When the bishops of the Episcopal Church USA voted to confirm V. Gene Robinson, an openly homosexual priest, as bishop, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Church (to which the Episcopal Church belongs) demonstrated the British penchant for understatement by predicting "difficult days ahead."

"The General Convention's decision to approve the appointment of Gene Robinson will inevitably have a significant impact on the Anglican Communion throughout the world, and it is too early to say what the result of that will be," Rowan Williams said. "It is my hope that the church in America and the rest of the Anglican Communion will have the opportunity to consider this development before significant and irrevocable decisions are made in response. I have said before that we need as a church to be very careful about making decisions for our own part of the world which constrain the church elsewhere. It will be vital to ensure that the concerns and needs of those across the Communion who are gravely concerned at this development can be heard, understood, and taken into account."

Already, orthodox voices both inside the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are making their opposition known.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reports, "a handful of the more than 800 clergy and lay delegates either walked off the floor of the meeting or collectively stayed away, while at least three of the nearly 300 bishops refused to participate or went home, saying their distraught parishioners needed them."

Other Episcopalians opposed to homosexual bishops smeared ashes on their foreheads in a sign of mourning, and knelt as Kendall Harmon of South Carolina addressed the House of Deputies.

"By contravening the 'historic faith and order,' this Convention sets itself against its own Constitution, and … separates itself from the orthodox faith and breaks the ties that bind us to the rest of the Anglican Communion." Harmon said. "This unilateral action on our part is catastrophic. We weep for the Episcopal Church and its members. We have made a terrible mistake. But understand this clearly: we are not leaving the Church. It is rather this Church which has left the historic faith and has fractured the Anglican Communion, for whose restoration we pledge our faithful and loving efforts."

Harmon, who is a spokesman for Charleston, South Carolina, Bishop Edward Salmon Jr., told The Charlotte Observer that the diocese will call its own special convention to decide its next step. "You're already beginning to see what the dramatic realignment will look like," he said.

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Many of Harmon's colleagues agreed. David C. Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council, was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as comparing Robinson's confirmation to domestic abuse. "We have been beaten up in the Episcopal Church for a long time," he said. "We're not leaving the Anglican Communion but the Episcopal Church now has."

Anderson's group has scheduled a meeting of "Anglican mainstream parishes" (i.e. orthodox leaders) in early October in Plano, Texas, saying it is "committed to remaining part of the Anglican Communion and will find a way for mainstream Anglicans in the Episcopal Church to stay in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury."

In the meantime, Anderson says, both sides in the debate need to be careful. It's important for us not to act precipitously, foolishly or emotionally, but to take godly council and baby steps," he told Reuters.

"We're not going anywhere," Fort Worth, Texas, Bishop Jack Iker told the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. "We've voted to maintain the traditional teachings of the church. The people who voted for [Robinson's consecration] are the ones who have split."

This belief is why most conservatives did not walk out in protest, Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Walking out was not the right symbol," he said. "We stand steady, firm, believing in the church and grounded in faith." (For a defense of walking out in a similar context, see J.I. Packer's "Why I Walked" from CT's January issue.)

The world responds
Response from Anglican leaders abroad has almost universally condemned Robinson's confirmation as unbiblical, un-Anglican, and schismatic.

"It is quite clear that a move like this would be considered by the majority of Christians worldwide as putting the American church out of kilter with worldwide Christianity," journalist and orthodox Anglican Andrew Carey told the BBC. "The problem with this appointment is that for many people this seems to institutionalize something that has always been regarded as sinful—forgivable, but sinful."

Like most observers, Carey predicted that "there won't be an immediate split, but there will be a period of realignment and great difficulty."

Orlando Sentinel reporter Mark I. Pinsky explains the difference. "A breakup of the American church is unlikely for two reasons: the denomination's tradition of civility and flexibility; and a serious concern about walking away from assets such as church buildings, schools, cemeteries and pension funds," he writes in today's edition. "However, a rupture remains possible between the Episcopal Church and elements of the worldwide Anglican Communion."

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Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, leader of the largest Anglican body in the world, minced no words, declaring Robinson's election "a Satanic attack on God's church," and suggested breaking ties to the American body.

"The present development compels us to begin to think of the nature of our future relationship, which would be determined after the ongoing consultation with other Provinces and Primates," Akinola said. "Nevertheless, as things stand, a clear choice has been made for a Church that exists primarily in allegiance to the unbiblical departures and waywardness of our generation; a Church that enthrones the will of men over and above the authority of God and His revealed and written Word. Such a Church is bound to become a shrine for the worship of men rather than God. We cannot go on limping between two opinions."

The Church of Nigeria has already cut off relations with the New Westminster Diocese in British Columbia for its support of same-sex marriages.

Benjamin Nzimbi, Archbishop of Kenya, also said the Robinson vote means the Episcopal Church USA has "separated themselves from us…. We are convinced that any diocese or province that has resolved and sanctioned the blessing of same-sex unions has denied itself membership in the Anglican Communion and has 'kicked' itself out of the Communion."

Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, likewise suggested a break with the Episcopal Church, and added that the vote makes his own job much harder. "This decision will unquestionably damage our interfaith relations with our Muslim friends among whom we live," he said. "It will also have a negative impact on our relations with the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in our area, which continue to hold fast to the apostolic faith and teachings from the first century. We will definitely be seen by them now as heretical."

Such opposition isn't just coming from Africans.

Drexel Gomez, head of the Anglican churches of the West Indies, said unity at the expense of biblical truth is no unity at all. "While we remain committed to the maintenance of Communion, we cannot compromise the integrity of our mission to uphold the faith 'once delivered to the saints,'" he said.

Bishop Harold Daniels of Jamaica agrees. "The church does not approve of persons who are practicing homosexuality occupying any position of leadership in this manner," he told the Jamaica Observer. "We are very uncomfortable that there are persons in the church who have taken that stand."

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Australian Anglican churches sound united it their opposition to Robinson's confirmation, but differ on what it means.

Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney, says this is "a historic moment in Anglican Communion affairs. This catastrophic decision cannot simply be allowed to pass away into history as a one-off aberration. It represents a time for decision by mainstream, biblical Anglicans around the world, and undoubtedly will result in a significant realignment of relationship within the Communion."

But Peter Carnley, Archbishop of Perth and Primate of Australia, said the vote is not "communion-breaking issue… . Our communion is established by legal instruments and is not fractured by differences of opinion, especially not over a single issue such as this." Carnley did, however, criticize the Episcopal bishops for putting "the cart before the horse… . We are going about it the right way in Australia, with proper discussion before there's any precipitate decision."

George Browning, bishop of Canberra & Goulburn, dismissed the debate as an irrelevant waste of time, but South Sydney bishop Robert Forsythe challenged him.

"I certainly think that there are many, many other issues the Church should be addressing. The biggest issue is the fact that many Australian people are living without any saving relationship with God," he told Australia Broadcasting Corporation's "The World Today." "But I don't agree with Bishop Browning if he thinks this is irrelevant. It can never be irrelevant if you ordain as your senior ministers someone living a way of life, which is not just contrary to a little verse in the Bible, it's contrary to the whole Christian understanding of the integrity of marriage, of what it is to be a man and woman. A rift has occurred, a hole has now been torn in the integrity of the Ministry."

Similar cries are going up from Anglican churches in India, South America, and southeast Asia, and many of these international leaders joined with orthodox leaders from the Episcopal Church in issuing a statement that says the convention's vote took "ECUSA outside the scriptural and currently agreed boundaries of the Anglican Communion."

But if Anglican churches outside the US consider the Episcopal Church USA un-Anglican, what happens? No one yet knows, but there's some precedent in the Anglican Mission in America. The church was founded in 2000 by the archbishops of Rwanda and South East Asia in response to similar crises in the Episcopal Church USA. Now it has about 50 churches across the country.

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Charles Murphy, chairman of the mission, says the central issue in the Episcopal Church's approval of Robinson "is not, at its core, about homosexual practice or lifestyle. The real issue before us is a church that is in direct conflict with the Scriptures."

And if it's in conflict with the Scriptures, is it really a Christian church? That's asked by Don Armstrong, pastor of Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal church in Colorado Springs. "We've sold ourselves down the river for sexual sin," he told The Denver Post. "We are now the church indistinguishable. Our message is no different than 'Will & Grace' and 'Sex in the City.'"

'A new level of blasphemy'
Though the Church of England, which recently had its own furor over a potential gay bishop, probably won't break ties, groups in the church are calling for it to do so.

"We consider the Episcopal Church of the United States has put itself outside the fellowship of the church with this issue," David Phillips, general secretary of the evangelical Church Society, told the BBC. "They have created schism with what they have done, and I hope what happens is that the churches in North America separate themselves from others and uphold the Bible's position."

That's already happening. Roman Catholic Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco called the Robinson vote "a new challenge" for relationships between the two churches. "We're going to have to study and reflect on the implications for the dialogue we've been having, with the Episcopal Church in our country and internationally," he told the Pioneer Press of St. Paul, Minn.

Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler called the vote disastrous, and said that the Episcopal Church USA has "effectively declared its independence from the Christian church."

Even Concerned Women for America issued a press release, calling Robinson's confirmation "a new level of blasphemy for a once great denomination"

While more comments are issued with each passing minute, the disconnect between orthodox Anglicans' love for the Word of God and love for their part of the Bride of Christ continues to send them reeling.

"I wonder often whether I am on the same page relative to the many issues which signal, at least for me, the drift and direction of the Episcopal Church away from the church catholic," Bishop Peter H. Beckwith of Springfield, Ill., told the Los Angeles Times. "Today I question not whether we are on the same page or even the same book, but rather whether we are in the same library."

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously said that Don Armstrong's Colorado Springs church belonged to the Anglican Mission in America. It is part of the Episcopal Church USA. CT regrets the error.