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Anglican split could spread worldwide

Archbishop Gregory Venables and the Province of the Southern Cone

Rotating Compass & Square

National Post

Anglican split could spread worldwide

Canadians will not be last to leave: Archbishop

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Charles Lewis, National Post

The battle taking place inside the Anglican Church of Canada is a microcosm of a larger problem that could see the worldwide Anglican Communion end in division, said the South American archbishop who has been taking dissident churches under his wing.

In the past week, seven Canadian parishes in five dioceses have split from the national church and have put themselves under the authority of Archbishop Gregory Venables, head of the Province of the Southern Cone, which encompasses parts of South America. This week, the Diocese of Niagara in Ontario said it will replace the clergy at its two churches that voted to separate and went on to say that breakaway parishes "are no longer considered officially Anglican." Two ministers in British Columbia have also been suspended.

ArchbishopVenables, speaking from Buenos Aires, said he is not happy about the potential for a global division, or what is happening in Canada, but he believes the worldwide Anglican Church has been on this course for more than 100 years, and he is becoming less hopeful for a resolution.

"It ends up you have two versions of Christianity," he said. "There are two positions that have moved apart over the last century: the Bible-based orthodox Christianity that goes back to the early years of the Church and a post-modern Christianity that believes everybody can find their own truth. And those two things cannot work together."

He said because the church does not have a central leadership, in the way that the Roman Catholic Church does, it is more difficult to impose a solution from above.

"In one sense, Anglicanism brought this upon itself because of the way we are. And in a sense, too, that is good because we maintain freedom of conscience within a framework of historic faith."

"But that inevitably brings us to a situation where there must be a divide where people are not in agreement, and that is better, I think, than holding people together under a false sense of unity," Archbishop Venables said.

Last fall, he appointed two Canadian bishops and the process of a formal split from the Canadian Church began in earnest.

It is expected that a handful of other parishes will jump, too.

In December, the entire Diocese of San Joaquin in California, 47 churches and 8,300 people, also put themselves under the authority of Archbishop Venables.

He said it is unfortunate that the debate has played out over the issue of same-sex blessings "because it catches the public attention in a way that doesn't allow people to understand what's really going on.

"And it's very unpleasant that [the debate appears] geared against certain people in society who the church would never be against." Archbishop Venables said.

But, at the same time, he said there is no way a church can perform same-sex blessings and still call itself Christian.

Archbishop Venables said he has had to tell gay couples that he would not perform such a rite.

"I respect them for their sincerity and I love them. But Scripture does not allow me to bless anything that God hasn't blessed. The relationship between male and female in marriage is something God blessed.

"He created the relationship between man and woman. He put them together in the Garden of Eden. Jesus himself performed his first miracle at a marriage between a man and a woman in Cana.

"All the things we bless are all the things God has shown us to bless. There is no indication in the whole of the Bible that God would bless a relationship between two men or two women."

Archbishop Venables, 58, is originally from the United Kingdom but moved to Latin America 30 years ago.

"This is home to us," he said.

He has three children as well as grandchildren who all live in South America. Archbishop Venables was first a headmaster at an Anglican college in Paraguay but was eventually ordained a priest.

He became the bishop of Bolivia and was elected head of the Southern Cone in 2001.

The Anglican province takes in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The Southern Cone is part of the Church called the Global South, which mostly takes in Africa.

It generally has been more conservative than the rest of the worldwide church and has lobbied for Anglicanism to return to its orthodox roots.

But that effort, said Archbishop Venables, has not accomplished anything.

He said that the time has likely come for Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to show real leadership over the issue.

"The argument against that is that every province is autonomous and nobody has any call over another province." he said.

"But my reading of Christian history is that God raises somebody who speaks and who enables us to come together in dialogue and to find a way forward.

"That is what our hope was and that is what our prayer is ? even though there isn't much hope any more."

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