Anglicans try to avoid split in church

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania - Anglican Communion leaders struggling to avoid a split over the Bible and sexuality proposed a set of common principles Monday that would allow them to break ties with churches in the fellowship.

The draft Anglican Covenant, which will likely be revised before it is finalized years from now, states that a church could lose full membership only in "extreme circumstances."

Still, the proposal was eagerly awaited as a sign of how Anglican leaders will respond to long-simmering divisions over what Scripture says about salvation, truth and gay relationships.

The document was released in the final hours of a tense six-day meeting of Anglican leaders that focused mainly on the Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of Anglicanism, which caused an uproar in 2003 when it consecrated the first openly gay bishop.

Anglican leaders were working until the last moments of the assembly on another document — a statement to their 77 million members — that was expected to be released later Monday.

The draft covenant affirms the autonomy of the 38 Anglican provinces. But it states that in "extreme circumstances, where member churches choose not to fulfill the substance of the covenant" they will have relinquished their membership.

"A process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches," according to the proposal.

The statement underlying the principles professed "faith which is uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures" and that "led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth."

Anglican traditionalists, who believe same-sex partnerships violate Scripture, have demanded a way to punish the U.S. Episcopal Church over the consecration of the gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. There is currently no formal structure for expulsion from the Anglican Communion.

However, the draft document is broadly written and open to interpretation, leaving the possibility that a province that confirms gay bishops could remain a communion member. Supporters of ordaining gays and lesbians believe the Bible's social justice teachings take precedence over any ban on same-gender partnerships.

In a sermon Sunday, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the communion's spiritual leader, said the bishops should feel humility before God in what appeared to be a nod to the highly charged conflict.

"There is one thing that a bishop should say to another bishop," Williams said. "... That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great savior."

The Anglican Communion is the world's third-largest Christian body behind the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches. Struggles over gay relationships that also have gripped Roman Catholics, Lutherans and others.