George Will

Advocates of the gay bishop argue the way some Americans do when finding new rights and social-policy imperatives in a limitlessly elastic "living Constitution." The bishop's advocates say Scripture and 2,000 years of church teaching about sexuality and family are being "imaginatively construed in a certain interpretive trajectory." The Rev. Martyn Minns of Fairfax, Va., an opponent, says that in Minneapolis, "When the plain teaching of the Bible was referenced, eyes rolled, and with expressions of polite exasperation we were told that it was time to move on. The Bible simply hadn't kept up."

Two weeks ago, when Williams visited John Paul II, the pope said the Minneapolis decision presented "new and serious difficulties" to ecumenical efforts. And when 2,700 conservative Episcopalians met last week in Dallas to urge the London  meeting to give them relief, they received an extraordinary letter of support from the Vatican -- from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, speaking on behalf of the pope.

The Queen regards Anglicanism as the glue holding together the Commonwealth. The Global South bishops reportedly have written to her and she may have made known to Williams an anxiety he should share -- that he and the Church of England could become irrelevant to an Anglicanism in which leadership would be exercised from, say, Nairobi.

In Dallas, Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, warned that the Archbishop of Canterbury could become "little more than the titular head of a moribund and declining British, American and Australian sect." Although the office of Archbishop of Canterbury dates from the sixth century, its holder has no power to impose uniformity on matters of faith and practice over Anglicanism's autonomous provinces. However, he can broker a resolution satisfactory to the angry majority of primates, who represent Anglicanism where it is expanding.

In Africa and other places where Christianity competes with militant Islam and other fighting faiths, bishops are, says Anderson, "battleground Christians" who have seen Christians "have tires put around their necks and set on fire. You can't cow them." Or bribe them. Those bishops are furious about what they consider the liberal imperialism of Western churches trying to wield cash coercively against theologically conservative but financially weak churches in the Global South.

They will insist on discipline, perhaps even on disenfranchisement of the American church, replacing it with what they consider the orthodox remnant of American Episcopalians. In a few days, some institutional work of centuries may be undone.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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