A vote in a Vancouver diocese to bless same-sex unions is threatening to tear asunder not only the diocese but also the Anglican Church of Canada and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, has sharply rebuked Bishop Michael Ingham for undermining marriage and for causing schism in the global communion.

On June 14, the synod of New Westminster voted 215-129 or 62.5 percent in favour of blessing same-sex unions. The proposal had the full support of the bishop and the tacit support of the primate of the ACC, Michael Peers. In an unusual move, Peers attended the Synod and later told the Archbishop of Canterbury that all had been done in order. Peers has not rebuked Ingham and despite the public pleas of 13 of his other bishops, the primate has refused to hold an emergency meeting of the Canadian House of Bishops to rule on the matter.

After the vote, the clergy and lay representatives of eight churches quietly walked out of the Synod, some in tears, while many other delegates stood to recognize them. “Once you destroy the authority of Scripture, anything comes in,” said one of the dissenters, Ed Hird, rector of St. Simon. “The very people promoting the homosexual agenda are also the ones promoting subtle, ‘Christianized’ New Age practices that are actually very Hindu or Buddhist.”

Ingham threatened Hird and the other 10 orthodox clergy with the withdrawal of their licenses.

The eight dissenting churches said they were not leaving the diocese or the Anglican Church, but were remaining faithful to Anglican doctrine and teaching, and that it was the supporters of blessing same-sex unions who had abandoned the Anglican tradition.

The largest congregation in the diocese, St. John’s Shaughnessy, was one of the dissenters. All eight churches are evangelical; three are Chinese. These orthodox congregations are the fastest growing in the diocese and represent a quarter of its members.

The eight churches plan to seek alternative episcopal oversight and are being supported by one-third of the House of Bishops. The 13 bishops in a joint statement declared, “It can only cause confusion for a local expression of the Church to purport to bless that which Anglicans globally and nationally have decided they cannot bless.”

Bishop Ingham had made provisions for the conservative minority but his provisions were viewed by them as inadequate. He would provide “alternative episcopal oversight,” but he would select the bishop and the arrangement would be temporary. A “conscience clause” would have allowed clergy and congregations to opt out of blessing same-sex unions but they would still be obliged to refer those seeking such a rite to another church.

Other maverick bishops have broken rank with Anglican teaching. Recently the bishop of Delaware approved the blessing of same-sex unions while the bishop of Kansas gave his permission for blessing the union of couples not committed to marriage. The Archbishop of Toronto, Terance Finlay, announced that he will allow the blessing of same-sex unions as a “local option.”

While the Archbishop of Canterbury is the titular head of 70 million Anglicans, he is only a first among equals. There are 28 autonomous ecclesiastical provinces, each headed by a primate. The Archbishop of Canterbury carries moral suasion across the Anglican communion but his only direct authority is over the Church of England.

On any given Sunday there are now more Anglicans attending church in Nigeria than in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand combined. Anglicanism’s centre of gravity has shifted south to Africa, Asia and South America, but its centre of power remains in the north.

Carey retires shortly and there are fears that his successor could be Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Wales, a supporter of the ordination of practising homosexuals. Both Queen Elizabeth and Tony Blair, the prime minister of England, must approve any appointment, and as devout Anglicans, they may well ask for other names to stand.

The eight dissenting parishes have also been publicly supported by primates and bishops around the world and by the prestigious Oxford Consultation on the Future of Anglicanism held in early July. The Oxford Consultation issued a statement saying the actions in New Westminster, Kansas and Delaware were “unconstitutional” and violate “the historic faith and order of Anglican Christianity. They are unfaithful to 2,000 years of Christian teaching and as such are schismatic and prejudicial to pastoral order and the mission of the Church. They specifically contradict the resolutions of the 1998 Lambeth Conference and the subsequent advice of the Primates Meetings.”

The Consultation also cited “abrupt and unjustified actions against faithful parishes and clergy (that) constitutes a clear abuse of ecclesiastical power.” Furthermore, “Anglican witness to biblical teaching on Christian marriage and sexual ethics is seriously compromised and pastoral care of the sexually broken is obstructed.”