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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 21:02 GMT 22:02 UK
What next for Anglican Church?
By Jane Little
BBC religious affairs correspondent

Gene Robinson with his daughter, Ella, and partner, Mark Andrew
This is not the first time Anglicans have split over homosexuality
Never has the Anglican family of churches looked so fragile.

The confirmation of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire has sent shockwaves throughout the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion. Many bishops and archbishops are talking openly of schism.

After Mr Robinson was confirmed on Tuesday by bishops of the Episcopal Church (the American wing of Anglicanism), there were immediate and furious denunciations. Conservatives within the American said that it had "shattered the Anglican family".

[It is a] slap in the face of the Anglican Church around the world
Archbishop Gregory Venables

The question is whether they are right. It is a reflection of how serious this is that the Archbishop of Canterbury has called an emergency meeting of primates of the church.

In a statement that recognized the "anxieties" caused by the American decision, he expressed the hope that the leaders could sit down together to "preserve our respect for one another and the bonds that unite us".

But many leaders have shown little respect for an American church they believe has ignored their concerns.

In South America, Archbishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Province of the Southern Cone, called the decision to ratify the election of Mr Robinson a "slap in the face of the Anglican Church around the world".

In Africa, where homosexuality is widely regarded as unnatural and a sin, bishops were equally vociferous in their opposition.

North-South split

Traditionalists see the election of a gay, non-celibate man to the episcopate as contrary to the Bible and to the Anglican tradition.

Progressives see it as an overdue act of honesty and integrity. Most of the latter belong to churches in the west, which traditionalists point out are dying.

Kendall Harmon, left, of the South Carolina diocese of the Episcopal Church, condemning the ratification of the election of Gene Robinson
Traditionalists: not in compromising mood
The Episcopal Church has been discussing the issue of homosexuality for 30 years. The Church of England is divided on it.

Supporters of Canon Jeffrey John - a celibate homosexual who resigned his appointment as Bishop of Reading in the UK, under intense pressure from conservatives - are still licking their wounds.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster has gone ahead with same-sex blessings, provoking the Nigerian church to sever relations with it.


So what happens next?

A flurry of meetings are planned ahead of Mr Robinson's consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire in November.

Before the meeting of Primates in London, conservatives will be plotting their next move in Texas.

That meeting is expected to draw like-minded Anglicans, including archbishops from around the world.

Meanwhile, Gene Robinson is expected to attend a gathering of gay and lesbian Christians in England in October.

There is an atmosphere of high drama and intrigue in a church more traditionally known for its tolerant, anodyne statements of togetherness.

Money matters

But there is little clarity among conservatives about what they actually intend to do. This may be touted as a matter of vital theological and pastoral significance, but perhaps the threats of outright schism have been tempered by mundane financial concerns.

There are questions over pensions, church property and the collection plates if individual parishes, dioceses or even national churches break away.

What is clear is that the Anglican family of some 77 million is fractious, confused and on the verge of a split.

Only six months into the job, the Archbishop of Canterbury has an unenviable task of trying to hold it together.

What he will do is draw on the Anglican language honed over the years, of giving everyone a voice while obscuring difference.

But he faces a considerable uphill battle over an issue which the traditionalists see as allowing no room for compromise.

Q&A: The Anglican Communion
06 Aug 03  |  In Depth
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06 Aug 03  |  Americas

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