July 29, 2009 - New York Times
Anglican Sees ‘Two-Track’ Church
By ALAN COWELL
PARIS — The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, said profound differences among the world’s 77 million Anglicans over gay clergy and same-sex unions could divide their church into a “two-track model” yielding “two styles of being Anglican.”
The formula could avert a formal breach between liberals and conservatives but bring new strains in the relationship between the global Anglican Communion and American Episcopalians who resolved this month to open the door to ordaining openly gay bishops and to start the process of developing rites for same-sex marriages.
Archbishop Williams insisted that the issue should not be debated “in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are — two styles of being Anglican.”
In a lengthy message published Monday on his Web site, the archbishop offered a detailed and nuanced response to events at the Episcopal convention in Anaheim, Calif., this month when gay-rights advocates in the United States chalked up major victories over conservatives on sexual issues. The Episcopal Church is the official branch of the Anglican Communion in the United States.
The developments were seen by liberals and conservatives as likely turning points in the history of the divided Episcopal Church, reflecting the profound rifts over sexual issues within Anglicanism — the world’s third largest network of Christian churches after the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The differences have crystallized around the Episcopal Church’s consent in 2003 to the consecration of the church’s first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
The Episcopalians had agreed to a moratorium on the election of gay bishops, but it was lifted at the convention in Anaheim.
The archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, which is composed of 38 provinces worldwide. The Episcopal Church claims about 2.3 million members.
In his message, Archbishop Williams repeated his view that “a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority” of the full Anglican Communion, any more than a blessing for a heterosexual couple living outside marriage would have.
That, in turn, means that as long as the broader church “as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle.”
The issues have confronted the archbishop with deep divisions not simply between liberals and conservatives in the United States but also across the broader church with its many followers in Africa, Britain and elsewhere. Four conservative dioceses in the United States and many individual Episcopal churches have broken away from the national denomination to forge alliances with conservative Anglican groups such as the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
Archbishop Williams said: “There is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a ‘covenanted’ Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with ‘covenanted’ provinces.”
The archbishop has promoted the idea of covenant — described by some analysts as a kind of good-behavior guide for churches — to overcome the rift.
“This has been called a ‘two-tier’ model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure,” the archbishop’s message said. “But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a ‘two-track’ model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure.”
The message continued: “It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are — two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude cooperation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion.”
The archbishop’s message drew mixed responses from liberals and conservatives in the United States, The Associated Press reported. The Rev. Susan Russell, president of an Episcopal gay advocacy group, said it was disappointing that Archbishop Williams had debated the inclusion of gays and lesbians from “solely a political or rights-based” perspective rather than a theological perspective.
But, she said, “what the archbishop is really stating is the reality: that the structures that have served the Anglican Communion historically need some work. The 21st century is different than the 16th century.”
Canon Kendall Harmon, a conservative, said the archbishop’s message was “going to increase the chaos in the province of the American church and in the Anglican Communion,” The A.P. reported.