Breaking Point

Gay issues lead to local Episcopalian schism

by Will O'Bryan
Published on December 21, 2006, 12:00am | Comments

For the past few years, the world's 70 million Anglicans -- better known in the United States as Episcopalians -- have been grappling with a gay issue. There are differing perspectives on what, why and when, but most point to the 2003 election of an openly gay bishop in America.

The crack in this worldwide body widened Dec. 17 when two Northern Virginia Episcopal churches -- Truro Church and The Falls Church -- voted overwhelmingly to break away from The Episcopal Church of the United States and join the Convocation of Anglicans of North America (CANA). Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church, is also the CANA missionary bishop. More churches are expected to follow suit.

What makes this story of particular interest to the gay community -- well beyond the schism born of the openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson -- are the roots of CANA, an outreach mission of the Church of Nigeria, headed by Archbishop Peter Akinola.

The disturbing twist is legislative, as Nigerian lawmakers are currently looking at a bill that would offer some of the most restrictive laws on earth against gays. Among its provisions is jail time for gatherings of two or more gay people.

''The Church affirms our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality, which is a perversion of human dignity, and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality since it is incongruent with the teachings of the Bible, Koran and the basic African traditional values,'' said Akinola, in a September ''message to the nation'' in Nigeria, a country in which homosexual acts are already illegal.

A statement on the CANA Web site insists, however, that Akinola opposes jailing gays.

''All I know it what Bishop Mimms wrote and told us, which is that the archbishop is against jailing homosexual persons,'' says Jim Robb, the local CANA media contact.

Matthew Thompson, a heterosexual, former Episcopalian who lives in D.C. and maintains a blog called ''political spaghetti,'' has been following the story closely.

''My motivation is that I think this [schism] is hurting people who have an honest perspective, but don't want to put people in jail,'' he says, explaining that while he respects the breakaway churches for making a stand on principle, he sees hypocrisy in aligning with a group that would deny the same freedom of expression to gays in Nigeria. Thompson further posits that Akinola must support the legislation at home to save face with extremely socially conservative compatriots, in light of Robinson's election.

Around the corner from Truro, Rev. Kharma Amos tends to her mostly gay congregants at the Metropolitan Community Church of Northern Virgina -- as she pursues doctoral studies through the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

She says that most of her congregants are not preoccupied with the split, save for some who once worshipped in mainline Episcopal congregations. Still, she says, the split should be of concern to all.

''It's a movement to join the Christian right, and the more voices there are on the Christian right, we should all be afraid,'' she warns.

Richard Rosendall, a local gay activist who has written about the split for Metro Weekly and elsewhere, had stronger sentiments to offer: ''Anyone who prefers to be affiliated with Peter Akinola, who defends the violent persecution of gay people, than to be associated with Gene Robinson, needs to be introduced to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.''