Anglican splinter group faces new power struggle

February 13, 2012

Founded by breakaway Episcopal priests who left their former
denomination because they felt it was too liberal, the Anglican Mission
in the Americas is now in the middle of another ugly church feud.

The
last time the fight was over sex and salvation. Now the fight is over
money and power, and it pits Anglican Mission's U.S. leaders against the
overseas Anglican group that adopted them. "It's like my mom and dad
just told me they are getting a divorce," said Brian Hardin, pastor of
the Four Winds Mission in Spring Hill, Tennessee, which is a member of
the Anglican Mission.

The troubles between the Anglican Mission
and its patrons in Rwanda started last year, after Anglican Archbishop
Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda retired. Kolini had been a friend of American
Bishop Chuck Murphy, the head of the Anglican Mission, and had taken a
hands-off approach. In return, the Anglican Mission donated millions to
the Rwanda church.

The new Rwandan leader, Arch­bishop Onesphore Rwaje, did not see eye to eye with Murphy.

Rwandan
bishops asked for detailed accounts of how the Anglican Mission was
spending its money. Rwaje also disagreed with a plan to turn the
Anglican Mission—also known by the acronym AMIA—from being part of the
Rwandan church into a missionary society.

"There was a change in
vision in how the House of Bishops in Rwanda wanted to deal with AMIA,"
said Bishop Philip Jones, an AMIA spokesman and pastor of All Saints
Church in Dallas. Eventually, Mur­phy was asked to step down, said
Jones.

In a letter to Rwaje that accompanied his resignation
letter, Murphy compared himself to Moses leading his people out of Egypt
in search of the Promised Land. When Murphy quit, Jones and seven other
bishops followed. "I didn't think we had any other choice," Jones said.

But not all of their Anglican Mission colleagues agree. Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today magazine
and a member of an AMIA congregation, said Murphy has caused a schism
in the church. "This is troubling, first, because it contradicts Jesus'
ex­pressed prayer for the unity of the church," he wrote on his blog.
"Second, it threatens to make a lie of AMIA's posture when we first left
the Episcopal Church."

Bishop Terrell Glen, a former AMIA leader
who remains part of the Church of Rwanda, said Murphy and other
Ameri­can bishops did the wrong thing by bolting. They had taken a vow
of obedience to their bishop, he said, and broke it by quitting. "I
don't believe the archbishop was requiring anything of anyone that we
could not submit to," he said.

For years, leaders of the Anglican
Mission and other breakaway Episcopal groups have tried to get the
Anglican Communion to recognize them as a legitimate alternative to the
Episcopal Church. This latest split shows how difficult that will be,
said Jim Naughton, editor of episcopalcafe.com and a former spokesman
for the Episcopal Dio­cese of Washington, D.C. "We don't know how much
staying power they have," said Naughton.

Naughton also said the
split shows the problem that money plays in the relationship between
U.S. church leaders and their African sponsors. Ameri­cans have most of
the money, and they use that money to promote their theological views.
That's the case for both conservatives and liberals, he said.

Dealing
with the imbalance of money and power will remain a problem in the
future, said John McDonald, director of the Stanway Institute for World
Mission and Evangelism at the Trinity School for Ministry in Am­bridge,
Pennsylvania.

"It cannot simply be that Western churches provide
funds and African churches then provide the seal of legitimacy or the
protective covering of an Angli­can province in return," Mc­Donald said.
"It has to be seen as a true partnership."

Before the break, the
Anglican Mis­sion had 152 affiliate churches and another 100
congregations in development. About 20 have decided to leave the group
already, said Cynthia Brust, a priest who is an AMIA spokeswoman.
Observers say more may follow.

One option is to join the fledgling
Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which was founded in 2009 by
former Episcopalians and now has about 1,000 churches. ACNA Arch­bishop
Robert Duncan, the former Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh, said he's been
in contact with Anglican Mission churches about their future plans and
would welcome them into his fold.

He noted that AMIA leaders have
excelled at starting new churches and attracting new people to the
Christian faith but sometimes have trouble following rules. "They are
folks who often color outside the lines," he said. "Among Anglicans,
both truth and order matter. They have not been so good about
accountability and the unity of the church."  —RNS