What lies ahead for the Anglican Communion? Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, England, writes in the Times of London that schism is now inevitable. Wright is, to be sure, a leading conservative, but there’s no doubt that, having decided, Luther-like, to take its stand on behalf of full inclusion of gays and lesbians, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church has smacked the ball into the Communion’s court. The question is, what exactly can or will the Communion do?
Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury (ABC), is unhappy, but it’s not in his power to say who is or is not in the Communion. Nor does it seem to be in the power of the Communion itself. For the past few years a Covenant proposed by the ABC has been circulating, with no agreement on what disciplinary procedure there should be for a member church that gets out of line. There is an Anglican Consultative Council that has the power to recognize a new member church with a three-fourths vote, but has no authority to de-recognize an existing member.
It’s conceivable, then, that the new Anglican Church in North America could be recognized as a second member from this part of the world. And it’s possible that the ABC could invite the bishops of that church and not the Episcopal Church to the next Lambeth Conference 10 years hence. So an Anglican schism would come down to the question: Who does the archbishop decline to invite to tea? The bottom line is that the Anglican Communion is not a church (like, say, the Roman Catholic Church), but rather a family of independent churches linked together by common heritage and practices.
In the meantime, while the ABC regrets, the Times itself has stood up for the Yanks:
It is possible to maintain that the Episcopal Church has been impolitic
in its vote, but still maintain that it is right. A united Anglican
witness to the nation and to the world is a valuable civic as well as
religious resource. Those member Churches, including many in Africa,
who conscientiously cannot accept homosexual bishops, should not have
appointments forced upon them. But the issue is not one of
denominational preference alone. It is also a matter of justice.
Within the Church of England it could get interesting.