Conservatives from the Episcopal Church voted yesterday to form their own branch of Anglicanism in the United States and said they would seek new recognition in the worldwide church because of their growing disenchantment over the ordination of an openly gay bishop and other liberal developments.
In the past five years, a small but growing number of Episcopal parishes and dioceses have voted to leave the church, but yesterday's vote, at a meeting in Wheaton, Ill., represents the biggest split for Anglicans and presents a new challenge to U.S. church leaders and the denomination's world spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
The conservatives remain upset about the 2003 ordination of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the role of female clergy, the church's definition of salvation and changes to the main book of prayer.
It was unclear how other branches of Anglicanism, a loose affiliation of 77 million people that is the third-largest Christian church in the world, will react.
Bishop Martyn Minns, a Virginia-based conservative leader, said a new constitution and canons approved by conservatives would be reviewed this week by seven like-minded Anglican leaders, mostly in Africa, who were expected to approve it. He said meetings both formal and informal would begin with other branch leaders to seek approval.
But leaders of the 2.2 million-member U.S. church said the Episcopal Church remains the only recognized Anglican church in the country.
We "simply continue to be clear that The Episcopal Church, along with the Anglican Church of Canada and the La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico, comprise the official, recognized presence of the Anglican Communion in North America," the Rev. Charles K. Robertson, an adviser to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, said in a statement. "And we reiterate what has been true of Anglicanism for centuries: that there is room within The Episcopal Church for people with different views, and we regret that some have felt the need to depart from the diversity of our common life in Christ."
Some would tell Bishop Schori that that's the whole problem: when a church claims to be accommodating to all sorts of views, it tends to stop believing in, or teaching, the truth. There is no tyranny quite like toleration; the pressure to believe nothing, stand for nothing, and welcome everything no matter how spiritually harmful becomes almost totalitarian in its stifling of dissent from the message of dissent.
I wish the conservatives all good things as they seek to discern God's will for them. One thing is sure: they are seeking Him, and looking for His truth--because they still believe that there is such a thing in the first place.