MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Bishops in the Episcopal Church have crafted a document that they hope will ease the concerns of conservatives in the U.S. and abroad. In Africa and South America, which have the most active members in the worldwide Anglican Communion, bishops wanted a statement from the Americans about the direction of the U.S. church, specifically its views on homosexuality.
NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty is in New Orleans, where the American bishops are meeting.
And Barbara, the results of the vote have been released. Now, tell us what the bishop said.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Well, first, they approved this document overwhelmingly, Robert. Essentially, what they tried to do is thread the needle and hold to their stand on the treatment of gay and lesbians in the church. And they've said a couple of things here.
First, they said that they're going to urge the House of Bishops not to consecrate any openly gay bishops until their next big meeting, which is in 2009. Second, they said they won't create any rights or official language for same-sex blessings, even though many Episcopal priests already perform these blessings informally all across the country.
They also had a really interesting section about Gene Robinson. You remember him. He's a bishop of New Hampshire who is openly gay and whose elevation to bishop sparked the whole controversy. He's been excluded from a major meeting of Anglican bishops next year, and the bishops said that they want him to be invited.
SIEGEL: Well, will that statement by the American bishops be enough to avoid a schism?
HAGERTY: Well, we really don't know that, and we won't for a while. It's really going to depend on how the African leaders react, I think. Now, the person to watch here is Peter Akinola. He's the archbishop of Nigeria, and Nigeria is the largest church that has 17 million members. If he's unhappy with this document, that may strengthen his resolve not to go to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, that's a big Anglican bishops meeting that happens every 10 years. And he wouldn't go because the Americans would be there.
So what we're going to have to do is see how many other bishops do the same thing. And if that happens, if a lot of bishops don't go, the fighting that is ripping apart the American church will begin to kind of rip apart the worldwide church. It's kind of like the U.S. schism could be exported worldwide.
SIEGEL: Yeah, and in fact, we have seen this reverse missionary phenomenon with conservative white churches in the U.S., aligning themselves with conservative foreign bishops.
HAGERTY: That's absolutely right. Africans and Latin Americans say they are bringing back the true faith to America. And obviously, the Episcopal leaders dismiss that. And I got to tell you, they are hopping mad about this situation. They say that these foreign bishops are staging an incursion - that's what they call it - and invading their territory.
And, you know, this morning, there was a really fascinating scene that kind of captured the situation. The bishops were invited to say which congregations in their diocese had left the American church and aligned themselves with a foreign bishop. And one bishop after another walked up to the microphone and said, we have a church that's gone over to Nigeria, or Uganda, or Kenya, or Rwanda, or Latin America.
Easily, 15 of them came to the microphone. And I know for a fact that other bishops, bishops like in Virginia, which has lost more than 15 congregations -they didn't say anything. So this is really a big deal for the church.
SIEGEL: Is this all about a significant share of the church in America, or is it a very noisy minority?
HAGERTY: Well, it is a noisy minority. The unhappy conservatives probably only constitute a fraction of the members of the Episcopal Church. But the new trend is that more and more large, wealthy Evangelical Churches are bailing. And they're agitating to have their own conservative province within the Episcopal Church, or within America, I should say.
Now, that could be a pipedream, but today, later today, a group of priests from 10 diocese in the U.S. and Canada are meeting in Pittsburg, trying to figure out a way to form essentially a conservative Anglican Church in America that may not have ties to the Episcopal Church, but would still be in the larger, worldwide communion. So there is a lot going on in the world of Christianity.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Barbara.
HAGERTY: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty, speaking to us from New Orleans.
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