Posted by: AJtheIrishLass | July 4, 2007

Anglican Authority Issues

Ever since General Convention 2003 (and at times before) the US Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have received a lot of publicity. Some of it’s good, and a lot of it is bad. Some rejoice at the inclusion practiced in the US and Canadian churches, while others are angered by it.

Some people that I know who adhere to a more literalist viewpoint on the Bible can’t even understand WHY there’s a controversy. That, in and of itself, has been the subject of much Bible study & debate. In short, human sexuality is a hotly debated subject due to variations in interpretations of the Bible.

However, much of the present debate has veered away from the issue of sexuality and the ordination of a practicing gay bishop to the issue of authority. Common questions are “Why can’t the Archbishop of Canterbury put a stop to it?”, “Do bishops in other Anglican provinces have authority over the US church?”, “Are you a hierachy or are you guys congregational?”

Much of the confusion over the controversy stems from misconceptions about the structure of Anglican churches. Many non-Anglicans believe that the hierachy is identical to that of the Roman Catholic Church, and that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a pope. While each Anglican church has bishops, priests, and deacons, each national church is self-governing. The Episcopal Church here in the US has a General Convention every 3 years pesided over by bishops, other clergy, and laypeople. Bishops are elected by the dioceses. In other Anglican churches (also known as provinces), bishops may have more authority and in some provinces, are appointed instead of elected. These differences in goverance among the Anglican churches are a factor in the controversy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is considered to be “first among equals” and has no jurisdiction over other dioceses and provinces. Ever since 1867, bishops in the Anglican provinces that make up the Anglican Communion havc met every 10 years at the Lambeth Conference. However, Lambeth has never been understood to be a synod or council. Some in the Anglican Communion feel that the resolutions passed at Lambeth ought to be binding. A 1997 resolution on human sexuality recommended against ordaining sexually active homosexuals. Since a large number of Anglican provinces adhere to a more conservative view on human sexuality, many feel that going against the resolution, though non-binding, threatens Anglican unity as well as ecumenical relations.

The current controversy within Anglicanism is not going to be resolved overnight. However, hopefully we can all pray that Christian charity, the work of the Holy Spirit, and divine wisdom will prevail.


  1. According to, the Catholic Church officials are not very happy about the way Rowan Williams contacted the Vatican when he heard the news. Still, I don’t think his reaction is what obstructed the ecumenical dialogue. …


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