Anglicans choose Jerusalem for key June conference

Homosexuality in the church to be major issue on the agenda.

anglican cathedral 298.8 (photo credit: Courtesy)
anglican cathedral 298.8
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The battle over homosexuality that has threatened to split the Anglican Communion could be decided at a June meeting in Jerusalem. On December 26, a conservative coalition led by the archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, announced a June 15-22 conference in the Holy Land to chart the church's future course. Divided into liberal and conservative factions, the 80-million member Anglican Communion is on the verge of breaking up over the consecration in 2003 of a gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire. However, Anglicans are as divided over Israel as they over homosexuality. While the meeting will focus on the current crisis facing the church, some Anglican and Jewish supporters of the gathering hope the presence in Jerusalem this June of conservative Anglican bishops from every continent will present an opportunity to broaden Israel's support in the developing world. The growth of Christianity in Africa, from 10 million to 423 million adherents over the course of the 20th century, has been coupled with a decline in its hold over Europeans. The rising African voice in the Anglican Communion, as well as in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, has witnessed a challenge to the anti-Israel agenda of many European-led Christian groups. The invitation-only meeting of bishops, clergy and lay leaders will focus on issues of central importance to the rapidly growing churches in Africa and Asia and will "outline the mission imperatives for the next 25 years and how to begin to respond to them," the statement announcing the meeting said. The Global Anglican Future Conference will permit traditionalist Anglicans "to come together around the central and unchanging tenets of the central and unchanging historic Anglican faith," Bishop Gregory Venables of Argentina said. Organizers of the meeting told The Jerusalem Post this was not merely a gathering of an anti-gay coalition of bishops, but a meeting for "orthodox" Anglicans to be "getting on with things, doing the work of the church." Jerusalem was chosen as the venue as a sign of their commitment "to a land that is our common heritage." The meeting would also "bring fellowship and bear testimony to the Christian communities in Israel/Palestine" that have been under intense pressure from Islamist militants. "Those of us from Africa are no strangers to the pressure that Christian communities are put under from other religious groups and communities," they added. It comes six weeks before the meeting of the Lambeth Conference, the decadal meeting of the church's bishops in England. Up to a third of the church's 900 bishops may boycott the meeting in protest of inaction over moves to normalize homosexual behavior by the Episcopal Church in the US. The Jerusalem meeting will not be a rival to the Lambeth Conference, but "will provide opportunities for fellowship and care for those who have decided not to attend Lambeth," organizers said. Over the past few years the Anglican Communion has endorsed a number of anti-Israel agendas and causes. In 2006, the Church of England adopted a call for divestment while several church-linked charities have demonized Israel for its security policies. Christmas cards sold by War on Want, a London-based anti-poverty charity, depict Mary and Joseph unable to reach Bethlehem due to "Israel's separation wall and a state-of-the-art military checkpoint." The London-based Amos Trust offers for sale a nativity scene complete with wall, depicting the "year the wise men won't get to the stable." NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem think tank, has charged the relief agency Christian Aid with promoting a pro-Palestinian agenda. The charity offered a tendentious perspective on the conflict in the Middle East and "minimizes terrorism and Palestinian responsibility for violence and corruption," it said earlier this year. Conservative Anglicans have denounced Anglicanism's anti-Israel drift. The former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, last year told the Post that the Church of England vote to divest from companies whose products are used by the Israeli government in the territories made him "ashamed to be an Anglican." It was "a most regrettable and one-sided statement," Lord Carey said, and totally "ignores the trauma of ordinary Jewish people" subjected to terrorist attacks. Nor is support for Israel within Anglicanism confined to the US and Britain. African support for Israel has grown sharply in recent years, and in Nigeria the level of support among that country's Christians for the Jewish state mirrors the US. A 2006 poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 47 percent of Nigerian Christians favor Israel and 12% favor the Palestinians, while 16% favor both sides and 10% neither side, with the remainder undecided. Another March 2006 Pew poll found that 48% of Americans back Israel, 13% the Palestinians, 4% favor both sides and 14% neither side, with the remainder undecided. Prof. Jacob Olupona, a Harvard expert on African religion, observed that Israel holds a significant place in the minds of many African Christians, who see in the Old Testament a reflection of their experiences. Last year approximately 15,000 Nigerian Christians made a pilgrimage to Israel. Many Nigerian pilgrims now affix the initials "JP" - Jerusalem Pilgrim - at the end of their names after their return, in a practice akin to Muslims adding "al Haj" to their names after making a pilgrimage to Mecca. "The African Christians see the Jewish land as sacred to them, too," Prof. Olupona told the AP.