Assoc. Press, August 6, 2003

Clergy in Asia and Africa Condemn Election of Gay Bishop

SYDNEY, Australia -- An Anglican leader warned Wednesday that Asia's bishops might consider cutting ties with the U.S. Episcopalian Church over its appointment of its first openly gay bishop.

Clergy in Asia and Africa, where churches are more conservative than in Western countries, widely denounced the election of Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire -- fueling fears of a schism in the 77 million-member global Anglican Communion.

The Anglicans' spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, appealed to opponents not to react rashly, though he acknowledged the confirmation would have a "significant impact" on the Communion.

He said he hoped Anglicans would "have the opportunity to consider this development before significant and irrevocable decisions are made in response."

Throughout the church's years of debate over homosexuality, Williams has stressed the need for unity in the Communion, which groups the churches founded by the Church of England in the days of the British Empire. Unlike the Catholic Church, where authority flows down from the Vatican, Anglicanism is a loose association of 38 national provinces which, in practical terms, do as they wish.

Tuesday's appointment, however, raised the shadow of a dramatic split.

The leader of the Anglican Church of West Malaysia, Bishop Dr. Lim Cheng Ean, said Southeast Asian Anglican bishops may discuss cutting ties with the U.S. church at a meeting next week, because of Robinson's appointment.

"Practicing homosexuality is culturally and legally not acceptable here," he said. There are four Southeast Asian dioceses -- Kuching, Singapore, West Malaysia and Sabah.

Similar cries of alarm came from Africa.

The Episcopal church "is alienating itself from the Anglican Communion," said the Very Rev. Peter Karanja, provost of the All Saints Cathedral, in Nairobi, Kenya.

"We cannot be in fellowship with them when they violate the explicit scripture that the Anglican Church subscribes to," he said. "We'd counsel they reconsider the decision. It's outrageous and uncalled for."

The bishop of the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis, said "the Communion now faces a crisis over what holds us together and indeed whether we can remain together if we hold not merely adverse but contradictory views of the Scripture and what it teaches."

"We cannot comprehend a decision to elect as bishop a man who has forsaken his wife and the vows he made to her in order to live in a sexual relationship with another man outside the bonds of his marriage," he said.

Archbishop of Perth Peter Carnley, the primate of Australia's Anglican Church, acknowledged Robinson's appointment would have a negative impact, but doubted it would tear the denomination apart.

"I don't think it's a communion-breaking issue," said Carnley, who is considered a liberal in Australia's Anglican community. He said he hoped it would spur a moral debate on homosexuality rather than a schism.

"It's an issue upon which we are divided but it's not the kind of issue that would cause us to turn out back on our Lord's teachings," Carnley told The Associated Press.

Britain's Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement hailed Robinson's appointment, saying New Hampshire was lucky to have him and urging Anglicans elsewhere to respect the decision.

The group praised the Episcopalians for making "an official and clear step towards creating a genuinely inclusive church."

But Anglican conservatives in Western countries decried the appointment.

Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen called the appointment "catastrophic" and said Robinson would not be welcome in his diocese, and he urged opponents of the appointment in the United States to withhold contributions to church coffers.

"For the first time, a branch of our Anglican church has knowingly appointed a person to this senior position who lives in breach of the Bible," he said. "It impacts on all of us because when a branch of the church does this, its teachings become compromised."