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International reaction to Gene Robinson's consecration in New Hampshire mixed

Posted on: November 6, 2003 12:55 PM
Related Categories: USA

by James Solheim

[ACNS source: Episcopal News Service] The November 2 consecration of the Revd V Gene Robinson as bishop coadjutor in the Diocese of New Hampshire brought swift and varied reactions from Anglican leaders around the world - and dire warnings that the future of the Anglican Communion is in jeopardy. At the same time, it was evident that not everyone was prepared to rush into schism.

A statement, issued by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria "for and behalf of the working committee for the Primates of the Global South," said that they were "appalled" that the Episcopal Church USA "ignored the heartfelt plea of the Communion not to proceed with the scheduled consecration" and the "clear and strong warning of its detrimental consequences for the unity of the Communion."

The statement, issued on the day of the consecration, said that the consecration "clearly demonstrates that authorities within ECUSA consider that their cultural-based agenda is of far greater importance than obedience to the Word of God, the integrity of the one mission of God in which we all share, the spiritual welfare and unity of the worldwide Anglican Communion, our ecumenical and inter-faith relationships."

As a result, "A state of impaired communion now exists both within a significant part of ECUSA and between ECUSA and most of the provinces within the Communion." The statement urged the Archbishop of Canterbury to "bring forward urgently a mechanism to guarantee adequate provision of episcopal oversight" for parishes and clergy within ECUSA and the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada.

In a radio interview, Archbishop Akinola said, "We can no longer claim to be in the same Communion. We cannot go to them and they cannot come to us. We will not share communion. We have come to the end of the road." [The full text of this statement can be found at:

www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/special/humansexuality/hs30.html]


Devil has entered the church

Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of the Anglican Church of Kenya was equally blunt, announcing that his church will have nothing to do with Bishop Robinson or any of the 53 bishops who participated in his consecration, refusing to look upon them as fellow Anglicans. "We cannot be in the same communion with Robinson, his diocese and the bishops who were in the consecration."

When pressed about what cutting ties meant, he said that the Kenyans would not accept any support from the Episcopal Church, including missionaries. "The devil has clearly entered the church. God cannot be mocked," he said.

As a columnist in the Times of London pointed out recently, "The Anglican Communion has been out of communion with itself since at least 1989 when the American Church appointed Barbara Harris as its first woman bishop. What's one more schism among such friends."

Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Province of the Southern Cone in South America added his voice. "The United States have declared independence. I think the chances of consensus are very slim. We are having a time of separation and thinking. We are not saying it is a divorce yet." The consecration, however, "is robbing us of the dialogue we could have had to find a way forward."

Archbishop Peter Jensen, who branded Bishop Robinson as a "bishop of disunity", said that he expects two distinct strands of Anglicanism to develop as a result of the sexuality controversies. He said, "This creates a split for the first time in a particular area and that's a tragedy but it's necessary if the truth is to be preserved."

In New Zealand, Bishop Thomas Brown said that, while he was opposed to the consecration, the church should not dwell on its divisions. "The church is not so much a place to stand and divide as it is a place to love and unite."


No litmus test on funding

According to Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the Province of the West Indies, a majority of Anglicans would be willing to sacrifice their financial support rather than accept the consecration of Gene Robinson. "America does make the largest contribution to the worldwide Anglican Communion. That's a matter of fact," he said in an interview with the Nassau Guardian. "As much as we need the money, the gospel must come first. We are prepared to suffer."

Funding agencies have made it very clear, however, that support is not conditioned by theological agreement. Archbishop Akinola has warned of a financial backlash "against the financially weak church in Africa" if its opposition was too loud. He said that African churches must become self-reliant so that "our boldness in condemning the spiritual bankruptcy" of the rich churches could be matched by a refusal to accept their money.

The issue was addressed at a recent meeting of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) in Nairobi. Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold sent a letter challenging rumors that the Episcopal Church "has threatened African primates with withholding our support. The Episcopal Church has no ideological litmus test for overseas partners and has 'punished' no one for holding different opinions of church order."

The Revd James Calloway, director of grants for Trinity Church Wall Street, said in a presentation at the CAPA meeting, "We do not believe we have to see eye to eye with you on every issue to work with you around common mission concerns… You don't have to agree with us to be eligible for a Trinity grant." He said that Trinity would continue to partner with provinces and dioceses regardless of their views in the on-going sexuality debate in the Anglican Communion. He reported that, in the last five years, Trinity had given 84 grants throughout every province in Africa.


Another Eames commission

The swirling controversy places more pressure on a special commission appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to find a way for Anglicans to maintain some kind of unity in the face of serious disagreements.

Archbishop Robin Eames of Ireland, appointed to head the commission - similar to the task he accepted in 1988 when the issue was the ordination of women - was cautiously hopeful. Noting that "we are moving into unknown territory" when asked whether a split was inevitable, he said, "I don't think you can prevent a realignment. I sincerely hope we can prevent what you call a split."

"We're still here, because we looked at ways in which the pastoral guidelines could be accepted across the world to maintain the highest possible degree of unity - and I believe we can do it again," he said.

He also said that the Robinson consecration and the approval of blessing same-gender relationships in the Diocese of Westminster in Canada "do not represent the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole".

As he has in the past, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of the Province of the Church in Southern Africa, struck a much more conciliatory note, offering his congratulations to Bishop Robinson and offering prayers for him.

Some express joy with consecration

Other voices were delighted with the consecration. Dean Colin Slee of Southwark Cathedral in London said that Anglicans should rejoice that "at last there is an open and honest consecration of a homosexual bishop within the church. There have been many before but they have not been honest or open."

"His ministry will inspire lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual Christians with new confidence that we have a full place at the communion table of our Lord," said the Revd Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, a British organization of Anglican bishops, priests and lay people that promotes a more open attitude in the church.

"This consecration is God's way of making the church come to terms with homosexuality," said Christopher Ssenyonjo, a retired Ugandan bishop. "Bishop Robinson did not elect himself, he was elected by others. To me it seems God inspired them to vote that way."

Acknowledging the deep divisions among Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams issued his own statement immediately following the consecration. "The divisions that are arising are a matter of deep regret; they will be all too visible in the fact that it will not be possible for Gene Robinson's ministry as a bishop to be accepted in every province in the Communion."

Yet Archbishop Rowan said that those who participated in the consecration "have acted in good faith on their understanding of what the constitution of the American Church permits. But the effects of this upon the ministry and witness of the overwhelming majority of Anglicans, particularly in the non-Western world, have to be confronted… Precisely because we rely on relations more than rules, consultation and interdependence are essential for our health."

In the meantime, the man at the center of the controversy expressed an eagerness to begin his ministry. "I have plenty to do in New Hampshire," said the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, the church's newest bishop. "I have plenty to do in those dioceses that will welcome me - and in time, just as has been true with women (bishops), I will be welcomed in other places as well. It really won't hinder my ministry at all," he told Kim Lawton of the PBS television program, Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly.

James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service