The Third World Anglicans act

For the worldwide Anglican Communion, July 29, 1974, was a day when old ties were broken and new bonds were formed.

That was when four Episcopal bishops broke tradition by ordaining -- without permission from their hierarchy -- the "Philadelphia 11" as the first female Anglican priests. Liberals said they had to violate one tradition, to obey a higher tradition of equality and justice. Traditionalists said this radical action would only create more schisms.

Now, Anglican historians have to underline Jan. 29, 2000.

This was when an international circle of archbishops and bishops broke church tradition by consecrating -- without permission from their hierarchy -- two American priests to serve as "missionary bishops" to help rescue the splintered Episcopal Church. Traditionalists said they had to violate one tradition, to obey a higher tradition of scripture and creeds. Liberals said this radical action would only create more schisms.

The two men raised to the episcopate were the Very Rev. John Rodgers, the retired dean of the conservative Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa., and the Rev. Chuck Murphy III, rector of the historic, but booming, All Saints Church in Pawleys Island, S.C. They were consecrated in St. Andrews Cathedral in Singapore.

"Our calling is to minister to those congregations who believe that the authority of scripture and the historic creeds are central to our faith, conduct and unity as Anglicans," said Murphy. "We are committed to lead the church, not leave it."

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold was appalled by the news, seeing as how it screams that many believe his church is a heresy-haunted domain in need of missionaries.

"I have been profoundly disturbed by the caricature that has been presented of the Episcopal Church," he said, writing to the other Anglican primates. "To be sure there are divergent views on the question of human sexuality which are supported by different readings and interpretations of the biblical texts, but in no way is the biblical record treated as other than the word of God. ... I know of no active bishops who are other than completely orthodox in their understanding of the creeds."

This depends on what "active" means, as well as "orthodox."

Griswold himself once told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Broadly speaking, the Episcopal Church is in conflict with scripture. ... (One) would have to say that the mind of Christ operative in the church over time ... has led the church to in effect contradict the words of the Gospel."

America's best-known bishop is the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong of Newark, who has publicly stated that "Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead" and that it's "nonsensical" to say Jesus is God Incarnate. Spong recently retired, but neither the present nor the previous presiding bishops has ever publicly criticized Spong's theological views.

Meanwhile, a church court has ruled that Episcopalians have no "core doctrines" on marriage and sex. Episcopal clerics have led rites that included the worship of other gods.

Old ties are being broken and new bonds are being formed. Whatever happens, the Anglican Communion will never be the same.

The bishops who took part in the consecrations included Third World and America critics of the Episcopal establishment. The consecrators were Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda; Archbishop Moses Tay of South East Asia and Bishop John Ruchyahana of the Diocese of Shyira in Rwanda. They were assisted by retired South Carolina Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison, retired Memphis Bishop Alex Dickson and Bishop David Pytches, the former Bishop of Chile, Bolivia and Peru.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey called the consecrations "irresponsible" and a "grave disappointment." But the global wave of reactions also included this reflection by Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, whose diocese is home to the Rt. Rev. John Rodgers. In one discussion of this crisis, Duncan recalled that Archbishop Kolini bluntly described why he could not ignore the pleas of Americans who were urging him to act.

"We Rwandans have been refugees all our lives. We will always respond to the plight of refugees," said Kolini. The archbishop also said: "At the genocide in 1994, the whole world stood back and no one came to Rwanda's aid. We will never stand back, while others are similarly threatened -- physically or spiritually."