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Conservative Anglican leaders unveiled on Wednesday the constitution and laws for a new organization intended to replace the Episcopal Church as the American arm of the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members worldwide.
The move is the most telling sign yet that the debate over the role of gay and lesbian Christians has torn apart the first church to appoint an openly gay bishop.
Central to the new organization’s constitution is a declaration that the Bible is regarded as the “final authority and unchangeable standard.” The new organization says the Bible’s complex messages about issues such as the ordination of women call for conversation. But the group says the Bible gives a clear message that homosexuality is a sin.
Dubbed the Common Cause Partnership, the leaders represent 100,000 Anglicans who believe the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man in a long-term relationship, violated the authority of scripture.
The constitution comes in the wake of a conference held in Israel last June with leaders from more than one-half of the world’s Anglicans. At that conference, the leaders outlined their intentions to, in their view, reform, heal and revitalize the Anglican Communion by adhering to a more literal interpretation of the Bible.
“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 was deposed by bishops in the Episcopal Church in September but immediately named a bishop-at-large in another Anglican province, the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. He will be the group’s first archbishop and primate of the Anglican Church in North America.
But observers in the Episcopal Church, which has about 2 million members, say the event at an evangelical church at Wheaton College, the same spot nearly 70 years ago where Rev. Billy Graham began his evangelism, does not hold much significance for the rest of the Anglican Communion.
“I do not think Wednesday’s event is as big a deal as the organizers think it is,” said Rev. Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. “Yet another threatened line in the sand.”
The new church is the first province to be drawn according to theological and not geographic boundaries — a dramatic departure from Anglican policy and procedure that may not get approval from the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams or other bodies that normally would give approval to the new province.
“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 will include four Episcopal dioceses that recently voted to break away from the Episcopal church — Pittsburgh; Ft. Worth, Texas; Quincy, Ill.; and San Joaquin, Calif. However, not all the parishes and Episcopalians in those four dioceses agreed to leave the Episcopal Church.
The new denomination also includes dozens of breakaway parishes in the U.S. and Canada that voted to do the same. The new church also will absorb a handful of other splinter groups that left the Episcopal Church decades ago over theological differences.
One of those, the Reformed Episcopal Church, left the worldwide Anglican Communion more than 130 years ago because Episcopalians in the U.S. reserved communion for those who were baptized. Those who left believed everyone was welcome to receive communion.
Like the Reformed Episcopal Church, the constitution for the new province prescribes use of the original 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The constitution also gives parishes discretion on ordaining women — an “experiment” worth continuing, Duncan said.
The province’s constitution leaves property in the hands of individual parishes, limiting the potential for lawsuits down the line if parishes or dioceses decide to leave. Details such as how marriage and divorce will be handled are expected to be hammered out before the constitution is ratified in June.
Chicago Bishop Jeffrey Lee said he is disappointed by the group’s decision to leave.
“I’m saddened that some members of the Episcopal Church are choosing to affiliate with other parts of the Anglican Communion,” Lee said. “I think we’re impoverished whenever sisters and brothers are not with us at the same table for the same conversation. There’s real regret attached to that for me.”
Chicago Tribune
Copyright (c) 2008, Chicago Tribune

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