LONDON (Reuters) - Conservatives and liberals locked horns over homosexuality at a Church of England synod on Wednesday as the worldwide Anglican communion faced the grim prospect of schism.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, had warned the synod that people now think Anglicans are “obsessed with sex.”
After listening to a robust morning of soul-searching debate over the role of gays and lesbians in the deeply divided church, few would argue with his conclusion.
Speaker after speaker highlighted the divisions that have rent the 450-year-old church, founded when Henry VIII broke with Rome so he could divorce his first wife.
Bishops succeeded in toning down a liberal motion on homosexuality, arguing that this could have upset delicate negotiations.
Bishop of Gloucester Michael Perham told the synod: “It is very clearly the wrong moment to shift our former position and give any sense of winners and losers on an issue on which we are finding it hard to reach consensus.”
“Does the Synod want an outcome that will be perceived, perhaps misperceived, in the Anglican Communion as the Church of England shifting its ground in one direction or another?” he asked.
He feared passing a motion that was so ambiguous it could cause confusion or “so clear-cut as to exacerbate the polarization that already exists.”
But the amended motion, agreed by an overwhelming show of hands in the church’s parliament, did stress that it was important to keep “the listening process” going as Anglicans agonized over the issue of sexuality.
The Anglican communion, a loose federation of 38 national churches, has been split between a liberal minority and a conservative majority, especially since the naming of an openly gay U.S. bishop in 2003.
After a stormy meeting of church leaders in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam earlier this month, the Anglican Communion gave the U.S. Episcopal Church a September deadline to stop blessing same sex unions.
Williams, who has no power to enforce solutions in a church run by consensus, has said the U.S. Episcopal Church might not be invited to the 2008 Lambeth Conference — a once in a decade meeting of all Anglican bishops — if it did not comply.
The archbishop, who admits he may be unable to prevent schism, has battled to stop the row escalating between traditionalists in Africa, Asia and Latin America and declining churches in the affluent West.