Church accused of manipulating summit over gay clergy

A United States bishop on Thursday accused his own church of manipulating the Lambeth summit by providing its 125 representatives with briefing notes explaining how to promote liberal attitudes towards gay clergy.

The US Episcopal church has the largest presence at Lambeth, a once-a-decade gathering of the world’s Anglican bishops in Canterbury, and has provided each prelate with a “messaging strategy” that tells them how to present a cogent, persuasive argument in favour of diversity and tolerance in their discussions with other bishops.

Liberals form the majority voice in the US church and are eager to liberalise attitudes towards sexuality, given the divisive furore that has ensued following the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire.

The document handed out to the Episcopal Church’s Lambeth contingent encourages bishops to promote the idea of diversity by using examples from the Bible and scripture.

“God made a diverse creation who reveals many gifts but the same spirit. Jesus calls a diverse witness into being and sends them into witness. St Paul called a diverse church to unity in Christ,” it says.

The document, entitled Lambeth Talking Points, also provides advice for bishops when dealing with journalists: “A good message will reach the audience without giving the media more than they need or can use.”

One US bishop, Keith Ackerman from the diocese of Quincy, said the document was “embarrassing”.

“We should come to Lambeth spiritually prepared, not tactically prepared. It is a clear attempt to dominate the debates we are having and push them in a certain direction. The Episcopal Church is attempting to manipulate this conference. It was hoping to convince the rest of the Anglican Communion that its innovations should be incorporated and respected.”

News of the document has spread throughout the Kent campus and, late on Wednesday night, conservatives launched their own strategy to counter the prevailing liberal tone of Lambeth.

At a meeting attended by diocesan bishops from around the world, one conservative evangelical recommended: “In group after group, find out how many people support resolution 1.10 [the one from Lambeth 1998 enforcing a traditional stance on gay sex]. I am putting my hand up in my group, I invite my brothers and sisters to do the same when they get the opportunity.”

All the bishops present agreed to implement this plan.

By regularly voting on the incompatibility of homosexuality and the Bible, traditionalists hope to seize control of the centre ground at Lambeth and to indicate their widespread disapproval of progressive agendas espoused by churches in the US and Canada.

Ackerman, the only bishop willing to be named, said: “It is a way to take the temperature, to remind people that we do not all think the same. It is a bit like a festering wound. It is not going away and we will not let it.”

The feuding has overshadowed the Lambeth meeting, seen by many as being one of the most critical in the Anglican Communion’s history.

However, the warring factions were able to put aside their differences—for one day only—as they marched through central London to pledge their commitment to cut global poverty.

Led by the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops formed a river of purple that gently and quietly bobbed through Whitehall and Millbank. Speaking while on the march, the bishop of Repton, Humphrey Southern, said: “This walk represents the presence and influence we have. I do wish people knew that this is the Anglican Communion at its best.”

On arriving at Lambeth Palace for a drinks reception and lunch in a splendid marquee, the bishops were joined by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and and a large gathering of figures from other faith groups.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to the gathering. He urged foreign bishops to pressure their governments on health and education measures and called for a “green revolution for Africa”, with a review of agricultural protectionism to help people grow food for themselves rather than export it.

The Most Reverend Rowan Williams then presented the prime minister, another embattled leader, with a letter.

It read: “Christian pastors and other faith leaders cannot stand by while promises are not kept, when nations are tempted by easier paths of preserving their own wealth at the cost of other peoples’ poverty. We should be alarmed that, on the halfway mark to 2015, most of these achievable targets will not be met.”

The failure was not due to a lack of resources but a lack of global political will, he added.—

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