U.S. conservative Anglican leaders on Wednesday presented the constitution and laws for a new organization intended to replace the Episcopal Church as the American branch of the Anglican Communion.
The move by the Common Cause Partnership continues the controversy in the Episcopal Church regarding issues such as the uniqueness of Christ in salvation, the authority of Scripture and sexual ethics. The ordination of openly homosexual V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire has also played a significant role in the debate.
The Common Cause Partnership’s new constitution was presented at an evangelical church in Wheaton, Illinois. It declares the Bible to be the "final authority and unchangeable standard." It makes no ruling regarding the ordination of women to the Episcopal priesthood.
"The public release of our draft constitution is an important concrete step toward the goal of a biblical, missionary and united Anglican Church in North America," said Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, moderator of Common Cause Partnership.
Duncan, who was deposed by bishops of the Episcopal Church in September, will be the group’s first Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America.
According to The Guardian, the leaders of the organization represent 100,000 Anglicans. The partnership’s new constitution follows last June’s Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem where leaders announced their intentions to defend and advance "authentic Anglicanism."
The Anglican Communion has about 77 million members worldwide.
Some Episcopal commentators doubted the significance of the meeting.
"I do not think Wednesday's event is as big a deal as the organizers think it is," Reverend Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts told the Guardian. "Yet another threatened line in the sand."
The new organization has been accused of being the first province to be drawn according to theological and not geographic boundaries.
"While claiming more conservative tradition on human sexuality and biblical interpretation, their approach is radical and contrary to church polity," Douglas said.
The new denomination includes the Episcopal Dioceses of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Fort Worth, Texas; Quincy, Illinois; and San Joaquin, California.
Not all parishes and Episcopalians in those dioceses have agreed to leave the Episcopal Church, but the new denomination includes dozens of breakaway parishes in the U.S. and Canada, and is to absorb other splinter groups.
Faith J.H. McDonnell, Religious Liberty Director at the ecumenical Institution on Religion and Democracy, commented on the new constitution:
"Some liberals in the Episcopal Church are undermining their own talking points by the spitefulness with which they are being delivered. If the proposed new Anglican Church of North America were so insignificant, their response would be dismissive but gracious. Instead, a mean-spirited hostility has broken out.
"Ultimately, this is not a schismatic movement," McDonnell continued. "While disaffected groups have split from the Episcopal Church in the past, the fact that many of these groups are now unifying is unprecedented. The stated intent is to remain within the Anglican Communion.
She also argued that more than one Anglican province occupying a single geographic area is "not completely new," saying "the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe exists alongside both the Convocation of American Churches in Europe and the Old Catholic Church, which are both in communion with Canterbury."