The archbishop of Canterbury said conservatives' plans to usurp his leadership in the Anglican Communion are "problematic in all sorts of ways," saying Anglicans must renew -- not dismiss -- their frayed connections.
Archbishop Rowan Williams responded Monday (June 30) to a Jerusalem summit of more than 1,000 conservatives who announced plans on Sunday to create a new council of top archbishops to oversee likeminded Anglicans.
In a direct challenge to both Williams and traditional geographic lines of authority, the conservatives also plan to build a new North American province for Anglicans upset with the liberal sway of their national churches. "It is not enough to dismiss the existing structures of the communion," Williams said. "If they are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than improvise solutions."
The head of the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, also criticized the conservative declaration on Monday.
"This statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism," she said, "merely another chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only true believers."
The conservatives' challenge comes just weeks before the Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade meeting in England of some 600 Anglican bishops from around the world. Dozens of bishops, however, are boycotting Lambeth to protest Williams' leadership in divisive debates over homosexuality and biblical authority.
Several conservatives said their proposed council is a direct challenge to Williams. As head of the Church of England, the archbishop of Canterbury is traditionally considered "first among equals" by fellow bishops, and membership in the communion is granted by his recognition.
But more than 1,000 conservative Anglicans said Sunday that "we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury." "Frankly, this is an admission that (Williams') leadership has failed," said Bishop Martyn Minns, a Virginia-based conservative appointed by the Church of Nigeria.
Williams fired back, saying that a self-appointed council of archbishops "will not pass the test of legitimacy in the communion." Moreover, he asked, "by what authority are primates deemed acceptable or unacceptable members of any new primatial council?"
Rather than wait for Lambeth, many conservative Anglicans instead attended the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem, which concluded Sunday. Organizers said GAFCON drew about 1,000 delegates -- including 280 bishops -- claiming to 35 million Anglicans in 29 countries.
As the world's third largest Christian body, the Anglican Communion counts about 77 million members.
The meeting in Jerusalem reflects not only conservatives' decades-long frustration with the liberalism of Western Anglicans, but also their eagerness to assume control of a communion whose center is quickly moving from Europe to Africa.
Conservative Anglicans said Sunday that they are fed up with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada "proclaiming (the) false gospel" of gay rights, and the reluctance of other Anglicans to stop them.
Their "Jerusalem Declaration" issued on Sunday outlines the orthodox tenets around which the new province and council would be built. While holding fast to traditional Anglican theology, GAFCON said the Anglican Communion, a federation of 38 national churches derived from the Church of England and spread by the British Empire, must change.
"Worldwide Anglicanism has now entered a post-colonial phase," GAFCON leaders said in a statement Sunday, adding that it's time to move past "the colonial structures that have served the Anglican Communion so poorly during the present crisis."
"In many ways it's like a traditional family where the children are growing up and taking responsibility," said Minns, who heads the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.
Six Anglican primates who participated in GAFCON -- from Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, West Africa and the Southern Cone (South America) -- would initially form the new council. While Anglican churches in the West are losing members, churches in Africa are booming, according to reports.
But Williams said "emerging from the legacy of colonialism must mean a new co-operation of equals, not a simple reversal of power."
It's unclear how many churches would comprise the North American province. Minns put the number at about 600, though liberals and church officials say that's much too high.
Jefferts Schori said that though "much of the Anglican world must be lamenting the latest emission from GAFCON," the church's work will go on.
"Anglicans will continue to worship God in their churches, serve the hungry and needy in their communities, and build missional relationships across the globe," she said, "despite the desire of a few leaders to narrow the influence of the Gospel."