Leaders debate plan for new N. America Anglican province

Leaders debate plan for new N. America Anglican province

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams


The plan to form a new Anglican province in North America as an alternative to The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada is proceeding. Though some praise it for providing an alternative for orthodox Anglicans, others say the proposal could take years to enact and will further divide the Anglican Communion.

The Common Cause Partnership (CCP) seeks to bring together Episcopalians and others scandalized by leaders within The Episcopal Church whose positions on the nature of Christ, the authority of Scripture, and Christian sexual ethics differ from what they believe to be Anglican orthodoxy.

Controversy peaked when V. Gene Robinson, a man living in an openly homosexual relationship, was ordained Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire.

According to VirtueOnline.org, Episcopal leaders have issued a statement saying that proponents of a new Anglican province in North America could face a years-long process to gain official recognition by the rest of the Anglican Communion.

The leaders cited Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ response to the CCP’s December 3 announcement of the creation of the constitution and laws for a new organization intended to replace the Episcopal Church as the American branch of the Anglican Communion.

Archbishop Williams had said "legislative procedures" should be followed.

David W. Virtue, writing on VirtueOnline.org, said Anglican leaders’ concern for legislative procedures was not evident in the case of the Diocese of Hong Kong, which split into three diocese and sought independence in the 1990s.

According to Virtue, the Anglican Communion pushed these proposals through in 1996 "with such great haste that it got the attention of the ultra liberal companion Diocese of Newark who put up a resolution at its own convention saying the structural proposals were a fait accompli without proper review."

Virtue charged that Archbishop Williams did not want to "upset" the check book of TEC and its Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. He reported that TEC keeps the Anglican Consultative Council Office (ACC) from "imploding" by paying for 60 percent of its budget.

Arguments about "territory" and "cross-boundary" arrangements, in Virtue’s eyes, were "a smokescreen for the growing hatred and increasing marginalization of orthodox Anglicans in the Communion."

Citing reports from London, Virtue said that when five orthodox Anglican primates met in talks with the Archbishop of Canterbury, other leaders were "pretty brutal in their dismissal of the Common Cause initiative."

The discussion with the orthodox primates, who Virtue said represent the majority of the Anglican Communion’s membership, "achieved little in the way of resolving the crisis."

David Virtue predicted that The Episcopal Church will continue to decline in membership while other breakaway groups, now operating in concert, will "continue to grow by leaps and bounds." He claimed the breakaway CCP churches now include over 100,000 people and 700 churches, though they all use "different prayer books, liturgies and ordination standards."

Though it will be difficult for the CCP effort to gain recognition from two-thirds of Anglican archbishops and their provinces, Virtue reported that 22 such provinces have already declared themselves to be in "impaired" or "broken" communion with TEC.

Bishop Martyn Minns, a leader in the Common Cause Partnership, claimed nearly a dozen primates will support the new province, which is about half the number required for recognition.

However, Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, a leading conservative Episcopal theologian living in Toronto, Canada, has argued that the obstacles to the new Anglican group will be nearly insurmountable, according to VirtueOnline.org.

Rev. Radner noted that the Communion Partners group, a reform group advocating orthodoxy within TEC, will not be part of the new project but has 13 dioceses, various parishes, and more than 300,000 in membership.

Litigation will continue and not all primates will recognize the new province, Radner argued, claiming it will be another source of division and will ultimately strengthen both TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada.

The organization seeking to form a new province "will move forward as continuing and undisciplined members of the Communion. All of this will merely hasten the demise of our common life, even among Global South churches themselves," Radner said, according to VirtueOnline.org.

Robert S. Munday, president and dean of the Episcopal seminary Nashotah House, disagreed, saying Episcopalians who want to remain faithful Anglicans should be able to form their own province in communion with as many other Anglican provinces as possible.

Munday also argued against concerns that the new province tries to bring together too many diverse bodies with differing theological and ecclesiological views.

"The diversity in theology is notably less than that which has brought the Anglican Communion into crisis," Munday said, according to VirtueOnline.org. "If Anglicanism has held together for nearly five hundred years, a Province united in its commitment to the authority of Scripture and Gospel-centered mission and ministry will have even less trouble doing so; and it may, in fact, succeed in healing some of the theological divisions that have troubled Anglicanism in the past."

David L. Holmes a professor of religious history at the College of William & Mary, was more optimistic about the CCP’s prospects, saying: "My hunch would be that this new Anglican denomination will persist over the years. We cannot predict the future."

Episcopal Bishop of Washington John Chane criticized the proposal:

"We face our share of problems in the Episcopal Church, but wholesale defections to a movement committed to denying gay and lesbian Christians the birthright of their baptism is not one of them."

John Bauerschmidt, the Episcopal Bishop of Tennessee, also criticized CCP advocates, claiming that catholic Christianity is not "self-authenticating" and cannot establish its credentials simply by asserting them. He also appealed to the authority of Scripture and the creeds and councils of the Christian church.

David Virtue responded to Bishop Bauerschmidt, saying the new province formed "precisely because TEC could not affirm the authority of the Scriptures, does not believe in the ‘faith once delivered’, and has substituted faith with sexual inclusivity and a very perverse theological diversity."

Virtue predicted that an Episcopalian General Convention will test the consciences of remaining "loyal orthodox" dioceses. He also predicted that the developing Anglican Church of North America will win the recognition of many other Anglican primates.

While describing it as an "unlikely scenario" at present, he warned that if the Archbishop of Canterbury does not recognize the new Anglican province, some provinces in the "global South" will eventually be forced to end their relationship with Canterbury and "the Communion will be lost."