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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Anglicans buy time in same sex row
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online

Once again, the leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion have managed to keep the show on the road.

There had been dire predictions that it could no longer stay united over the place of gay and lesbian Anglicans.

Archbishop Robert Eames
Archbishop Robert Eames said the row could affect the church's mission

But the Lambeth Commission, set up to try to reconcile bitterly entrenched opponents, seems for the moment to have succeeded.

The dispute is not over, though, and if the commission's pleas go unheeded, a split still looks inevitable.

The commission was set up after one US diocese consecrated an openly gay priest as its bishop and a diocese in Canada agreed to bless same-sex unions.

To prevent a walkout by more traditional Anglicans, the commission is urging US church leaders to apologise, and to stop consecrating gay and lesbian bishops.

At stake are two quite different ideas of the church's function, even of its nature.

The traditionalists believe it must be true to the Bible, which they say condemns homosexuality. The North Americans and their supporters believe justice demands accepting gay and lesbian people as equals.

Calling yourself an Anglican was enough - nobody enquired too deeply into what you believed or did

The peculiar talent of Anglicanism for centuries has been to find a compromise - to be a "broad church".

Anglicans have managed to combine a bewildering range of beliefs (and doubts) with worship veering from austere Protestantism to rococo Catholic rites.

It hasn't always looked very elegant or impressive, but it has been a church which welcomed virtually all and sundry as fellow pilgrims.

Calling yourself an Anglican was enough, and nobody enquired too deeply into what you believed or did - certainly not in the bedroom.

So for many years parts of the Anglican church have had gay bishops and priests, generally often acknowledged locally, but without making very much noise about it.

Now, though, there is pressure to be seen to be acting justly, and so the consecration of Gene Robinson in the US was hailed openly by many Christians in a way that probably would not have happened a few years ago.

'No winners'

And there is a counter-pressure too, to circle the wagons, to make sure that Anglican orthodoxy is defined and maintained, that is also unfamiliar to the old way of doing things.

Archbishop Robin Eames, who chaired the commission, said: "In the end this commission and its report is about what sort of Anglican Communion we want to belong to. It is about how we deal with and relate to each other."

Dr Eames, Archbishop of Armagh in Northern Ireland, wrote in a foreword to the report: "Perhaps the greatest tragedy of our current difficulties is the negative consequence it could have on the mission of the church to a suffering and bewildered world.

"Even as the commission prepared for its final meeting the cries of children in a school in southern Russia reminded us of our real witness and ministry in a world already confronted by poverty, violence, HIV/Aids, famine and injustice."

That is why this unresolved dispute can have no winners.

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