of departures” of conservatives from the Episcopal Church.”

Archbishop Duncan pointed out that events may overtake Archbishop Williams in that one-quarter of the members of the Church of England’s ruling synod have signed a motion recognizing the ACNA as a separate Anglican province.

“So the archbishop of Canterbury is under pressure to do something about us,” he said.

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