Peace be with you. And also with you. Unless you’re gay.

Last year, after the Episcopal Church installed its first openly homosexual bishop, a group of dissenters, led in part by conservative Texas clergymen, vowed to put up a fight. And did they ever. Will their new alliance destroy the 215-year-old denomination?

July 2004By Comments

IN THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH, the Reverend Canon David H. Roseberry has long been considered something of a prodigy. In 1985 he founded Christ Church in a Plano home with a mere 13 people and quickly built it into a powerhouse with 4,400 members and a 500-student Sunday school. It has the largest average Episcopal church attendance in America and is the most successful start-up in the denomination’s history. It is also deeply conservative, heavily tilted toward Scripture, and determinedly evangelical. In its striking growth, its many successful outreach programs, and its broad community involvement, Christ Church is precisely what the national church, whose membership has been steadily declining for the past forty years, aspires to be.

But on Sunday, August 10, 2003, Roseberry stood in the pulpit of his vaulted limestone sanctuary and delivered a rhetorical cruise missile directed at the heart of his denomination. Five days earlier, bishops from 107 dioceses at the church’s triennial General Convention, in Minneapolis, had voted to consecrate the ordination of a homosexual bishop named V. Gene Robinson in New Hampshire and to approve the blessing of same-sex unions. To Roseberry, this meant that the church had ignored the Bible and thus, on this issue, had abandoned the Christian faith. “In two days, in two votes by less than six hundred people, 4,500 years of Biblical teaching and tradition were overturned,” he told the congregation. Then he explained why he had walked off the convention floor in protest. “I wanted to send the very clearest, least ambiguous signal to you that I will not be pushed or pulled into an apostate church. I can’t do it. These things are too important to me, and it’s too much of a violation of what I believe and hold sacred.” He received a standing ovation that lasted almost a full minute.

In the weeks that followed, Roseberry became one of the main organizers of an unprecedented revolt against the national church. It began in conservative parishes like Christ Church and in dioceses like Dallas, Fort Worth, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and quickly spread through the global Anglican communion. (The Episcopal Church is the American name of the Anglican Church, which was created by Henry VIII after he split with the Roman Catholic Church, in 1534; Anglican churches now operate in 164 countries and have 73 million members.) Episcopalians suddenly found themselves in the middle of a bloody, media-fueled political fight. The church had long tolerated the presence of gay priests, and some bishops had been ordaining openly gay priests and deacons since the eighties. But to many members, a gay bishop was unthinkable. Conservative parishes announced that they were leaving the denomination and were promptly sued by their dioceses for their land and buildings. Some congregations just walked away, en masse, from their property. Whole dioceses and hundreds of parishes announced that they would no longer give money to the national church. In Texas, the home of some of the church’s most conservative clergy, the backlash was especially severe. All of its five bishops had voted against Robinson; four of them publicly condemned the vote. “As faithful Episcopalians, we grieve with other Christians who are shocked and offended by these decisions,” wrote Fort Worth bishop Jack Leo Iker in a furious pastoral letter that his 56 vicars and rectors were ordered to read aloud from the pulpit.

At St. Michael’s Church in Richland Hills, in Iker’s diocese, the rector threw the flag of the national church on the ground and then walked on it in protest. In March six conservative retired bishops, led by former Diocese of Texas bishop Maurice Benitez, broke canon law by holding confirmations in Ohio without the permission of the bishop there; the confirmands had refused to be blessed by a bishop who voted for Robinson. (To a lesser extent, the same thing is happening in other protestant denominations, including the Presbyterian and Methodist churches; but they have had nothing like an official endorsement of a gay bishop.)

The most telling event in the conflict was an October meeting of the Episcopal Church’s leading dissidents, called by Roseberry and organized by Christ Church. Roseberry was in a unique position: He led a congregation that was more uniformly conservative than perhaps any other in the nation, and he was ensconced in what was certifiably one of the most conservative dioceses in the country—Dallas. He had initially expected to draw 200 to 300 people. To his amazement, he got 2,800, including, stunningly, 40 bishops among 900 clergymen. The meeting was so large that it had to be moved from Christ Church to the Wyndham Anatole Hotel, in Dallas, and it quickly showed the rest of the world the depth and strength of the conservative protest. “It was an exclamation point in the life of the Episcopal Church,” says Roseberry. “We were saying, ‘Wow, this is the defining moment for all of us.'”

