A conservative Episcopal leader told parishioners angry about the recent consecration of an openly gay bishop to remain patient, assuring them that "early skirmishes will be within the next 60 days."
The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, vice president of the American Anglican Council (search), a network of conservative Episcopal leaders, did not specify what those "skirmishes" would be. But he hinted at a move toward a possible split in the American church.
Duncan and council president the Rev. Canon David C. Anderson — two leading critics of the gay bishop's consecration — reported at the organization's Georgia chapter meeting Monday that they're drafting a charter for the Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes. Both said it would be "a church within a church."
The Nov. 2 consecration of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson (search) of New Hampshire by the Episcopal Church USA, as well as some bishops' approval of blessing ceremonies for gay couples, has deeply divided the church.
Duncan and Anderson reaffirmed Monday that a split between conservative and liberal factions seemed inevitable — although that may be years down the line. In the meantime, the Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes would address the immediate concerns of conservative Episcopalians, they said.
"It is not about sex. It is not about God's love being beyond any of his children," said Duncan, the Bishop of Pittsburgh. "It's about biblical authority and Anglican identity."
Anderson called the acceptance of homosexuality in the church "a form of polytheism."
"A lot of what you see going on is not Anglican. It is not Christian," he said. "It is not Anglican in the last 2,000 years of tradition, and you're not allowed in the last two decades to reinvent the Christian faith."
AAC leaders said they foresaw a tough battle with liberals over the direction of the Episcopal Church, invoking vivid battle imagery to make their point.
"We will wind up fighting pew to pew and steeple to steeple," Anderson said.
The national denomination of the Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members, is the U.S. branch of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion (search).
U.S. conservatives who believe gay sex violates Scripture have said they want Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, to authorize a separate Anglican province for them in North America.
Earlier this month, bishops overseas announced they were in a "state of impaired communion" with the Episcopal Church — a step short of declaring a full schism. International church leaders are not expected to announce any sort of permanent break until after a commission formed by Williams reports next year on whether a split can be averted.
AAC leaders advised parishioners to stay with their churches for now and work within the existing framework by organizing with fellow conservatives and withholding funds from "hostile dioceses."