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8 Dec 2003

SE asia anglicans split from US church over gay bishop issue

Southeast Asia's Anglicans have rejected the consecration of homosexual Bishop Gene Robinson, joining a conservative backlash in the Church and announcing they have "broken communion" with the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA).

The Synod of the Province of Anglican Church of South East Asia "regrets that communion with the ECUSA as well as those who voted for the consecration and those who participated in the consecration service is now broken."

The recently consecrated gay Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson.
A statement issued by the office of the Anglican Primate of Southeast Asia, Archbishop Yong Ping Chung, on Dec 4 said the decision had the unanimous support of church leaders in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Brunei, Laos and Nepal.

Archbishop Yong said leaders representing about 170,000 Anglicans in nine Asian countries voted unanimously on Nov 20 at a special meeting in Malaysia of the region's synod, or province, to break with the US arm of the worldwide Anglican Church, which counts some 77 million adherents.

"The province views the purported consecration as a flagrant disregard of the fundamental teachings of the Bible and the long established doctrines of the Church," the Archbishop's office said, declaring that communion had been broken.

"This means that the Province no longer treats those in the ECUSA who carried out and supported the act of consecration as brothers and sisters in Christ until and unless they repent of their action and return to embrace Biblical truths," it said.

Southeast Asia joins a growing list of Anglicans opposed to the ordination of Bishop Robinson in the US state of New Hampshire.

"Same sex unions are against the course of nature, totally against Biblical teachings and Church doctrines and an abomination to God," it said, making specific reference to the fact that Bishop Robison has lived with his partner for 13 years.

The Province broke with the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada in June after it authorised public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.

The consecration of Bishop Robinson has raised fears of a schism in the Church, though similar concerns were raised over the issue of the ordination of women in the 1980s. This issue, however, runs far deeper and goes to fundamental beliefs about the power of The Bible in Christian teachings.

The Anglican Church can be found in some 160 countries, divided into 38 provinces.

Western countries tend towards a more liberal Church, while traditionalists dominate the developing world.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual head of the Church of England and is appointed by the British monarch, who is also president of the Anglican Communion.

The Anglican Church dates back to the 16th Century and the refusal of Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage of King Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon. Henry broke with Rome and established the Church of England.

Anglicanism spread with British colonialism, and is well established in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, southern Africa and the United States. Missionary work from the 18th Century further established it in Asia and the rest of Africa.

The recently consecrated gay Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson.
The Church of England is the largest congregation, number some 25 million, followed by Nigeria with 17.5 million.

In late November, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, warned of the likelihood of schism in the Church.
"We must look at the possibility that the Anglican congregation will actually divide," Archbishop Jensen said. "It is conceivable... that two world Anglicanisms may develop."

Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola has already severed ties with the Episcopal Church, as did the Anglican Church in Uganda.

"The overwhelming majority of the Primates of the Global South cannot and will not recognize the office or ministry of Canon Gene Robinson as a bishop," said the Right Reverend Akinola, who claimed to speaking on behalf of the Working Committee for the Primates of the Global South, which represents 50 million Anglicans in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

However, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, backed Bishop Robinson's ordination, saying the issue of gay clergy is "on the agenda of the worldwide church and was not going to go away."

"Gene Robinson has been constitutionally and canonically elected and is a consecrated bishop," said Archbishop Ndungane. "That is according to the laws and regulations governing the church in the United States."

"In the Anglican Communion, we affirm the autonomy of the appointees and therefore we respect the integrity of its province and its processes," he said.

The Roman Catholic Church on Dec 2 broke off doctrinal talks with the Anglican Church following Bishop Robinson's ordination.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical council for the promotion of Christian unity, said the issue of homosexuality, which the Vatican condemns, made it difficult to maintain relations between the churches.

"Until recently, it was possible to affirm that the moral principles that guide human sexuality were largely shared by Catholics and Anglicans," the cardinal.

Pope John Paul II remarked during a landmark meeting in October with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams that "new and serious difficulties" had arisen on the path to unity between the two churches.

The Russian Orthodox Church also announced last month it was suspending ties with the Episcopal Church.

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