That led to another meeting, in January, again organized by Roseberry’s church and this time held on its campus. There the simmering dissent of October turned to incipient schism. Thirteen bishops and representatives from twelve dioceses around the country (including Dallas and Fort Worth) and various conservative parishes formed an alliance representing some 10 percent of the church. They called it the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (known as the Network). Their purpose was to form a sort of church within the church, with its own “moderator” and a missionary focus. The Network would resist the ordination of gays and minister to the conservative congregations who now refused to take communion with presiding bishop Frank Griswold, the head of the church—or to even have him visit their churches. Such a deliberate challenge to Episcopal leadership was without precedent, and it convinced many in the clergy and the laity that sooner or later the church would shatter on a scale unseen in its 215-year history.

The problem extends well beyond the borders of the United States. The larger, and starker, truth of the American rebellion is that while the bishops of Dallas and Fort Worth, whose dioceses have joined the Network, are in the minority of American Episcopal leaders opposed to having a gay bishop, they are in the overwhelming majority in the rest of the Anglican world. Of the Anglican Church’s 38 provinces around the globe, 21 have already declared themselves in “impaired” or “broken” communion with the American church. Archbishop Peter Akinola, of Nigeria, whose 17.5 million members dwarf the 2.3 million members of the Episcopal Church in America, roundly condemned the General Convention’s vote and called it “a Satanic attack.” And even in the relatively more liberal United States, 42 percent of the bishops voted against Robinson. If joining the Network means a falling out of communion with the Episcopal Church, it means a strengthening of ties with the rest of the world.

It is difficult to see just where this revolt is headed or how far it will go. For conservatives, the vote means the end of what’s left of the old, scripturally driven church as they have known it. For liberals, it marks a triumph in a 28-year religious battle and the beginning of a new world of social and divine justice. What is inarguably true is that while the Anglican Church is booming in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the Episcopal Church in America is in serious decline. Some would say it is a fatal decline. It has lost nearly a third of its membership in the past 40 years, and as a percentage of the U.S. population, the number of Episcopal Church members has dropped from 1.8 percent, in 1960, to .75 percent today. The fight over how to address homosexuality in the church is also, rather obviously, a fight about how to save it.

IN THE CITY OF DALLAS, fifteen miles south of David Roseberry’s airy $8 million sanctuary, is a much older and smaller Episcopal church called St. Thomas the Apostle. St. Thomas is also well known inside the national church, but for different reasons. In the eighties it began ministering to people with HIV and soon became known as the “AIDS church.” “We were serving the spiritual needs of sick people,” says the church’s rector, Father Stephen Waller. “A lot of people were dying. A lot of our members went to God. For fifteen years we were burying people hand over fist. Because of that, this once sleepy parish became a magnet for gay and lesbian people.”

St. Thomas is by no means a typical Episcopal church. It is as liberal as Christ Church is conservative. But unlike Christ Church, St. Thomas is in the mainstream of the Episcopal Church in 2004. Gene Robinson’s consecration, after all, signaled a victory for liberals in a long war. Waller, who is gay, is nonetheless in the difficult position of leading a majority gay and lesbian church in one of the most conservative dioceses in the country, presided over by one of the nation’s most conservative bishops, the Right Reverend James M. Stanton. Waller’s congregation—their sexual preferences aside—are like church members anywhere: They sit on the vestry (the church’s governing board), sing in the choir, teach Sunday school, read the Bible, bring groceries to shut-ins, and perform as lay readers on Sunday. Because the liberal side of the Episcopal Church has long held that their sexual practices are not sinful, there is nothing, theologically speaking, special about them. Waller says that while most members of his parish were “delighted” by the vote of the General Convention, they were also horrified when their diocese joined the conservative Network five months later. The vestry of the church protested by writing a letter to Stanton saying that it “disassociates itself” from the decision to join the Network and that it would not give the Network money. In his church newsletter, Waller wrote, “I do not choose to be part of any group the purpose of which is to purify God’s church or any group whose function is to claim to be some sort of faithful remnant of ‘right’ believers in America.”

