Rebel leaders claim the Anglican Church is in "chaos" with the "moral authority" of the Archbishop of Canterbury seriously questioned amidst growing splits over homosexuality and women bishops.
About 800 clergy and lay leaders from the Church of England, calling themselves the members of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (Foca), initiated the forming of a "Church within a Church" which is to be, according to them, an evangelical stronghold against the ordination of gay people. Foca, a rival Anglican Communion was started in Israel last week at a conference of conservative Anglicans from around the world.
The clergy met at All Souls Langham Place, in Central London, a prominent evangelical church, where they were invited to sign up to the "Jerusalem declaration." The declaration rejected liberal doctrines and called for a return to church teachings based on the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Leaders of Foca however denied they were planning to "seize power" within the Church.
Conservative bishops mainly from Africa and Asia, stated in the declaration, "We reject the authority of those Churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord."
Events such as the ordination of the openly gay - and non-celibate - bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, in 2003 have split the church, with traditionalists led by Most Rev Henry Orombi, the Archbishop of Uganda, Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, Australia, and Archbishop Greg Venables, Primate of South America's Southern Cone, calling for a reassertion of the "authority of the bible."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has criticized the move by rebel Bishops warning them that their new structures lacked legitimacy and urging them to "think very carefully about the risks entailed".
Outright schism in the Church of England is nearly impossible because of the legal structure of the Established Church, which has the Queen as its Supreme Governor and 26 bishops in the House of Lords. The Church may not be formally split, but it is certainly divided by the twin issues of the ordination of homosexuals and women.
Though the traditional evangelicals did not want to leave the church but voted for reform from within, the Anglo-Catholics threatened yesterday, to leave over the issue of women bishops. They would be unable to take their churches or vicarages with them, although they may get compensation from the Church Commissioners, similar to those who left over the issue of women priests and were paid more than a decade ago.
Archbishop Peter Jensen, of the Sydney Diocese in Australia who spoke at the meeting that sex was at the heart of the debate said, "Sexual immorality leads you outside the kingdom of God, just as does greed. It is not a second-order issue." He added, "What we are dealing with here is not a split, but a movement possibly as significant as the evangelical revival (of the 19th century), and it may bring evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics together."
In response to the Church of England's Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams' criticism of the group's "self-selected" leadership, Archbishop Jensen hit back publicly saying he was "surprised" that Dr Williams was not more receptive to the group's efforts to "bring order".
"There are moments in the church where authority has to be taken and this is one of those moments where the most senior people available have decided to come together to take their authority to do certain things which they have the capacity to do," Archbishop Jenson said.
"I was a little surprised by the Archbishop's remarks, I was hoping he would be very joyfully receptive to what he saw as a development of quite legitimate authority to help bring order to the chaos of the Anglican communion within the last five years," Archbishop Jenson added.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and other protesters picketed the meeting with placards accusing the evangelicals of "crucifying" gays and being prejudiced against women. David Talbot, a gay evangelical who used to worship at All Souls, wrote to the rector chastising him for allowing the meeting.