Tanzanian church deepens Anglican row over sexuality

By staff writers
December 16, 2006

In a move which is being interpreted by some as part of a conscious effort to pre-empt decisions about a global Anglican covenant promoted by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, the Anglican Church in Tanzania has said it will no longer knowingly accept money from dioceses, parishes, bishops, and individuals that "condone homosexual practice or bless same-sex unions", a statement from its House of Bishops has declared.

The Tanzanian church says its communion with the Episcopal Church in the US is now ”severely impaired” in the light of the General Convention’s response to the Windsor report.

The Tanzanian bishops describe the Episcopal Church's response as ”a failure to register repentance for their actions” - as distinct from an expression of regret about its consequences.

In 2003, after the election of the openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, the Tanzanian Church declared itself out of communion with bishops who consecrated or ordained homosexuals, those who permitted the blessing of same-sex unions, and gay priests and deacons.

It took its latest decision at a House of Bishops meeting in Dar es Salaam on 7 December 2006, where it mandated the Primate of the Church of Tanzania to forward the statement to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA, the Most Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and all the other Primates of the Anglican Communion.

Meanwhile, conservative Church of England clergy, backed by the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, have told Archbishop Rowan Williams that a parallel structure should be created for those who designate their existing bishops as 'liberal'. The bishops held confidential talks with the Archbishop this week.

The group presented Dr Williams with a declaration stating that they would not work with those who had accepted gay priests or went against their interpretation of church teachings.

Bishop Nazir-Ali, who spoke out against the Sexual Orientation Regulations last week, seeking exemption for the Church from public equalities legislation, told the Daily Telegraph that the move for alternative episcopal oversight represented the ”depth of feeling’ among Church of Engalnd members.

The hardline pressure group Reform has also issued its own version of a covenant for the Church of England - and has already drawn trenchant criticism from the evangelical Bishop of Durham, the biblical scholar Tom Wright. He has put out a detailed 6,000-word critique.

Meanwhile InclusiveChurch.Net, a network of Anglicans who support an affirmative stance towards women and lesbians and gays, has called on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the House of Bishops to resist attempts to bully the Church and to turn it into a "puritan sect".

Bishop Nazir-Ali was a candidate against Dr Rowan Williams for the archbishopric of Canterbury several years ago. At the time he was seen as evangelical but mainstream. However critics say that he has now sided categorically with what they see as an openly sectarian agenda, and that, in the words of one Anglican liberal, "he seems to have lost the plot completely".

Commentators are speaking of a virtual "civil war" in the Church. The onus is now very much on Dr Williams to bring the warring factions back to the negotiation table.

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