Heated debates over homosexuality re-ignited within the Episcopal Church USA last week, as two conservative parishes in the Los Angeles diocese chose to disassociate from the local bishop and the national church, and instead affiliate with a conservative diocese in Uganda. On Monday, August 23, the Anglican archbishop of Uganda declared his support for the two breakaway congregations, stirring yet another round of debates between the Los Angeles diocese, the ECUSA, the Ugandan Church and the conservative churches.
All Saints Church in Long Beach and St. James Church in Newport Beach decided just one week ago to break their relation with the ECUSA over the theological debate on homosexuality.
The leaders of the two parishes said they have noticed the leftward drift of the ECUSA for decades, but only recently realized how far the church had gone; last year the ECUSA caused havoc in the worldwide Anglican Church by ordaining an openly gay man as bishop, and giving the green light to blessing homosexual unions.
Although international Anglican leadership cautioned the US branch against such actions, the ECUSA went ahead to perform ceremonial blessings for same-sex couples in the church and ordaining homosexual individuals as clergy.
As predicted, a majority of the Anglican bodies, including the Anglican church of Uganda, disassociated with the ECUSA. The biggest showdown occurred some six months ago when the Archbishop of Nigeria spoke on behalf of over half of the world’s Anglicans (mostly from Africa and Asia) in breaking all fellowship and formal ties with the ECUSA. The Anglican Archbishop gave the ECUSA three months to repent; the US branch has yet to heed the warning.
At the local level, the Los Angeles bishop J. Jon Bruno presided over the “blessing ceremony” of the union of one of his priests and his male lover, sparking widespread concern among more conservative and biblically rooted parishes in the diocese.
Following Bruno’s “blessing ceremony,” the 12 member boards of directors, or vestries, of both All Saints and St. James voted unanimously to break with the Los Angeles Diocese and the ECUSA; last week’s votes from the parishioners confirmed that decision.
Following their decision to break, the two churches wrote a formal letter informing Bruno that he no longer had authority over the congregations. Bruno, who said he was not informed of the decisions until they were publicly announced, shot back at the church leaders, saying he would “depose” them if they continue to rebel against the diocese.
"Should they wish to return to the communion of this Church during this period, a process of restoration will take place. Should they not change their minds, they will be deposed,” threatened Bruno.
However, the clergy and parishioners at the two churches ignored Bruno’s threats, refused to meet with him and continued on their plan to align with the Ugandan diocese.
Meanwhile, during Monday’s comments, the Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi denounced Bruno’s threats.
"We condemn any attempt on the part of the ECUSA Bishop of Los Angeles to depose our clergy serving at St. James Church, Newport Beach, and All Saints' Church, Long Beach. He has no jurisdiction over them, and we will not recognize his actions," said Orombi.
Addtionally, Orombi said the clergy at the two parishes now belong to the Diocese of Luweeroin Uganda led by Bishop Evans Kisekka.
"Furthermore, we appeal to other provinces within the Anglican Communion to recognize our clergy as priests and deacons in good standing," he wrote.
Orombi then reiterated the concerns of the two parishes and called Bruno to repentance.
"We are grieved by the continued unbiblical actions of the leadership of ECUSA that have led to its separation from the majority of the Anglican Communion. We especially note that the Bishop of Los Angeles recently presided at the blessing of a same-sex union of one of his priests. We pray for his repentance – and the repentance of all the ECUSA leadership who voted for the consecration of a man in an active homosexual relationship as bishop of New Hampshire – and their return to the historic faith and communion of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church," he said.
Subsequently, Bruno asked the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and U.S. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold to block the African church from interfering in the affairs of the Los Angeles diocese; Williams has yet to respond. Griswold, according to his spokesman, is on vacation.
Nonetheless, Bruno maintained that he would not back down, saying, “I cannot and will not yield my authority over these priests and deacon.”