“Realignment” has become the new buzzword among observers and participants in the current struggle of the Episcopal Church over the recent election of gay bishop Gene Robinson.
The term seems to mean that conservatives and liberals will, in one way or another, part ways and realign with like-minded Anglicans from other churches and parts of the world. But so far, there have been few actual splits from the Episcopal Church, nor has the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, hinted that the U.S. denomination will be expelled from the worldwide Anglican communion [See September RW for background article].
What has taken place is that the conservative Anglican churches of the “global South” and U.S. conservative groups are both distancing themselves from the American church on an informal basis. For instance, the diocese of Pittsburgh recently declared that it will bypass the national church in its decision-making, and there are many cases of parishes and dioceses withholding funds from the national office. Overseas, several Anglican bishops and churches, most notably Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola of Nigeria, have broken off relations with the ECUSA.
Writing in The Tablet (Nov. 8), Ruth Gledhill, a religion reporter forThe Times of London, notes that before an actual schism occurs “it is likely that various schemes of alternative oversight…will be tried. This could in effect create a parallel jurisdiction.” A commission has been established to piece together a policy, based on British common law, whereby the Archbishop of Canterbury could exercise oversight in extraordinary circumstances. But Gledhill acknowledges that such a policy would carry no weight if the Episcopal Church ignored it–something not unlikely as the church has passed over recent overtures from Canterbury.
A more likely scenario for the near future is informal realignment between conservatives, according to the news service Kairos (Nov. 24). Already, conservative Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney has proposed shifting his archdiocese’s allegiance from the Archbishop of Canterbury to a more orthodox leader such as Akinola. Jensen would not officially pull out of the Anglican communion, but the money and allegiance would be channeled to these new informal networks.
It is not only the Anglicans who are turning to the realignment model. Lutherans in Europe and the U.S. are finding a new level of feedback and advice coming from their conservative counterparts in the global South, and, at the same time, showing interest in the orthodox forms of oversight these new global ties may provide. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) is paying close attention to the deliberations taking place in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over its upcoming sexuality statement on the ordination of homosexuals and same-sex unions.
The independent Lutheran Forum Letter (November) reports that one ELCT leader expressed “horror” at the prospect of the statement supporting gay rights, believing it would put the American denomination in a state of apostasy. He would support the withdrawal of his church from a popular program that pairs together regional synods of the two denominations if the ELCA takes that course. The ELCT has considerable influence in Lutheran circles through Africa and the ELCA’s actions would be viewed as negatively affecting the work of the conservative church on the continent.
Meanwhile, a conservative dissenting diocese of the Church of Sweden has approached Kenya’s senior Lutheran Bishop Walther Obare about the prospect of ordaining its priests and consecrating its bishops. The diocese is non-geographical and was created by those opposing women priests in the church, reports Ecumenical News International (Nov. 14).
(The Tablet, 1 King St., Clifton Walk, London W6 0Q2, UK; Forum Letter, P.O. Box 327, Delhi, NY 13753-0327)