Regional Anglicans fear Jerusalem conference could 'inflame tensions'

Arab Anglican leaders have called for the cancellation of a June gathering of Anglicans in Jerusalem, claiming it could exacerbate Christian-Muslim tensions in the Palestinian territories. On Wednesday, the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Darwani, released a statement saying the presence of hundreds of conservative Anglican bishops in the Holy Land would inject the Anglican Communion's political disputes into the diocese of Jerusalem, and could also have "serious consequences for our ongoing ministry of reconciliation in this divided land." It could "inflame tensions here" between Christians and Muslims, Darwani wrote, adding that he was also perturbed that the organizers had not consulted him before announcing the meeting of conservative bishops, meant to chart the future course of the 80-million member Anglican Communion. The head of the Anglican Church in the Middle East, Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt, has also urged caution about the date and venue of the Jerusalem meeting. In correspondence with the meeting's chief organizer, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Anis cited internal Anglican political considerations in opposing a June gathering. He also questioned meeting in Jerusalem, saying it was unlikely Palestinian Anglicans would support the meeting "for various reasons." Arab Anglican leaders are concerned the conference, known as GAFCON, could wreck the Anglican Church's carefully balanced position within Palestinian society and the Anglican Communion. The Palestinian church is strongly opposed to gay or female clergy and follows the conservative tradition within Anglicanism. However, it receives financial support from American dioceses that are at the forefront of the gay rights movement. Highlighting the diocese's conservative position in the midst of the Anglican Communion's civil war over homosexuality could have immediate financial consequences, church leaders note. In addition, the strong pro-Israel sentiments of the African and American bishops could have physical consequences for Anglicans living in the West Bank and Gaza, Jerusalem Anglican leaders fear. "It is my region, and I know it better than you," Anis told Akinola, cautioning against an overt pro-Israel spin to the meeting. "To say we will do a pilgrimage to attract bishops, and [that] yet it is not entirely a pilgrimage, is not right in my point of view." Akinola responded that the organizers had considered the Egyptian bishop's concerns, but had come to the "unanimous conclusion" to go ahead with the Jerusalem meeting. Under former Anglican bishop Riah Abu el-Assal, the diocese was closely linked to Fatah and late PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, and was an outspoken champion of the Palestinian political cause. Darwani has quietly moved away from some of the policies espoused by Assal, and has been instrumental in setting up the archbishop of Canterbury's dialogue commission with the Chief Rabbinate. Nonetheless, public identification as a pro-Israel church has leaders of the small Arab Anglican community in the Palestinian territories worried.