BEDFORD, Texas | The Rev. Rick Warren brought hundreds of former Episcopalians to their feet in applause Tuesday when he called their exodus from the denomination “a historic event” and said God was “calling you out” of the Episcopal Church.
“I jumped at the chance to come here,” Mr. Warren, evangelical pastor of the 24,000-member Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., told delegates to the constitutional convention of the newly created Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). “We will stand with you in solidarity as God does something new in your midst.”
The assembly, in its second-day meeting at a school just west of Dallas, is calling itself a new 39th province of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Although not recognized by the archbishop of Canterbury, who heads up the 77 million-member body, the new province has about 100,000 people drawn from the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada.
“My heart is so full for you today,” said Mr. Warren, who has offered the use of his extensive Orange County, Calif., campus as a meeting place for dissident Episcopal groups.
“God has not called the Anglican Church of North America to be a reactionary group,” he added. “In the first place, you didn’t leave them.”
That statement, which got sustained applause, mirrors what ACNA members have said for years: They have continued in the traditions of Anglicanism, which the Episcopal Church left by ordaining practicing gay priests and bishops and taking unorthodox positions on biblical authority.
Organizers for the conference said the ACNA gathering is one of three venues Mr. Warren will attend as a speaker this year. The other two include an Assemblies of God assembly in the fall and the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) on July 4 in the District.
According to the Indianapolis Star and ISNA Web site, Mr. Warren will speak at the main session alongside ISNA President Ingrid Mattson and Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf. In December, ISNA leader Sayyid Syeed came to Saddleback’s Civil Forum on Public Health.
Mr. Warren said he speaks to groups that differ with him “to build a bridge of love between my heart and theirs so Jesus can walk across.”
Mr. Warren refused multiple requests for interviews Tuesday but did meet privately with ACNA leaders after his speech. He has avoided the press since he disavowed support for California’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative, saying he never endorsed the marriage amendment even though a video on his church Web site showed him doing so.
“I have no interest in politics - zero,” he told the Anglicans on Tuesday. “Why? Jesus didn’t die to save America. He died to save Americans. You don’t change hearts through politics.”
In other business Tuesday afternoon, ACNA approved, with little debate, a 33-page set of canon laws for the new province. They differ from Episcopal Church law in that people who have remarried after a divorce are not allowed into the ranks of clergy unless they get an exception from their bishop. The Episcopal Church repealed a similar law in 1973.
The new province also calls on all members and clergy to oppose abortion and respect the “sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death.”
The Episcopal Church had a similar position until 1994 when it passed a resolution opposing anything that would “abridge the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of her pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to a safe means of acting upon her decision.” In 1997, it did not condemn partial-birth abortions but expressed concern about the procedure “except in extreme situations.”