Waller’s status as an outsider in his diocese is underscored by his willingness to bless same-sex unions, against both traditional church policy and the wishes of his bishop. “I have spoken to the bishop on several occasions about this issue,” says Waller. “Last year, after our diocesan convention, it was decided officially that we would not bless same-sex relationships. I had done some. I drove to his office and told him that I do them but that I would not do it if he did not want it done. I told him he is still my bishop. We agreed to disagree. He was graceful enough. I said I was deeply saddened.” (The General Convention last August gave local bishops the authority to approve same-sex unions for the first time; before that, it was against the rules of the church.)

Though Robinson’s consecration brought such tensions into a new and sharper focus, they have long existed inside the church. Starting in the early seventies, variations of this theological debate about homosexuality kept breaking out at Episcopal diocesan and national conventions. As always, the subtext was how the church interpreted Scripture. Homosexuality was just one area in which conservatives thought the church increasingly weak and more reflective of American pop culture than the Bible. There were also growing numbers of liberals who challenged the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth, and the Holy Trinity and who believed the Bible to be more of a loose metaphorical guideline than divinely inspired truth. Powerful conservative groups such as Episcopalians United and the American Anglican Communion sprang up to push back. The breaking point—and one of the most significant events in church history—came in the heresy trial of Bishop Walter Righter, in 1996. At issue was the 1990 ordination of a gay deacon in the diocese of Newark, New Jersey, home of the articulate, iconoclastic leader of the church’s liberal wing, the Right Reverend John S. Spong, who was then its bishop. Righter was Spong’s assistant.

Spong had ordained a gay priest in late 1989 and had deliberately publicized it. The church’s bishops voted to censure him—but by a tepid majority of 80­76. Attitudes in the church were changing; liberals were gaining ground. Gay ordinations continued in the diocese of Newark, and in 1996 conservatives in the church decided to take a stand by trying Righter on two charges stemming from his 1990 ordination of an avowedly gay deacon, both of which involved a violation of ordination laws. The result was a decision by the bishops in the trial court that sent shock waves through the Anglican world. They ruled that the church had no “core doctrine” on sexuality that prohibited the ordination of a gay priest. Just how far to the left of the rest of the Anglican world this put the American church became clear in 1998, at the Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade meeting of church leaders in England. Bishops voted 562­70 for a resolution declaring that while gays were “loved by God,” homosexual activity was “incompatible with Scripture” and advising against the ordination of non-celibate gays. Most of the 70 dissenters, of course, came from the increasingly isolated American church.

Still, until last summer’s vote, the Episcopal Church had seemed to weather the controversy, just as it had previous disputes over the ordination of women (1976) and prayer book reform (1979)—both of which passed with relatively small net effect on church membership. Its factions were still deeply divided, but the church had not changed its official policy—disapproval—on homosexual clergy. The 2003 General Convention vote changed that irrevocably. In spite of his own ability to come to a somewhat wary accommodation with Bishop Stanton, Stephen Waller is among many priests who believe that the larger church is unlikely to remain whole. “For anyone in the Episcopal Church who has half a heart,” he says, “it is very difficult to watch as we chew each other up. I think the church is headed for a split, and that causes me enormous sadness. The question is how we keep the others aboard the ship.”

CONSIDERING THE FACT THAT MANY Episcopal churches have long made gays feel welcome, just what is it that conservatives can’t abide about homosexuals? And in a church that has knowingly ordained homosexual priests at least since the seventies, what was it about the consecration of a bishop in the tiny diocese of New Hampshire in 2003 that touched off such a global storm in the Anglican Church? The church’s conservative wing says that the dispute is about two, and only two, issues: the church’s adherence to Scripture and the church’s adherence to its own historical teachings. They argue, with little credible opposition, that the Bible consistently condemns gay sex. It is, as they like to say, “univocal” on the subject, from Genesis to Leviticus to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. In all, the subject is mentioned only eight times and never by Jesus himself. “What we believe is based on Scripture and also on the unbroken practice of the Christian church and our Jewish forefathers for five millennia,” says Fort Worth’s Jack Iker, one of the most conservative bishops in the church and one of three who still refuse to ordain women to the priesthood. “The church has always been unanimous in its condemnation of the homosexual lifestyle. The cultures that the Christian church came into—Roman and Greek—were very firmly accepting of homosexuality, and men having sexual relationships with young boys was common and acceptable, especially for the upper classes. But the church, coming out of its Jewish heritage, was very much countercultural that way.”

