The meeting of Anglican primates taking place in Tanzania looks likely to result in a stalemate over gay issues.
Today the churchmen were considering their options over the US Anglicans’ ordination of a gay bishop and seeming acceptance of gay marriage.
The head of the American church, presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, has made it clear she will not give in to demands from African churches and conservatives within her own congregations who view homosexuality as unbiblical.
The leader of the “Southern Group” of primates, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, is already calling for a new “parallel” church to be established.
In June 2006, the US Episcopal (Anglican) church agreed on a watered-down version of a proposal which would have banned the appointment of gay clergy.
The denomination’s General Convention instead agreed to “exercise restraint” in ordaining gay bishops, as part of an effort to amend rifts within the Anglican Church after the appointment of gay bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson in 2003.
The African Anglican Church expressed dismay at the decisions which ignored most of the recommendations of the Windsor Report, which aimed to mend rifts between the church over the gay issue.
Eight conservative Anglican bishops in the US have already created a rival network that does not recognise the authority of Jefferts Schori, with the blessing of Archbishop Akinola.
“The spirit of Anglicanism will prevail here and there will be a middle way forward,” Jefferts Schori’s aide, Robert Williams, told AP.
He added that she has no intention of wavering “in her stand for justice and inclusion of all people in the body of Christ.”
He pointed out that there is no mechanism or structure for parallel arrangements.
The idea will be a threat to the English Church, where a minority of evangelicals also oppose gay clergy and the blessing of gay partnerships.
Conservatives and evangelicals are likely to call for their own separate structure if it is decided to divide the American church along those lines.
In any case, conservatives seem in no mood for a middle-way.
The Nigerian hardliner, Archbishop Akinola, has handed a letter to the nominal head of the Anglican communion, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, demanding that the Americans be punished for consecrating an openly gay man as a bishop and calling gay marriage the work of Satan.
Jefferts Schori is likely to strongly oppose any moves to remove parts of the American church from her supervision, but the idea of a separate, conservative branch of the Anglican religion continues to appear the most likely solution.
For Jefferts Schori, this would mean a loss of power, and it would also allow African bishops to extend their influence over parts of the US Anglican congregations.