SYDNEY, Australia – Early November, the Boston diocese installed an openly gay man as Bishop. Peals of opposition immediately rang throughout the nation and from dissenting conservatives all over the world, who looked toward the head of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for a clear voice against the “heresy.” However, the response they heard from the very liberal Rowan Williams, was far from fitting.
“The divisions that are arising are a matter of deep regret,” commented Williams. “It will not be possible for Gene Robinson's ministry as a bishop to be accepted in every province in the communion.”
Though the initial shock of the consecration itself overshadowed any intent to criticize the archbishop of Canterbury, slowly but surely, conservative leaders began honing their disapproval toward Williams.
The head of the Australia’s largest Anglican diocese, Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen, argued that Williams was in danger of forfeiting his moral authority because of his stance on homosexuality and Gene Robinson’s consecration.
"He is against it because he doesn't like the disunity that has been caused," Jensen said in an interview, Nov. 23. "I'm hoping he would speak against it because it's wrong in itself."
Jensen warned of two distinct “Anglicanisms” that could develop in response to the homosexual issue, and suggested for alternative spiritual leadership to the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is possible, said Jenson, that a diocese like Sydney may look for another leader, rather than Williams, to lead the dissenting congregants.
Jensen mentioned Nigeria, the largest Anglican diocese with 20 million members, as a possible source for alternative leadership. Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola has been at the forefront of opposition to Robinson's appointment. The Nigerian church last week formalized the decision to severed ties with the American Episcopal Church.
Nonetheless, Jensen clearly stated that such actions would depend on “what Canterbury does in the time ahead.”
Recently, Australia’s third largest denomination, the Uniting Church of Australia, voted to allow the ordination of practicing homosexuals as ministers. In response, 20,000 parishioners signed a protect petition stating that a practicing homosexual lifestyle is incompatible with Christian principles.
During his interview, Jensen raised the possibility that his diocese, the wealthiest in Australia with church properties estimated at $2 billion, could offer support to the conservative members of the UCA.
"I do think that there will be Uniting Church congregations who leave the Uniting Church over this," said Jensen.
"That certainly seems possible, and if so, they will probably set themselves up in some sort of network of independent churches and in that way, we will do what we can to help them."
Jensen then criticized the leaders of UCA, who partook in passing the pro-gay decision.
"The Bible lays down very clear rules about the nature of Christian ministry and the sort of people who ought to be in Christian leadership positions and if I understand the situation correctly in the Uniting Church, there's been a departure from those rules."
According to the UCA’s national president, the Rev. Dean Drayton, recent dialogues have been shared between the two denominations "on the issue of the ordination of people in same gender relationships."
Drayton said Jensen had, during their talks, "acknowledged the importance and place of the Uniting Church in Australia, and urged people not to leave but stay within the Uniting Church."
The UCA leadership recently announced that the church would undergo a period of theological reflection, to enable church structures and members to "seek to discern God's will" on the ordination of homosexuals issue, ahead of an assembly planned for 2006.
"I believe this period of response and investigation is a road map leading us forward," Drayton said in his statement. "It will enable all Uniting Church presbyteries and congregations to engage the issue at a doctrinal and spiritual level."
Drayton’s response to the situation however, echoed much of the diplomacy of Williams’ speech, in avoiding a clear reproach of the events.
"This whole business is a very significant problem for Australian Christianity and we must do what we can to support those who want to be biblical in their approach," said Drayton.