The Anglican-founded InclusiveChurch network has said that a broad based Church of England should not allow itself to be "held to ransom" by a number of mainly conservative evangelical parishes who are reportedly intending to set up an alternative episcopal jurisdiction using retired bishops to provide their own, separate ministry within the Church.
According to a report in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, activists from the hardline groups Reform and Anglican Mainstream are seeking to provide 'alternative oversight' to around 100 Church of England parishes who are dissatisfied with their existing bishops' views on issues like sexuality and gender. They are backing this up with threats to withdraw substantial amounts of money from Diocesan resource sharing arrangements.
"What they are objecting to is in fact the agreed position of the House of Bishops", said InclusiveChurch this weekend. The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, the network's president, said: ‚ÄúThese rebel churches want to destroy the traditional breadth of the Church of England and turn it into a puritan sect. They must not be allowed to succeed."
He continued: "Britain is aware of the dangers of religious extremism. Now, more than ever, the message of a broad and inclusive Christianity needs to be heard. The Civil Partnership legislation has clearly offered new opportunities for people in this country to express a profound and committed love for one another. InclusiveChurch welcomes that."
The group says that some parishes and individuals are attacking their Bishops for upholding the agreed position on the Civil Partnership legislation - which grants recognition, without necessarily approval.
In what will be seen as a challenge to Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and his senior colleagues to act with firmness, the InclusiveChurch statement goes on: "We urge the House of Bishops to resist this attempt further to divide the Church of England. The threats of financial penalties sound very like an attempt to bully the church into a particular position. Rather than engage with the world, these parishes seem to wish to separate themselves from it."
It declares: "These proposals represent part of a wider pattern which will, if allowed to continue, distort and ultimately destroy the Anglican Communion. Across the Communion, we see attempts to replace the breadth and openness of Anglican theology with a confessional, protestant theology and practice. The recent irregular ordinations in the Diocese of Southwark, the statements of the Primates of the Global South at Kigali in July , the moves by the diocese of San Joaquin and parishes in the Diocese of Virginia to remove themselves from the Episcopal Church, and the appointment by the Church of Nigeria of Martyn Minns as a Bishop in the United States are all part of this strategy."
InclusiveChurch and other groups like Women And The Church (WATCH) and the Modern Churchpeople's Union (MCU) argue that Alternative Episcopal Oversight, when it was created to placate continuing opponents of the ordination of women, set a dangerous precedent for Anglican Christianity as a whole.
Critics say it implied that a ‚Äúmix and match‚Äù church was possible, with people and parishes being able to choose their bishops according to their views on specific issues. The recent requests for Alternative Primatial Oversight in America are partly a result of this precedent, they say - describing the current initiative as being about "bringing bishops out of retirement in order to promote a view of the church which appears increasingly single-issue and dominated by [anxiety over] homosexuality."
InclusiveChurch conclude on a positive note: "The Anglican Communion is a gift. In all its complexity and untidiness it has a great deal to offer the world. For that reason we have welcomed the Archbishop of Canterbury‚Äôs proposals for working out a Covenant between us."