New York Times
Saturday, 3 March 2001
Episcopal Church Leaders Gather in a Divided Communion
By GUSTAV NIEBUHR
The area around Hendersonville, N.C., is known as a tourist-friendly
place, nestled in the Appalachian Mountain foothills. But since yesterday,
it has also been the site of a high-level religious meeting, as the heads
of the 38 churches that make up the Anglican Communion gathered at an Episcopal
Church retreat center.
The church is the communion's American member. And although it is playing
host to this event, it is under fire from the leaders of some Anglican
churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America who accuse their Episcopal counterparts
of straying beyond the bounds of Christian tradition. As a result, the
once-staid communion has become contentious.
Some Anglican leaders are particularly upset by the fact that some Episcopal
bishops have ordained noncelibate gay men and lesbians as priests, and
that the Episcopal bishops who oppose such ordinations have not been able
to muster enough support in their church to stop it.
In response, a few Anglican leaders -- from Africa, Asia, South America
and the Caribbean -- have taken some controversial steps against the Episcopal
A year ago, Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, in East Africa, and
Archbishop Moses Tay of Southeast Asia consecrated two Episcopal priests
as bishops and put them in charge of a new Anglican mission to the United
States. It has since attracted about 20 conservative parishes, which joined
after cutting their ties to the Episcopal Church.
Then, the heads of three other churches issued a declaration that the
Episcopal Church was in a state of "pastoral emergency." Later, Bishop
Maurice Sinclair and Bishop Drexel Gomez, heads of Anglican churches in
South America and the Caribbean, respectively, proposed that Anglican leaders
should have authority to intervene against a fellow church, with penalties
ranging from warning the church to mend its ways, to suspending it from
the communion and starting a new church in its place.
Unfriendly as these actions are, the Episcopal Church's top official,
Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold III, appeared undaunted at a news conference
on Tuesday, before he departed for the meeting.
Bishop Griswold rejected the idea that the 2.4 million-member church
was in crisis. Instead, he struck an upbeat note, saying attendance and
contributions were up.
"Our basic thrust is away from self-preoccupation," he said. "I see
a deeply grounded, graced confidence emerging in the life of the Episcopal
The meeting is off-limits to reporters and just about everyone else.
Bishop Griswold said he would not speculate about what would happen.
But he did say that he expected that Archbishop George Carey of Canterbury,
the spiritual head of the Church of England and first among equals among
the church leaders, would send the proposal by Bishops Sinclair and Gomez
to a study committee rather than bring it up for discussion.
Still, Bishop Griswold was asked why some of his fellow church leaders
have the Episcopal Church in their "crosshairs." He replied that the anger
the church seemed to arouse among some Anglicans in the Southern Hemisphere
reflected resentment of the role that Americans and Europeans had played
there, as colonial masters or exporters of Western culture.
"This is a resentment of globalization in that form," Bishop Griswold
said. "That anger is just, and I think I have to bear it as presiding bishop
of the Episcopal Church."
But he made it clear that he felt frustrated that critics had focused
on contentious issues within the Episcopal Church related to homosexuality,
specifically that some Episcopal bishops had ordained gay men and lesbians,
and that some priests blessed same-sex unions.
"It's fascinating to me that the focus has turned exclusively on sexuality,
rather than salvation," Bishop Griswold said, adding that to place the
former ahead of the latter as the church's main concern was idolatry.
Ian T. Douglas, a professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge,
Mass., who also attended the news conference, said the troubles in the
communion were not primarily rooted in controversy over the ordination
of gays or the ordination of women, which many Anglican churches overseas
still do not allow.
Instead, Professor Douglas said, the tensions result from a shift of
power within the communion, an association once dominated by the Episcopal
Church and the Church of England, and now an increasingly multicultural
body, in which the African churches are growing fastest.
Bishop Griswold seemed to agree. "I think we're trying to discover what
communion is," he said. "I think we've lived a life of Anglican politeness
for a number of years. We've simply smiled at one another and had cups
Now, he said, the question is, "What does it mean to be a body that
contains real differences?"