American Anglican traditionalists are plotting the break-up of their national church and the creation of a new fundamentalist church in the wake of its consecration of the openly gay bishop Gene Robinson.
In spite of public assurances that they only wish to secure oversight by sympathetic conservative bishops, rebel parishes are being secretly told to prepare for the ultimate goal of breaking up the US Episcopal church – the American equivalent of the Church of England – the Guardian can reveal.
The move preempts the outcome of a year-long commission of inquiry instituted by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the 70 million-strong worldwide Anglican communion. It is due to report in the autumn.
The rebel parishes – a small minority in the traditionally socially liberal Episcopal church – have even been claiming that they have Dr Williams’s support for their plans.
Their plans come as evangelicals in England have engaged in a new bout of infighting over Dr Williams, who some conservatives regard as a “false teacher”. Conservative pressure groups within the Church of England have been roundly criticised by two bishops for seeking to get Dr Williams barred from future evangelical gatherings.
The moves on both sides of the Atlantic show that the row over homosexuality is far from settled and the threat to split the Anglican communion is stronger than ever, giving the commission little chance of success in keeping warring factions together.
A confidential document passed to the Guardian by sources within the US Episcopal church tells parishes how to prepare for the dismantlement of the church which, although only 2.3 million-strong, remains enormously influential. George Bush was brought up an Episcopalian, and although now a Methodist, has continued to attend Episcopalian services while in the White House.
A letter by a traditionalist leader, the Rev Geoff Chapman, of Pennsylvania, says: “Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil … We believe in the end this should be a replacement jurisdiction.”
The movement has close links with English evangelicals who are seeking to undermine the Archbishop of Canterbury.