The American Church has "pushed the boundaries" in terms of decision-making, stated the spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion in an interview with a Dutch newspaper.
"It has made a decision that is not the decision of the wider body of Christ," Archbishop Rowan Williams told Nederlands Dagblad.
Anglican dioceses and parishes have been urging Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to respond in a meaningful way to ensure no groups are alienated by the stances on homosexuality taken by the Episcopal Church, USA, at their General Convention earlier this summer. As part of his response, Williams recently called for a mid-September meeting with top U.S. Episcopal leaders to find ways to resolve the divisions within the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion.
"In terms of the issue under consideration, there are enough Christians of good faith in every denomination – from evangelical to Roman Catholic – to whom it is not quite so self-evident … who are not absolutely sure that we have always read the Bible correctly," Williams said in his interview last week.
"They are saying, ‘This is an issue we must talk about.’ But if we are going to have time to discuss this prayerfully, thoughtfully, we really don’t need people saying, ‘We must change it now.’ The discussion must not be foreclosed by a radical agenda," he added.
The Anglican head described the situation with the Episcopal Church as highly complicated and said he has delayed responding to conservative dioceses that have appealed for an alternative primatial oversight because he does not want to "make up church law on the back of an envelope."
Williams also has "great concern for the vast majority of Episcopal Christians in the U.S. who don’t wish to move away from the Communion at all, but who don’t particularly want to join a separatist part of their Church either."
"I want to give them time to find what the best way is," the archbishop stated.
Williams is aware, however, that the Anglican Communion Network – the conservative network of 10 U.S. Episcopal dioceses and more than 900 parishes that opposed the election of the first gay Episcopal bishop in 2003 – won’t "hold out" under the present circumstances indefinitely.
"‘If Canterbury doesn’t help, there will be other provinces that are very ready to help,’" he imagined them saying.
Although the Pittsburgh-based Anglican Communion Network remains part of the Episcopal Church for now, it could ultimately attempt to replace the denomination as the American member of the communion – an event that Williams wants to avoid.
"I don’t especially want to see the Anglican Church becoming like the Orthodox Church – where in some American cities you see the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Romanian Orthodox Church," he said. "I don’t want to see in the cities of America the American Anglican Church, the Nigerian Anglican Church, the Egyptian Anglican Church and the English Anglican Church on the same street."
According to Williams, a split in the Episcopal Church would likely have effects on the Church of England as clergy and congregations may be forced to decide where their loyalties lie.
"My nightmare is that action is now going forward that will tie us up in law courts in 10 years, in disputes about property," he added.
"That would take so much energy from what we’re meant to be doing…. We can prevent those endless lawsuits, I think, if there is enough cooperation in the central mission of the Church.
"If that work continues it may also help us in finding those structures."
Christian Post correspondent Anne Thomas in London contributed to this report.