It is a common misconception that conservatives like Iker, Stanton, and Roseberry want to exclude gays from the church altogether. This is not what they say, and there is no evidence that it is true. (They are even agreeable to being part of a church that ordains homosexuals, as they have proven for more than two decades.) Their position is that Scripture holds homosexual acts to be unnatural, ungodly, and therefore sinful. The foundation of that belief—necessarily—is that homosexuality is a behavioral choice. Like any behavioral choice, it can be resisted. Like any temptation to sin, it needs to be resisted. And like other sinners, conservatives say, gays are welcomed into the church to worship and receive God’s love and forgiveness. “As an individual, you should know that if you are an active member of a gay lifestyle, that is outside of God’s will,” says Roseberry. “It is an unnatural, broken love, and it is not God’s best for you. It is God’s call in your life to bring every aspect of your life under his lordship. And so if there is divorce, repentance; if there is homosexual attraction, celibacy; if there is homosexual sin, repentance; if there is heterosexual sin or attraction to someone outside of your marriage, repentance.” Still, it was one thing to have gay priests, whom conservatives do not approve of but consider to be aberrations, products of ecclesiastical lawlessness, and quite another to have an avowedly gay bishop, which represented a doctrinal change. A gay bishop meant that the church no longer believed that homosexual behavior was sinful.

Liberals make several basic counterarguments. The most basic is that the sexual preference of gays is not a “behavior” that they choose and therefore cannot be a sin like other chosen behaviors, such as adultery. (Both sides say that science upholds their claims.) Perhaps the most common argument is that committed, monogamous homosexual relationships did not exist in biblical times and therefore were never addressed. Most of the Bible’s depictions of homosexuality are indeed either predatory or exploitative in some way. “If you take what Paul’s letters and Leviticus and Genesis say about homosexuality, it is like comparing pornography or XXX video places to committed heterosexual relationships,” says Barbi Click, a lesbian church member who helped organize a group called Fort Worth Via Media, which believes there should be room in the church for gay bishops. “You just can’t compare them.”

Liberals also point out that though Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, he did condemn divorce. They wonder why, since the church found a way to change its teaching on divorce, it can’t do the same with homosexuality. Conservatives counter that the Bible is far from univocal on divorce. Mark (10:5­12) and Luke (16:16­18) say no exceptions, but Matthew (19:1­9 and 5:31­32) and Paul (1 Corinthians 7:10­16) do allow for circumstances where divorce is permissible, leaving the church enough scriptural wiggle room to change its position. Liberals point to biblical condemnations of everything from a man speaking against his father to sex during menstruation, eating bloody meat, tattooing, and wearing clothes of blended fabric. Why arbitrarily insist on a literal interpretation of a handful of Scripture passages in a church that is proudly and conspicuously non-fundamentalist? Conservative Episcopalians answer that this line of reasoning confuses civil and ritual law with moral law. Such prohibitions represent Old Testament civil law and are therefore not in force, says the conservative side; the Ten Commandments are in force, as are other moral pronouncements, such as those on homosexuality. And many liberals simply contend that because Jesus was loving and inclusive and forgiving and taught his followers to love one another, singling out gays as a special class of sinners is contrary to that love. Conservatives would say that homosexuals are not a special class of sinners. They are sinners, period, like everyone else. Conservatives also point out that Jesus did not welcome everyone unconditionally; he upheld the moral law of the Old Testament and could be a tough, demanding master. He would have loved and forgiven gays, they say. He also would have insisted that they repent of their sin.

PERHAPS THE MOST PERNICIOUS EFFECT of the General Convention’s votes was that they forced Episcopalians to take sides. The result was to tear congregations apart, sometimes pitting members against each other, sometimes pitting them against their own clergy. Even in an overwhelmingly conservative parish like Roseberry’s, the votes produced dissenting voices. A member of Christ Church’s congregation, J. K. Ivey, was so disturbed by Roseberry’s reaction to the General Convention that he wrote a letter of resignation. “Each time I open my mailbox,” he wrote, “there is another ‘hate-gram’ from my beloved church that I no longer recognize . . . You have posted several documents on line and by mail that call upon all members of Christ Church to ‘Reject any position or policy of lifestyle which is contrary to scripture.’ . . . Please let me know when you plan to advocate stoning, burning at the stake, and otherwise inflicting the death penalty, as required for some 37 different sins (homosexuality excluded).” Roseberry replied, “I must make a simple statement. The General Convention has erred in electing a man who cannot uphold the historical teaching of the Christian Church. Whether he is a homosexual or not is beside the point . . . Your letter characterizes me as arrogant, judgmental, intolerant, and condemning. This is the same spirit of hate that you accuse me of.” Ivey says he received “tons of hate mail” after his letter was posted on the Internet. “At first it ran 80­20 hate-to-good,” he says. “Then at some point it reversed.”

