COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Top British Anglican leaders are bringing new pressure on the Episcopal General Convention to enact a ban on electing gay bishops before the assembly ends next week.
If the legislative body fails to endorse a moratorium, the overseas bishops fear the divide in the global Anglican Communion over homosexuality will escalate to a full-blown schism.
Church of England Bishop N.T. Wright of Durham said in a statement being widely circulated at the meeting that prohibiting gay bishops — for now, anyway — is "the least that can be done that will restore the unity that has already been lost."
The crisis erupted in 2003, when the Episcopalians consecrated New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who lives with his longtime male partner. The move shocked conservative Anglicans around the world, who believe gay sex violates Scripture.
Archbishop of York John Sentamu, the second-highest ranking cleric in the Church of England, told Episcopal delegates that their current proposals to mollify fellow Anglicans do not go far enough. The U.S. church is a member of the Anglican Communion.
The main measure under consideration stops short of a moratorium. Instead, it warns dioceses to "exercise very considerable caution" in choosing leaders.
"Will it actually be sufficient to secure this impaired friendship? Personally, I'm doubtful," Sentamu told a hearing on the legislation earlier this week.
Jim Naughton, who is monitoring the convention for the Diocese of Washington's blog, said that Sentamu has continued to privately lobby bishops for a toughened proposal.
Separately, a senior Church of England leader, Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, flew into Columbus for a worship service Friday organized by the American Anglican Council.
The council represents Episcopalians with traditional views of Scripture who vehemently oppose ordaining gays. The group works with a network of 10 conservative Episcopal dioceses and more than 900 parishes that are debating whether to remain within the church.
"When people claim something as coming from the Spirit, we have to test it in terms of the clear teaching that we find in our Bible and confessed by the church throughout the ages," Nazir-Ali said in his sermon.
The 77 million-member Anglican Communion is a loose association of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William is the spiritual leader of the communion, but each province governs itself.
Many Episcopalians cherish that independence. They believe Anglican leaders should respect the church's decision to elect bishops without outside interference. The Rev. Tobias Haller, a priest at St. James Fordham in New York City, said delegates may resent the British push.
"We will hear what everyone says," Haller said, "but Americans can be pretty resistant to pressure."
Still, delegates recognize that there is intense international interest in their deliberations.
On Friday, Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, told the convention that Williams has formed a small group of advisers to help him assess the outcome of the General Convention, which runs through next Wednesday.
Williams sent a message to the convention that did not recommend a specific vote, but said "we cannot survive as a communion of churches without some common convictions about what it is to live and to make decisions as the Body of Christ."
An Episcopal committee shepherding the moratorium issue through the assembly is considering whether to revise the proposal. It was unclear when the convention vote will occur.
Also Friday, the House of Bishops overwhelmingly approved a resolution regretting its support of slavery and agreeing to study for three years the possibility of providing some form of reparations. The resolution didn't make clear who would receive the reparations or what form they might take. The measure now goes to the House of Deputies for their consideration.
Asoociated Press writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins contributed to this report.
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