JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Conservative Anglican leaders vowed on Sunday to stay in the worldwide Anglican Communion but form a council of bishops to provide an alternative to churches they say are preaching a “false gospel” of sexual immorality.
The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) said member churches would continue sponsoring breakaway conservative parishes in liberal western member countries and called for a separate conservative province in North America.
It also said in a final declaration that Anglicanism -- the third largest group of Christians after Roman Catholics and Orthodox -- was not “determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury”, Rowan Williams.
“We cherish our Anglican heritage and the Anglican Communion and have no intention of departing from it,” it said after a week of talks in Jerusalem among 1,148 participants, including 291 bishops, who say they represent 35 million Anglicans.
“We grieve for the spiritual decline in the most economically developed nations, where the forces of militant secularism and pluralism are eating away the fabric of society and churches are compromised and enfeebled in their witness,” GAFCON said in a final statement.
Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, a driving force behind GAFCON who earlier branded Williams an apostate, rejected the idea that they were forming “a church within a church”.
“We are part of the worldwide church called the Anglican Communion,” Akinola said at a news conference.
The conservatives, a coalition mainly of African Anglican churches and orthodox U.S. Episcopalians, has hinted it might break from the 77 million-strong Communion since the Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003.
But GAFCON, called one month ahead of the 10-yearly Lambeth Conference of bishops from the whole Communion, did not in the end develop into a full alternative and participants -- despite some strong initial rhetoric -- did not opt for a schism.
Conservative bishops from Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya have said they will boycott the Lambeth Conference.
“DEFEND THE GOSPEL”
In its statement, GAFCON accused churches in the West of proclaiming “a false gospel (that) undermines the authority of God’s Word” and promotes a “variety of sexual preferences and immoral behaviour”, including same-sex marriages.
Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen said a Primate’s council -- a body of the heads of member Anglican churches -- would be formed to regulate the “chaos” within the Communion and at the same time “defend the Gospel ... from revisionist or liberal theologies”.
David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, said the new conservative province in North America would challenge existing boundaries while offering “the hopes of being part of an orthodox entity of Anglicanism globally”.
The statement acknowledged Canterbury as Anglicanism’s “historic see” but said Anglican identity should not be defined by its archbishop.
The declaration did not mention Williams by name but said the Anglican leadership had done nothing to discipline the Episcopal Church for gay bishop Gene Robinson or the Anglican Church of Canada for blessing same-sex marriages.
Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris, editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mary Gabriel
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