The Times of London Religion Correspondent
Six out of ten senior Church of England bishops could boycott next year’s Lambeth Conference of more than 800 Anglican bishops and archbishops from around the world because of the row over gays.
Such a boycott would be unprecedented in the history of the Anglican Church and would be an indication of how deep the divisions go, in England as well as in the rest of the communion.
The fifth most senior bishop in the mother church of the Anglican Communion warns today that a majority of English diocesan bishops could consider a boycott if the US does not row back on its pro-gay agenda.
A UK boycott would confirm the gravity of the splits within even the Church of England, traditionally the model for Anglicanism’s “via media”. It would effectively spell the end of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s dream of maintaining unity.
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The Bishop of Winchester, the Right Rev Michael Scott-Joynt, was speaking to tomorrow's Church of Ireland Gazette, the journal of the Anglican Church in Ireland.
He tells the Gazette that as many as six in ten diocesan bishops, from the Church’s evangelical and Anglican-Catholic wings, would be “constrained” in their protest by their loyalty to Dr Rowan Williams. Speaking to The Times he said later, "The point I was making was that they are having to think about it".
Dr Williams is currently on study leave but earlier this week the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, pleaded with archbishops and bishops from the Global South group of churches not to boycott the ten-yearly gathering, due to take place at Kent University next July.
Dr Williams issued his invitations to Lambeth earlier this year, leaving off eight bishops, including the openly gay Gene Robinson, whose consecration in 2003 sparked the current controversy. The Times has learned that Bishop Robinson is however to be invited as a guest in a non-voting capacity. The deadline for bishops tor respond to the invitations is the end of July, next Tuesday.
Bishop Scott-Joynt says in the Gazette that for a boycott not to take place, the bishops of The Episcopal Church must meet the demands of the recent Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam.
In their communique, the Primates gave the US bishops until September 30 to agree to “make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions” and “confirm that... a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion.”
The Primates warned that “if the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.”
Dr Williams will himself be attending the September meeting in the US as one of his first duties on returning from study leave. At an initial meeting in March, the US bishops rejected the Primates’ demands.
Bishop Scott-Joynt warns in the Gazette that if the bishops of The Episcopal Church do not meet the demands of the Dar es Salaam Primates’ Meeting by the 30 September deadline, and if the bishops of the Global South decline to attend next year’s Lambeth Conference, six in ten English bishops could stay away.
At a meeting in London last week, Global South leaders warned that they would be unable to take part in the Lambeth Conference without “discipline” and “reconciliation” in the Communion.
They said in a statement: “To be present but unable to participate in sacramental fellowship would all the more painfully demonstrate our brokenness.”
Several of the bishops who have not been invited have been consecrated by Global South leaders to serve traditionalist parishes in the US.
The Global South leaders said: “The polarization surrounding the Lambeth meeting has been exacerbated because we are also unable to take part in an event from which a number of our own bishops have been arbitrarily excluded while those whose actions have precipitated our current crisis are included.”