Conservatives alienated from the Episcopal Church announced on Wednesday that they were founding their own rival denomination, the biggest challenge yet to the authority of the Episcopal Church since it ordained an openly gay bishop five years ago.
The move threatens the fragile unity of the Anglican Communion, the world’s third-largest Christian body, made up of 38 provinces around the world that trace their roots to the Church of England and its spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The conservatives intend to seek the approval of leaders in the global Anglican Communion for the province they plan to form. If they should receive broad approval, their effort could lead to new defections from the Episcopal Church, the American branch of Anglicanism.
In the last few years, Episcopalians who wanted to leave the church but remain in the Anglican Communion put themselves under the authority of bishops in Africa and Latin America. A new American province would give them a homegrown alternative.
And almost certainly lead to more diocese and churches breaking from the "official" Anglican Communion, as they would no longer have to take the extreme step of putting themselves under the authority of bishops on other continents with whom they share an ideological viewpoint but otherwise not much else.
Conservative leaders in North America say they expect to win approval for their new province from at least seven like-minded primates, who lead provinces primarily in Africa, Australia, Latin America and Asia.
These are the same primates who met in Jerusalem over the summer at the Global Anglican Future Conference and signed a declaration heralding a new era for the Anglican Communion. Most of these primates a few weeks later boycotted the Lambeth Conference, the international gathering of Anglican bishops in England held once every 10 years.
Bishop Duncan and other conservative leaders in North America say they may not seek approval for their new province from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, or from the Anglican Consultative Council, the leadership group of bishops, clergy and laity that until now was largely responsible for blessing new jurisdictions.
Bishop Martyn Minns, a leading figure in the formation of the new province, said of the Archbishop of Canterbury: “It’s desirable that he get behind this. It’s something that would bring a little more coherence to the life of the Communion. But if he doesn’t, so be it.”
As this article makes clear in more detail, the conservatives intend to found a new province of the Episcopal church that would remain under the authority of the Anglican Communion. How what would work if the Anglican Communion doesn't approve of the new province is beyond me, and I assume that dioceses that join this new province will no longer be under the authority of provinces in South America and Africa but will elect their own leadership instead.
I find it remarkable that members of the Episcopal church, long one of the most progressive Christian denominations in America, are willing to tear the church asunder over the issue of women and gays in leadership positions in the church. Yes, I know that when asked the conservatives will say that they prefer what they consider orthodox Christian practices and beliefs, but no one was revolting until an openly gay man and a woman were made bishops of the church.