That sort of polarity made it harder for Episcopalians to do what they have long been famous for: finding common ground between extremes. Church members even use the Latin term for it: “via media”—”the middle way.” It dates to Elizabeth I, who managed to hold Papists and Puritans together in the sixteenth century by insisting that they use a Book of Common Prayer while allowing wide latitude for personal beliefs. “A lot of people feel they are being forced to take a position they are not ready to take,” says Father Chuck Treadwell, the rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in McKinney, whose congregation is mostly conservative. “They feel they are being drawn into a battle they don’t necessarily want to fight.” Treadwell was a delegate to the convention and voted against Robinson but was unhappy that the church had forced the issue. He shared his feelings with his church. “When I spoke to the issue, I came out of the pulpit and said, ‘I do not know what the mind of God is.’ We were open; we talked about it. I did a lot of one-on-one counseling. Three families left because of it.”

There were those like Father Fred Barber, of Trinity Church in Fort Worth, who took a stand of deliberate ambiguity on the issue. Barber is the fairly conservative rector of what, by Fort Worth standards, is a liberal parish. “I am ready to stay ambiguous here,” he says. “I told the congregation in a sermon that if I had been a delegate at General Convention, I would not have voted for Gene Robinson’s consecration. I got applause. Three days later a gay congregation member stood and said how she valued being here. She got applause too. That is ambiguity. I may have lost some parishioners because I said I would not perform same-sex blessings. But I have also said that I have gay people here, and they will continue to be welcome.”

In Houston, conservative bishop Don A. Wimberly voted against consecrating Robinson’s ordination and then wrote a letter to everyone in the diocese saying so, which angered many liberals. He then did something that many of his conservative counterparts elsewhere found difficult or impossible: He said he was not going to make an issue out of it. There would be no gay ordinations in his diocese and no same-sex blessings. But there would be room for everyone in the church. “I am not throwing people out and showing them the door,” says Wimberly. “This is my understanding of Scripture, and it is the way I approach it. But that doesn’t keep me from loving you or welcoming you into the community.” When he visited liberal churches and was asked about his position, he explained it. At the annual diocesan council, in February, Wimberly’s approach was to defuse the issue by urging delegates not to vote on whether to condemn the national church. “If I had not learned anything else at General Convention,” he says, “I learned that when you vote, there are winners and losers. I said, ‘I don’t want the diocese to divide itself up like that.'” He says that he has received more than one thousand e-mails since Robinson’s election—both for and against the church’s position. But even with Wimberly’s conciliatory approach, there are casualties. A recent one was the Reverend Paul Fromberg, a gay priest who chose to leave as rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in the Heights in Houston. Fromberg, who is heading to San Francisco, told the Houston Chronicle, “It is easier to be gay and a priest in the Diocese of California than it is in the Diocese of Texas.”

A few miles away from Wimberly’s diocesan headquarters, at the 2,700-member Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, in Houston, Father Jim Nutter struggled to arrive at his own version of via media. As a convention delegate when the resolution was presented, Nutter had voted against Robinson, though he says he found the whole idea of the vote “political, arrogant, unilateral, and a huge disappointment.” He returned to Houston to a congregation that was deeply torn and addressed the subject from the pulpit on August 17. “The issue before us is not whether we are going to have gay priests and bishops,” he told them in his sermon. “You do know that, don’t you? . . . The issue is not whether we are going to accept them. We have. The issue is this . . . Are we going to move from tacit acceptance to explicit approval and support?” He then confessed his own mixed feelings, explaining that the priest who had sent him to seminary was gay, his two favorite professors at seminary were gay, and a priest who had been his spiritual mentor was gay. He also staked out a middle ground. “The conservatives, for the most part, are not pharisaical homophobes,” he said. “That language needs to stop! The liberals, for the most part, are not a bunch of New Age flakes, soft on Jesus, soft on Scripture. And that kind of language needs to stop.” Like Roseberry, but for entirely different reasons, he got a standing ovation that Sunday. He says it amazed him.

