June 10th, 2010
09:33 AM ET

The real Anglican/Episcopal fight?

Think the issue that’s threatening to tear the Anglican Communion apart is a debate over homosexuality? Author Diana Butler Bass says you’re wrong.

Bass offers a provocative take on the “real reason” for the Episcopal Church’s clash with the Anglican Communion on her Beliefnet blog.

The divide burst into public view in 2004 when the Episcopal Church confirmed the ordination of its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson. The chasm widened last month when an Episcopal diocese in California consecrated a lesbian bishop.

Now the head of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are engaged in what Bass calls a “first-class theological smack down” through dueling public letters.

Archbishop Rowan Williams (pictured), the nominal head of Anglican Communion - the worldwide association of churches that includes the Episcopal Church - urged a diminished role for Episcopal leaders in the communion after they accepted the lesbian bishop.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop for the Episcopal Church, reacted to Williams’ decision by accusing Williams of being a “theological dictator,” Bass says.

But Bass says the debate over openly gay bishops is really a debate over two rival versions of Anglicanism.

One form is a top-down vision of faith that concentrates power in the hands of ecclesiastical guardians who enforce Anglican rules, she says.

The other is a bottom-up version that views the practice of faith in a more democratic, parish-based model, she says.

Bass writes:

The argument isn’t really about gay and lesbian people, nor is it about, as some people claim, the Bible or orthodoxy. Rather, the argument reprises the oldest conflict within Anglicanism - what kind of Anglicans are we to be? How do we relate to the world and culture around us?

Bass, author of “A People’s History of Christianity,” says she knows how this smack down will ultimately end:

The river of history does not seem to be on the side of hierarchical church control… The tides are pulling most ecclesiastical boats toward bottom-up versions of faith.

What do you think? Are those who are fighting against the Episcopal Church’s decision to accept openly gay and lesbian bishops fighting against the tide of history, as Bass claims?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Anglican • Belief • Christianity • Church • Culture wars • Episcopal • Homosexuality

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Concerned

    The "tide" that Bass and others refer to in any Church including the Episcopal Church in America is the activity of the Holy Spirit. The Church is not, never has and will not be led by men or women who are without this activity. The Church is the place of God's work in the world today and its movement towards the right or the left, the hierarchy or the lay people will always be guided by the Spirit. One cannot lay claim to this power, one can only listen, stay open and allow the grace of God to work through the Church as instrument. We can see where the Spirit corrects our human designations of what is orthodox but we cannot allow our egocentric reality to lay claim to this.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
  2. Mr. Zippy

    Yes, Father John, you are correct. Enough of the child abuse comments already. This topic has nothing to do with the article or the Anglican Communion.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  3. Lisa

    It seems to me like Jesus wasn't much of a hierarchy kind of guy. And I think if he were here today, he'd be the first one to welcome gay and lesbian people to the party. As a former Catholic, I was attracted to the Episcopal Church by: a) the liturgy; and b) the open welcome to communion, etc. The Church hierarchy had its place when it was established in the middle ages – but it is a governing body only.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  4. Father John

    Hello! Could we stay on topic, please? This isn't about the scandal of Roman priests (or Anglican priests) abusing children. This is about church polity and how it is governed. I am an Orthodox priest, but am very pleased to see American Episcopalians becoming an open and inclusive group as opposed to the hatred and narrowness in most of the Western Churches. People are going to have to learn to live with and even like openly gay and lesbian people. This IS the tide of history. And, for those who do not know what this discussion is about....read up before commenting. To do otherwise simply shows incredible ignorance.

    June 10, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  5. jake

    the responses are are really halarious!

    June 10, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  6. Chris

    Ramon/Ginger/Klaatu/Das – You really need to educate yourselves as to which church this article refers to. This is the Anglican Church (aka The Church of England (UK) and the Episcopal Church (US)) headed by Archbishop Williams. It is a Protestant faith which broke away from the Roman Catholic Church during the reign of King Henry VIII.

    Your comments have nothing to do with this article and are invalid in this forum.

    June 10, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  7. hypatia

    The responses here are hilarious! And y'know, you may not be able to fix stupid, but you sure can laugh at it!

    June 10, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  8. Annoyed

    This is an article about the Anglican/Episcopalian communion. When was catholicism even mentioned in the article? Are you people just ignorant, or just hate catholicism that much that you are compelled to mention the abuse? Please, if you feel the need to comment, know what your talking about!

    June 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  9. Bd1976

    Jefferts Schori is completely unqualified to lead the Episcopal Church. Her pastoral service barely extends over two decades. She was quickly promoted through the ranks by a church leadership more concerned with a socio-political agenda than the stewardship of North American anglicanism. It would be a travesty if she and her cohorts from the post-70s radicalism of the Episcopal seminaries in Berkeley and New York managed to split the church.

