The Lambeth Commission, the international task force that is assessing the future unity of the 77 million member Anglican Communion, began its final closed-door meeting to make the finishing touches on its much anticipated report, at the Windsor Chapel in London, on Monday, Sept 6, 2004.
The main topic of debate is the American branch of the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA), and its decision to ordain an openly homosexual man as bishop last year. The ordination of bishop Gene Robinson posed a threat to the unity of the 450-year old communion greater than that of the ordination of female pastors – an issue that has not yet been fully resolved as well.
The Anglican Church, unlike the Roman Catholic Church that is governed under strict papal authority, is a fellowship loosely united under the same heritage. Although the Anglican Church has a charter, it is not strictly enforced among its member bodies.
The policy that has been disregarded by the ECUSA in blessing Robinson’s ordination, was a clause that clearly stated that the Anglican Communion cannot support “the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions or ordaining of those involved in same-sex unions.”
Additionally, the ECUSA disregarded the second part of the clause, by giving green light to blessing same sex unions last year.
Within several months, international church leaders representing two-thirds of the Communion broke fellowship with the ECUSA and sharply criticized it for going against the teachings of the Communion. Many internal debates have also risen within the ECUSA – conservative parishes have denounced the American branch and re-aligned with Anglican Churches abroad; conservative churches set up their own network of confessing Anglican churches to counter the liberalism of the ECUSA; dozens of parishes held back funds amounting to millions from the ECUSA.
With such deep divisions at hand, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams – the pope of the Anglican Church – set up the Lambeth Commission to tackle the thorny issue of homosexuality in the Anglican Church. Williams also encouraged member churches to stay put, refrain from ordaining gay individuals, continue to give offerings and pray – at least until the Lambeth Commission finished its report.
During the Commission’s first full meeting in February 2004, it said it was “saddened that tensions within the Communion exacerbated by the use of strident language, have continued to rise.”
Ironically, only weeks after the February meeting, the entire Anglican council in Africa, representing nearly half of the world’s Anglicans, scorned the ECUSA, called it to immediate repentance, and broke all fellowship and ties with the American branch of the communion.
With such events in place, Irish Archbishop Robin Eames – head of the Lambeth Commission – will be leading the task force to conclude its multi-faceted report this week. Although Eames has repeatedly hinted that a clean-cut solution is not likely, many international leaders have been relying on the report to guide future decisions.
"This is a private meeting. Its purpose is to finalize the Lambeth Commission report and hopefully that will be published in mid-October," a spokesman for Eames told Reuters.
One of the solutions considered by the Commission is to exclude the ECUSA from the Anglican Communion altogether. While several “Times of London” reports suggested such would be the result, others have said such a dramatic conclusion is not likely.
"There are an awful lot of battle cruisers skimming around and avoiding shooting at each other. No one wants a battle," said religious commentator and journalist Clifford Longley.
"I think I put my money on it being a fudge. Temperamentally I do not think they are inclined to go for a fight. Never in the past has any of these commissions come to anything. They have never managed to apply sanctions,” said Longley.
The Windsor Meeting will conclude on Sept 9.