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Anglican schism not inevitable says Williams

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in an interview to be published on Friday, says he is not optimistic about the future of the Anglican Church but adds that a schism over gay issues is not inevitable.

In this file picture, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams talks to the media as he concludes his four-day visit to Sri Lanka, in Colombo May 10, 2007. Williams, in an interview to be published on Friday, says he is not optimistic about the future of the Anglican Church but adds that a schism over gay issues is not inevitable. REUTERS/Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi

The state of the 77-million-member global church “feels very vulnerable. I can’t, of course, deny that. It feels very vulnerable and very fragile, perhaps more so than it’s been for a very long time,” Williams told Time Magazine.

But he also said:

“I don’t think schism is inevitable. The task I’ve got is to try and maintain as long as possible the space in which people can have constructive disagreements, learn from each other, and try and hold that within an agreed framework of discipline and practice.”

Asked if was optimistic, Williams said “I’m hopeful. Not optimistic,” agreeing that “hopeful” was a “safer” word.

The Worldwide Anglican Communion, as the church is known, has been shaken and divided since 2003 when the Episcopal Church, its 2.4 million-member U.S. branch, consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first openly gay bishop in more than 450 years of Anglican church history.

His elevation not only splintered the U.S. church but riled defenders of traditional Christianity in the church’s “Global South” -- African, Asian and Latin American congregations that now account for half of the world’s Anglican followers.

Some U.S. Episcopalian congregations have already placed themselves under the jurisdiction of conservative bishops in Africa and elsewhere.


The situation became even more strained recently when Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, a leading orthodox figure, ignored a plea from Williams and came to Virginia to install Bishop Martyn Minns as head of a new Nigerian-based church branch designed as a refuge for orthodox American believers.

Williams later announced that both Minns and Robinson would not be invited to the Lambeth Conference, a major church meeting held periodically since 1867 and scheduled again next year.

In the Time interview Williams said he did that to avoid the two bishops becoming the focus of the 2008 meeting.

“The mode of their appointment in the face of substantial protest simply means their bishoping is going to be under question in large parts of the Anglican world,” he said

“Regarding Robinson, one thing I’ve tried to make clear is that my worry about his election was that the Episcopal Church hadn’t made a general principled decision about the blessing of same-sex unions or the ordination of people in public same-sex partnerships,” he said.

“I would think it better had the church actually taken a view on that before moving to the individual case. As it is, someone living in a relationship not theologically officially approved by the church is elected to a bishop. I find that bizarre and puzzling,” Williams said.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, Anglicans are organized as a federation of national churches without hierarchical lines of authority, though the Archbishop of Canterbury holds a first-among-equals leadership position.

“It’s impossible to get from Scripture anything straightforwardly positive about same-sex relationships,” Williams said.

“Those theologians who’ve defended same-sex relationships from the Christian point of view in recent decades have said you’ve got to look at whether a same-sex relationship is capable of something at the level of neutral self-giving that a marriage ought to exemplify. And then ask, is that what Scripture is talking about? That’s the area of dispute,” he said.