Bishops of the 2.4 million—member Episcopal Church reached a compromise they say should avert a split by dissenting traditionalists who reject women clergy. The compromise statement was adopted unanimously September 28 at the end of the House of Bishops’ bicentennial meeting in Philadelphia.
At that meeting, prelates welcomed Bishop Barbara Harris of Boston as the first woman bishop in the 70 million—member worldwide Anglican communion, but also recognized opponents of women priests and bishops as “loyal members of the family.”
Bishop Clarence Pope, Jr., of Fort Worth, Texas, head of the newly formed Episcopal Synod of America—which church leaders feared was the nucleus for a schism—said he was satisfied traditionalists could remain in the denomination. “For the first time, the bishops … have acknowledged our right to hold a theological position on the ordination of women which is contrary to the majority,” Pope said.
The statement, he added, also implies the majority will not force dissenting traditionalists to accept women clergy, thus removing what he called the “siege mentality of the last 13 years.” Six of about 100 U.S. Episcopal dioceses refuse to ordain women priests, and up to 300 parishes out of about 7,000 are regarded as sympathetic to Pope’s group. More than 1,000 women priests have been ordained among Episcopalians since 1976, but consecration of Harris as bishop last year set off a string of protests from conservative Anglicans in the U.S. and the Church of England, which currently forbids ordaining women.
In the carefully worded compromise, the U.S. bishops declared: “We joyfully affirm ordained women—indeed all women—in the ministries which they exercise in and through the church.… We acknowledge within Anglicanism those who believe that women should not be ordained hold an accepted theological position.… We affirm them as loyal members of the family.… There is a need as well to be pastorally sensitive to those who do not accept the ordination of women.…”
By Richard L. Walker.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND
State Stops Church
The British Parliament rejected legislation to permit persons who are divorced or who marry a divorcee to be candidates for ordination in the state-established Church of England. The change, aimed at widening eligibility for the shrinking supply of Anglican clergy, had been endorsed by the church’s general synod, but required approval by Parliament to take effect. It was easily approved by the House of Lords, in which Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie and several other bishops sit. But it was narrowly rejected in a late-night vote in a sparsely attended House of Commons.
Opponents said the bill was an effort to lower standards for clergy candidates, while supporters said it is unfair to bar from service people who may have divorced long before seeking a religious vocation. The issue may well resurface.
Two Egyptian Christians have been held in prison since July on what their supporters allege to be false charges.
Ibrahim El-Sayeh was accused of drug dealing and labeled “a dangerous person for state security,” according to the American Coptic Association (ACA), based in Jersey City, New Jersey. However, the ACA and Sayeh’s family insist he is being held because of his conversion to Christianity from Islam and his evangelistic activities. According to a report from News Network International, he was acquitted of the charges in an August trial but continues to be held in jail.
Sami Wassef, an Egyptian-born American citizen, was convicted in July on charges of providing the Central Intelligence Agency with information, and sentenced to 10 years hard labor and fined several thousand dollars. His supporters also label the charges “trumped up.”
WCC Grant to SWAPO
In spite of allegations of torture and brutality by the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) in Namibia, the World Council of Churches (WCC) will award the group a $165,000 grant, the largest SWAPO has received from the council.
During the past several months, reports that the guerrilla movement has been involved in atrocities have been acknowledged even by church groups that support SWAPO, including the Council of Churches in Namibia. Emilio Castro, WCC general secretary, said he was “deeply saddened” by the allegations of atrocities, but referred to a pledge by the WCC “to maintain a critical solidarity with the people of Namibia and SWAPO” in announcing the grant. He called on the group to make “a clear commitment to the upholding of all human rights.”
Previous grants to SWAPO brought widely publicized criticism of the WCC. Alan Wisdom, research director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said, “We strongly object to our churches’ continued unrestricted funding of a group which not only murders and tortures in practice, but is also dedicated in principle to establishing a one-party Marxist-Leninist dictatorship.”
Other WCC officials said they believed Castro’s statement expressed “adequate concern,” but noted the grant was made based on information available to the WCC executive committee in July, prior to more recent accusations.
The funds are intended to enable SWAPO to care for Namibian exiles as that country moves from South African rule to independence.
Muslims Launch Party
Muslims in Great Britain launched their own political party in September, aiming initially at voicing views on foreign and domestic policy, but hoping later to offer candidates for office. The new party’s president, Daud Musa Pidcock, a British convert to Islam, said the controversy over The Satanic Verses prompted the formation of the Islamic Party of Britain (IPB).
About 1.5 million Muslims live in Great Britain. The new group has a membership of 9,000 and hopes to number 250,000 in five years. Among the items on its agenda, the IPB wants to change British law to allow non-Christians to bring cases of blasphemy to court. Pidcock said the party will also target local political seats in several cities.
AIDS AND MISSIONARIES
‘Walking Blood Banks’ Needed
The threat of AIDS has forced missionaries to place limits on their efforts to identify with the cultures in which they serve. A recently announced program of the National Council of Churches recommends that missionaries avoid using local blood supplies whenever possible. Missionaries should instead identify “safe” blood donors and become “walking blood banks” themselves to establish their own emergency blood supplies, according to Dr. John Frame, director of the Interchurch Center Health Office.
The group is also supplying missionaries with 1,000 emergency medical kits containing syringes and blood tubes, according to a Religious News Service report. Frame also recommended that pregnant missionaries move near a mission hospital or return home. Of the estimated 40,000 North American Protestant missionaries overseas, 6 are known to be infected with the AIDS virus.
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