PLYMOUTH, N.H. (AP) – The first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church is predicting a division in the Anglican Communion two years after U.S. church leaders triggered global outrage by approving his election.

“This is at least as much about power and control as it is about theology and Scripture,” New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson told The Associated Press in an interview. “It’s about who’s going to be calling the shots, and who’s going to be in and who’s going to be out.”

At stake is how 77 million Anglicans around the world, including 2.3 million members of America’s Episcopal Church, define their religion and their relationship to one another. Robinson said he underestimated the opportunity his election gave conservatives to organize within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion of which it is a part.

Until about six months ago, Robinson remained optimistic the Anglican Communion would work through initial outrage over his election to respect the customary right of dioceses to elect the bishop of their choosing.

But at a private meeting of American bishops in Los Angeles several months ago, Robinson said, he first sensed what he considers a conservative power grab.

Robinson came to discuss reconciliation, he said, but several opponents had a different goal. “I said ‘I’m here to talk about how we can live together.’ And three or four of them said: ‘I’m not here for reconciliation. I’m here to divvy up the property from this divorce,”‘ he said.

One participant was Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, leader of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes that rallies the conservative minority of Episcopalians.

“This is not a power play,” Duncan said in a telephone interview Thursday, “except in the sense that Bishop Robinson’s position in the church is a total innovation in the life of the church and what we face are two positions that can’t be put together.”

Duncan’s network and allied American Anglican Council believe homosexual activity is so clearly counter to the will of God expressed in the Bible and Anglican and Christian tradition that there can be no reconciliation without repentance, no agreement to disagree.

The crisis can only be resolved by uniting around common beliefs, Duncan said.

The Nigerian church just changed its constitution to do exactly that, removing words linking it to the Church of England and replacing them with a call to communion with churches that “hold and maintain the historic faith.”

This represents a major change. For centuries, Anglicans have defined themselves by historic ties to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The 38 autonomous churches have no authority – only powers of persuasion – to affect one another.

Robinson sensed a split is imminent after watching Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola denounce church leaders in the United States, Canada and England for failing to condemn homosexuality.

Anglican leaders on both sides agree that Robinson’s election merely deepened a pre-existing split.

The Episcopal Church has been developing a more liberal theology on many levels, placing it at odds with conservatives in Africa, Asia and Latin America and some within its own U.S. ranks. Tensions have grown as nonwestern churches expand memberships.

The Rev. Martyn Minns, an American Anglican Council board member, notes the U.S. church confirmed Robinson despite being asked not to by international leaders.

“It shows no respect whatsoever,” Minns said. Overseas Anglicans, already concerned about American political power, saw this as evidence of U.S. arrogance and immorality, he said.

Robinson said he wants to reconcile with opponents, but not by leaving a post he was properly elected to. He was chosen in June 2003 from a field of four candidates, garnering support from more than 75 percent of New Hampshire’s clergy and a majority of lay delegates.

The bishop remains convinced that gays and lesbians will be fully included in the Episcopal Church someday and his opponents will be unable to prevent this, even if larger Anglicanism does divide.

“In the (last) two years, I am only more convinced about it,” he told the AP this week. “This has been the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me – not the status – but this moving, astounding role that for some reason known only to God, I’ve been asked to play.”

On the Net:

New Hampshire Diocese: http://www.nhepiscopal.org

American Anglican Council: http://www.americananglican.org


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