But Nutter says that a “firestorm” broke after an October meeting where, for the first time, he told his congregation that he had voted no to Robinson but that, as he says, “after twenty years with this issue, I think I can get there from here—to support and ordain a practicing homosexual and to somehow bless same-sex marriages.” He points to a nearly foot-high stack of printouts of e-mail he received on the subject. “God, I had despair that week,” he says. “When I look back, I realize I was caught by surprise by the pain that people spilled out. All sorts of pain. There were liberals who said, ‘How could you vote no? You had an agenda. You lied. You’ve been duplicitous. You have betrayed us.'” In the end, he says that only 20 people out of 2,700 left Palmer Memorial. The church’s membership has actually increased, as have financial contributions.

IN THE LOOSE CONFEDERATION OF DIOCESES that is the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, bishops wield enormous power. In Fort Worth, for example, Jack Iker is the chairman of the board of a corporation that owns all the lands, buildings, and financial resources of the diocese. He is elected by the clergy in his diocese. No matter how much presiding bishop Frank Griswold may dislike Iker’s theology, there is very little he can do about it. Iker does not serve at his pleasure. And if Iker, or his compatriot James Stanton, in Dallas, chooses to try to break away and form a separate linkage to the Anglican Church, there may be little the denomination can do to stop him, particularly if the Archbishop of Canterbury approves it. There would be lawsuits, to be sure. The national church might try to claim the lands of Fort Worth’s 56 congregations. Iker, of course, would likely have most of the world’s 73 million Anglicans behind him. For now, Iker and Stanton and their dioceses are part of the Network, seeking realignment within the church, but there is always the threat that the twelve dissident bishops could pick up their toys and and go home.

The more immediate problem is how to handle individual conservative churches who find themselves unhappily saddled with bishops who voted for Gene Robinson. Here the spiritual and temporal sides of the church are already colliding—again, because of the awesome power of bishops. In St. Louis, Missouri, when the Church of the Good Shepherd voted to break away and affiliate with the Anglican Mission in America, the diocese sued it for its land and buildings. A non-jury trial is scheduled for this month. Last winter in Florida, two congregations voted to leave the church; one abandoned its property and buildings, and the other one was sued. These are just a few examples, but they underscore the church’s main problem, which is how to keep dissident churches on board.

In March, at a meeting in Navasota, Episcopal bishops tried to do just that. The plan they approved allowed for what is commonly known as “alternative oversight” for those conservative parishes that were no longer on speaking terms with their liberal bishops. The key issue for conservatives was whether bishops had ultimate veto power over a congregation in selecting a bishop from a different diocese. The bishops said yes, which caused conservatives in the Network and elsewhere to condemn the decision.

If that system does not work—and from the dismal response of conservative church members it may not—then the church will have to put its hopes of avoiding a split on the so-called Eames Commission, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the wake of the Robinson vote to figure out how the liberal American church can remain part of a generally conservative world communion. The commission, headed by the archbishop of Ireland, is expected to deliver its report this year. Regardless of what it says, the Archbishop of Canterbury has no actual authority over the American church. He can’t make American presiding bishop Griswold—or any bishop, for that matter—do anything. It is unlikely that he would take the extreme step of saying that the Episcopal Church was no longer the expression of Anglicanism in America, though that is precisely what some conservatives are hoping for. The effect of that would be a real split, isolating the liberal American church in a world of conservative evangelicals.

Nor do conservatives show any signs of conciliation. In fact, the reverse is happening. The Network is still withholding money from the national church and seems more recalcitrant than ever. In impoverished Africa, Anglicans are so exercised about this issue that entire provinces are no longer accepting donations from some American churches. This is an astonishing and completely unexpected development. In March the newly consecrated bishop of New Hampshire could confidently state, “Some primates are declaring themselves in a state of impaired communion, but the fact of the matter is they’re not sending our missionaries home. They haven’t stopped cashing our checks.” On April 15, however, Anglican archbishops from Africa said they would reject donations from any diocese that recognizes gay clergy and recommended giving the Episcopal Church three months to repent.

All of which leaves a global church with an apparently insoluble problem and millions of members holding their collective breath. “I have no idea what will happen,” says Roseberry. “And I say that if you are not concerned about this issue, then you don’t understand it.”

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