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CANTERBURY: Bishops 'weakening body of Christ' in row over gays and women

CANTERBURY: Bishops 'weakening body of Christ' in row over gays and women

by Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
From The Times
July 17, 2008

Conservative bishops have been accused of breaching their duties and damaging the welfare of Christians as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, fights back against his critics.

Anglican bishops arriving for the Lambeth Conference yesterday were told to stop their backstabbing and in-fighting if they were not to "weaken the body of Christ".

A background paper distributed to 650 bishops and archbishops attending the ten-yearly conference in Canterbury told them to remember that their relationships with each other were "fragile and tainted by sin".

Anglican rows over ordaining gay priests and women bishops were damaging for "all the baptised", it said. But the most stinging criticism was for conservative bishops, of whom 230, mainly from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, are boycotting Lambeth.

The paper, commissioned by Dr Williams, made clear that bishops who had transgressed diocesan and provincial boundaries in search of "orthodox" primacy were considered guilty of undermining collegiality. An even worse sin, it suggested, was boycotting the conference.

The warning was published in the Lambeth Reader, a document intended only for delegates but seen by The Times. "Given the present state of the Anglican Communion it is the special collegial responsibility of the bishop to be at prayer for and with fellow colleagues," the paper said.

"This is particularly relevant for those bishops who are in conflict with one another. Their failure to attend fervently to this ordinal vow weakens the body of Christ for which they have responsibility. This in turn weakens the bonds that all the baptised share with one another."

The paper, written by the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, represents the start of the fightback by Dr Williams, who has been accused of showing inadequate leadership.

His strategy at Lambeth has been to draw up an agenda devoid of controversy to avoid further splits and to use allies in a counter-attack based on theology and tradition.

It concedes that there are occasions when a church "falls out of sympathy" with its bishop on matters of doctrine and conduct. But it demands that the ease of modern communication and travel does not excuse choosing a leader in another province to become "chief pastor". This is a reference to the 300 US parishes that have sought oversight from provinces including Southern Cone, Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya.

The Right Rev Errol Brooks, Bishop of North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba in the West Indies, defended the conservative stance. He said: "On issues of homosexuality, people make choices but they should not try to foist these on others. Homosexuals are God's children. We have to love them. But when they have made certain choices that are not in keeping with biblical ethic, we have to try and see if we can come to some common ground."

Dr Chris Sugden, executive secretary of the Anglican Mainstream lobby group, criticised the paper as inadequate. He said: "This is incomplete in its presentation of the New Testament teaching of what bishops should do in the case of continual, systematic teaching of false doctrine."


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