Strife Inside the Anglican Church

On matters of faith, is compromise possible?

New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson with parishioners.

New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson with parishioners.

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But with close to one fourth of the bishops boycotting the meeting, including every bishop from Uganda and many others who had attended GAFCON, give-and-take with the most determined conservatives was limited. And even before Lambeth commenced, a number of conservative Anglicans said they saw little point in attending a meeting that was designed to avoid decisions. Most scathing of all, perhaps, were the words of the archbishop of Uganda, the Most. Rev. Henry Luke Orombi, appearing in the Times of London as Lambeth entered its last days. In addition to repeating the charges of betrayal by the Episcopal Church, he faulted the "instruments" of the communion (namely, Lambeth, the Anglican Consultative Council, the primates' meetings, and the archbishop of Canterbury) for failing to address the crisis. His harshest words were reserved for the archbishop, selected not by his peers but by a secular British government exercising what Orombi called "a remnant of British colonialism."

That charge brought home the fact of a theological divide reinforced by a demographic transformation that has made sub-Saharan Africa the home of more than 55 percent of the Anglican population. Conservatives say that the plight of African Anglicans, many of whom live in direct competition with conservative Muslims, is ignored by a communion leadership that is still dominated by prelates from the global North. Liberals, citing figures like South Africa's Desmond Tutu, counter that African Anglicans are more theologically diverse than most of their own top leadership—and that more African bishops would have attended Lambeth had they not feared reprisals from primates like Akinola. Whatever the case, the charges of neocolonial arrogance clearly haunted the Lambeth gathering.

New covenant. But the ultimate value of Lambeth—and indeed the continued unity of the communion—may depend on new instruments that Williams alluded to in his formal speeches to the bishops. One is a proposed Pastoral Forum, which would enforce a moratorium not only on all actions relating to the hot-button sexual issues but also on the creation of new jurisdictions within the territories of already existing ones. The other is a long-standing proposal for a new "Covenant for the Communion," an explicit statement of beliefs that all practicing Anglicans would presumably have to sign on to.

But conservative Anglicans say they see nothing new in these proposals and furthermore doubt that they would be enforced any more vigorously than the existing instruments are. "I would say what Lambeth is doing is far too little and far too late," says Martyn Minns, missionary bishop of the breakaway Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Liberals have their own reservations. Robinson, a conspicuous presence on the fringes of the conference, to which he was not invited, says that the loose Anglican confederation with its tradition of tolerating divergent views is in no need of fixing "with either a covenant or a Pastoral Forum or anything of the sort." And calling the various proposals a "series of big 'ifs,' " Jefferts Schori says that the Episcopal Church "will continue to define itself through its legislative processes."

Even church-watchers who were impressed by what they heard about the collegial quality of the Lambeth Conference fear that it only papered over the differences. "I was encouraged by the personal relationships formed by the bishops," says the Rev. Frank Kirkpatrick, author of The Episcopal Church in Crisis and a professor of religion at Trinity College in Connecticut. "But I'm not sure Lambeth resolved anything."