ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
There is a slow-motion power struggle happening in the Anglican Communion. This weekend, conservatives in the 77-million-member denomination announced what might be called a hostile takeover. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty has the story.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: When nearly 300 bishops from Africa, South America and breakaway churches in the United States gathered in Jerusalem last week, the big question was: Will they declare schism from the more liberal churches in the West? Archbishop Greg Venables, who oversees several countries in South America, says the answer turned out to be easy.
Archbishop GREG VENABLES (Anglican Archbishop, South Africa): We all sat round the table and pretty well with one voice, we said we are not leaving the Anglican Communion.
HAGERTY: Why not, after all this talk of theological divorce?
Archbishop VENABLES: Because we are the true Anglicans. We just don't accept that we can hand over the franchise of Anglicanism to people who've suddenly, in a unilateral way, have decided to create a new version of Anglicanism.
HAGERTY: That new version that liberal Anglicans embrace is a modern interpretation of scripture that allows for gay clergy and same-sex blessings.
With the two sides unwilling to compromise, the conservative leaders aimed two shots across the bow. First, they declared that they no longer see the Archbishop of Canterbury as the one who decides who is Anglican or not. Second, they said they intend to form an alternative church, or province in North America, one that would compete with the Episcopal church for members, money and church property.
Mr. JIM NAUGHTON (Canon for Communications, Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C.): Things don't become so because they say they are so.
HAGERTY: Jim Naughton is the canon for communications of the Diocese of Washington, D.C.
Mr. NAUGHTON: They can decide that they are naming their collection of churches a province, but that doesn't mean the rest of the world will regard them that way. All these folks have managed to do is put a bow on the status quo and call it a present.
HAGERTY: Naughton says neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the rest of the worldwide communion would allow foreign bishops to carve out a new church in the U.S. without permission from the Episcopal Church. In fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned conservatives today that they were treading on thin ice, to which Martyn Minns, who moved his Virginia parish from the Episcopal Church to a more-conservative Church of Nigeria, says…
Reverend MARTYN MINNS (Church of Nigeria): Who's going to stop us? We don't have ecclesiastical jails these days. There's freedom of religion and freedom to associate and the freedom of religious expression.
HAGERTY: And freedom to let people choose which form of Anglicanism they like, which brings us to the undercurrent of this debate, says Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire whose election sparked the current crisis.
Bishop GENE ROBINSON (Anglican Bishop, New Hampshire): Let's not be too naïve about this all being theological and biblical argument. This is also about money and property.
HAGERTY: Dozens of parishes have left the Episcopal Church and moved under the authority of foreign bishops, and some have tried to keep their property and buildings, worth millions of dollars. On Friday, a Virginia judge ruled that 11 breakaway churches have a constitutional right to keep their properties.
If conservative churches can create an alternative province in the U.S., Robinson says, that would strengthen their arguments in the courts, but Robinson and others are taking a historical view. He says time and again, in debates over things like the Prayer Book or women's ordination, conservatives have said the end is near.
Bishop ROBINSON: There have been lines draw in the sand before, or a Donnybrook is predicted, and then it doesn't happen.
HAGERTY: But the conservatives claim close to two-thirds of practicing Anglicans - and their numbers are growing - and eventually, they say, their views will prevail. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
NORRIS: Coming up, what happens when a strong wind at your back is a bad thing. That's coming up on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.