PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - Conservative bishops upset with U.S. Episcopal Church stands on gay issues said on Friday they will call a constitutional convention to form a new “Anglican union” in North America.
“This is a time of reformation,” said Robert Duncan, Episcopal Church bishop of Pittsburgh who convened the group. “We hope to go through this in a way that brings honor and glory to God.”
He and others meeting as the “Common Cause Council of Bishops” said the group included 51 bishops and bishops-elect representing “tens of thousands of Anglicans in North America.”
There are currently about 2.4 million members of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member global Anglican Communion, as the worldwide church is called.
Duncan and the others said they will form a new “college of bishops” that will ask top bishops abroad to recognize them as separate from the Episcopalians, and “call a founding constitutional convention for an Anglican union.”
The U.S. church has been divided within and estranged from parts of the global church since 2003 when it consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first bishop known to be in an openly gay relationship in more than four centuries of church history.
That angered Duncan and other U.S. traditionalists as well as defenders of orthodox Christianity in Africa, Asia and Latin America, who now account for more than half of the world’s Anglican followers.
Earlier this year, leading worldwide Anglican bishops, called primates, met in Africa and called on the U.S. church to clearly pledge not to elevate another noncelibate gay to bishop and to make it clear that blessing same-sex marriages would not be tolerated.
After meetings in New Orleans this week, the Episcopal bishops promised “restraint” on the gay bishop topic and said they would not authorize specific rites for blessing same-sex unions — but did nothing to outlaw them.
The stands were largely reaffirmations of existing Episcopal Church policy that have already upset traditionalists like Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who has installed bishops loyal to him in the United States.
Duncan told a news conference on Friday that “the church in the West has lost its way. The church in the global south is utterly clear about what it is to follow Jesus Christ.”
Anglicans refer to followers in Africa, Asia and Latin America as “the global south.”
The latest developments are another part of the splintering of the Episcopal Church, which is already fighting defections in court, claiming it owns all property of those who are trying to depart.
The Episcopal Church says 32 congregations have actually left and another 23 have voted to leave — out of more than 7,600 congregations in 110 diocese in the United States and 15 other countries.
It was not clear how many of the congregations that the Pittsburgh group claims to represent are currently in the Episcopal Church. Many of the bishops or bishops-elect consider themselves Anglican but are not in the Episcopal Church.
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.