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Evangelical Christians sign up to a 'Church within a Church'

Thanks to Bernard Baptiste

Evangelical Christians sign up to a 'Church within a Church'

Nearly 800 clergy and lay leaders from the Church of England took the first steps yesterday towards forming a "Church within a Church" to be an evangelical stronghold against the ordination of gay people.

The clergy met at All Souls Langham Place, in Central London, a prominent evangelical church, where they were invited to sign up to the "Jerusalem declaration" rejecting liberal doctrines. Most are expected to endorse the statement, forming the British arm of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, a rival Anglican Communion that was started in Israel last week at a conference of conservative Anglicans from around the world.

In the declaration conservative bishops, mainly from Africa and Asia, stated: "We reject the authority of those Churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, hit back at the evangelical rebels yesterday, warning them that their new structures lacked legitimacy and urging them to "think very carefully about the risks entailed".

Outright schism in the Church of England is almost impossible because of the legal structure of the established Church, which has the Queen as its Supreme Governor and 26 bishops in the House of Lords. But if the Church is not formally split, it is certainly divided by the twin issues of the ordination of homosexuals and women.

Anglo-Catholics, who yesterday threatened to leave over the issue of women bishops, would be unable to take their churches or vicarages with them, although they may get compensation from the Church Commissioners, in the same way that those who left over the issue of women priests were paid more than a decade ago.

By contrast evangelicals, protesting against what they regard as abandonment of the Bible by liberals embra-cing an agenda that includes gay ordination, do not wish to leave. Their plan is a form of Anglican "putsch", a reform or takeover from within.

The two sides might come together if the Anglo-Catholic traditionalists succeed in their campaign for an extrageographical province or diocese in England to cater for those opposed to women bishops. But many evangelicals also oppose women bishops because of the argument expounded by St Paul that the man is the "head" of the woman. A new diocese could also provide a formal structure for them.

Archbishop Peter Jensen, of the Sydney Diocese in Australia, told the meeting that sex was at the heart of the debate. He said: "Sexual immorality leads you outside the kingdom of God, just as does greed. It is not a second-order issue." He added: "What we are dealing with here is not a split, but a movement possibly as significant as the evangelical revival [of the 19th century], and it may bring evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics together."

The gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and other protesters picketed the meeting with placards accusing the evangelicals of "crucifying" gays.

David Talbot, a gay evangelical who used to worship at All Souls, wrote to the rector chastising him for allowing the meeting.He said: "It is a shame that the Anglican Church and, on this occasion, All Souls in particular, continues to deny the God-given reality of homosexuality and His blessing that gay Christians know in their lives."



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