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Troubled Anglicans

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    Troubled Anglicans - 12-May-2006
    The arrival in Christchurch of the controversial Archbishop of Sydney highlights tensions in the Anglican communion, writes The Press in an editorial.

    Peter Jensen's message is evangelical and fervent, particularly in its opposition to the ordination of gays, and will stoke fires that the church hierarchy wants to suppress. The result has been a more controversial general synod ending today in Christchurch than usual.

    The main debate at the gathering has been about the plan to divide the top leadership of New Zealand Anglicanism between bishops representing its three major racial groups, Pakeha, Maori and Pacific Island. But behind the division of leadership is the reality that thinking about issues such as gays in the priesthood is fractured, to some degree along racial lines. The division of power is an attempt, in part, to accommodate such tensions by letting the contending parties each have a seat at the top table.

    Before long, though, the Anglican Church in New Zealand will have to give its verdict on gays playing a full role in the church. That will happen when openly homosexual clergy are ordained as bishops.

    At its core Anglicanism is a creed of tolerance and acceptance. While some forces at work in the wider church oppose these traditions, they must not be allowed to dominate. In a pragmatic and inclusive way, Anglicanism in New Zealand must overcome its intolerance of homosexuality.

    The New Zealand church's agreement this week to maintain dialogue, particularly on the gay issue, has not pleased those with emphatic views but it provides the best chance for a compromise to emerge a compromise that is necessary if the church is to substantiate its claim to be united.

    Given the history of the Anglican Church, serious division may be averted. It was founded on compromise, has learned to lean with the changing wind, and has accommodated substantially differing traditions. Its prevailing tolerance and democratic spirit has been fundamental to its survival for 500 years and its spread as an international denomination into many of the world's cultures.

    Those flexible sinews have proved their worth in the last two decades as Anglicanism has fervently debated its place in the contemporary world in particular, the ordination of women and the role of gays in the priesthood.

    Several times the church has seemed condemned to schism, but has drawn back as its instincts for delay, moderation and obfuscation have come into play.

    The tension has been particularly evident in Britain, where the moderate, evangelical and high church traditions have contended for centuries and remain strong. The place of women and homosexuals remains deeply contentious there. Were it not for the effective leadership of the last three Archbishops of Canterbury, division may well have occurred. They have each been pilloried as weak and indecisive as they delayed and hedged, but they have keep Anglicans together and functioning. This is a substantial achievement.

    The archbishops have had less success in moderating the church in other nations, where their authority is barely notional. The African hierarchy's sentiment tends to be stridently conservative and given to rhetoric that tries the patience of those seeking reasoned consideration of the issues. In the United States, the Anglican-derived Episcopalians' tumultuous arguing some dioceses have ordained women and gays as bishops in defiance of the international church's wishes is stretching Anglicanism's claims to be one worldwide communion.

    In this context the tensions inside New Zealand Anglicanism seem minor, even if their potential to cause fundamental division are considerable.

    Eventually New Zealand Anglicans will have to show the same decisive leadership on the role of a gay priesthood that they showed on the ordination of women, if they are to encompass the whole community with the message of Christ's inclusive love that they proclaim.
    Ref: - The Press


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