    June 10, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • Tom Sramek, Jr.

      Katherine Jefferts Schori was not "quickly promoted through the ranks by a church leadership" of any sort. You're thinking of the Roman Catholic church's structure, not that of the Episcopal Church. She was elected as Bishop of Nevada by delegates elected by their various congregations. Having apparently done well there, she was then elected by a majority of deputies to General Convention (our legislative body) and her election was confirmed by a majority of bishops. One could argue that the very fact that she is in the position she is in is a direct result of a "bottom-up" movement, not a "top-down" structure, much less a promotion!

      June 10, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  10. MikinAZ

    Here's a novel idea...Skip the, "reports to the church" step – it is a conflict of interest. All reports go straight to police, this is a legal matter not one that should be kept, "internal to the church". Police investigate, charges get filed, trials are held, verdicts, sentences. After the criminal justice system is through with the child molesters then the church can decide if they want to keep them as a member of their clergy while they rot in prison (if the code allows them to). All in favor?

    June 10, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  11. Klaatu

    The pope needs to be charged and go to prison...as well as all the priests and Bernard Law....they are all guilty of conspiracy to obstruct justice, aiding and abetting a felony and other crimes I cant say, cuz Im not an atty....Buh Bye to the Evil that is the catholic church....

    June 10, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  12. Gil T

    "One form is ...power in the hands of ecclesiastical guardians ...The other is a ... democratic, parish-based model, she says..."
    More than fighting against the tide of history they have cast aside the source of their professed authority, the scriptures. As long as the fight is between guardians and parishes the focus is removed from the condemnation of specific behaviors condemned as sin in scripture.

    June 10, 2010 at 10:56 am |
    • Lisa

      Absolutely, which I believe is Diana Butler Bass' intention.

      June 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  13. Biendiosa

    ...besides the ones in his nostrils, I mean.

    June 10, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  14. Biendiosa

    LOL, those eyebrows probably contain most of the hair he has left on his head 😉

    June 10, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  15. Samantha

    Oh my God, his eyebrows. This guy really needs a well-deserved trip to a beauty salon or something.

    June 10, 2010 at 10:36 am |
  16. Biendiosa

    The priests who molested children are not members of the Episcopal/Anglican church.
    The article is right on...the real purpose of this 'fight' is to keep the power where it has traditionally been, which is with the top few.
    My Episcopal church is ruled from the bottom up, and yes, we do ordain women and gays who want to serve God.
    It's another situation in which the abuses of power (NOT children!) take place at a high level.
    These guys will be taken down; it is a fact that most all the Patriarchal systems in the world must face.
    The days of White Men ruling over Everybody Else are over.
    Can't wait to watch it happen.

    June 10, 2010 at 10:32 am |
    • MarylandBill


      If you believe that Clerical abuse of children is limited to the Catholic Church, it is time to take the blinders off. The basic fact of the matter is that children are abused by ministers of all faiths, by teachers in their schools, by coaches on their sports teams and by family friends and relatives. The Catholic Church is getting all the attention because it handled the situation poorly, but child abuse is happening all over.

      June 10, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • Chase B

      Its also getting all the attention because its one, unifed body throughout the whole world. Its easier to attack because its a system of heiarchy. Child abuse happens by all ministers of faith, family members, even teachers/coaches like Bill said.

      June 10, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  17. sean Devereaux

    I agree with Ms bass's comment "fighting against the tide of history, as Bass claims" is correct. The Bible which I think most people are conveniently leaving out of the discussion is quite explecit about Gods expectations of us. These expectations are constant. The scriptures do go on to say mankind will fall more out of favour and step with Gods expectations as time progresses. So in my opinion it does make sense that we will start practising faith more from a ego centric, we're all good social tangent, opposed to the more stringent disciplinarian approach that God subscribes to in the good book.

    June 10, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  18. Mark

    Amazing what people will do for power.

    June 10, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  19. Ginger Hammond

    Easy – these priest committed a crime. Turn them over to authorities. That's what would happen to anyone else. Until society recognizes child abuse as a real crime and recognizes that a priest is a man with a job, no more, nothing will change.
    Amazing that a huge group of religious leaders are willing to let children suffer to protect their sacrosanct organization.

    June 10, 2010 at 10:10 am |
    • JTG

      Oops, wrong priest story.

      June 11, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  20. Ramon Alayon

    The Priest need to be led by their Bishops in daily prayer for 1 hour a day. This is a quote from Cardinal Neuman, "America"s Cardinal.".

    June 10, 2010 at 9:59 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.