Published on Sunday, October 12, 2003 by the Observer/UK
US Millionaire Bankrolls Crusade Against Gay Anglican Priests
America's religious right draws a line in the sand as Anglican primates meet in London
by Janice Doward
Howard F. Ahmanson Jr does not like publicity. The fifty something multimillionaire, who lives in Newport Beach, California, is something of a recluse.
Calls to Ahmanson's multitude of companies and foundations requesting an interview go unreturned. Organizations which enjoy his largesse decline to talk about their benefactor.
What is known is that in the 1990s Ahmanson, whose family made a fortune in banking, subsidized a number of controversial right-wing causes. These include a magazine called the Chalcedon Report , which carried an article calling for gays to be stoned; a think-tank called the Claremont Institute which promoted a video in which Charlton Heston praises 'the God-fearing Caucasian middle class'; and a scientific body which rejects the theory of evolution.
Now Ahmanson has a new crusade, whose repercussions will be felt far beyond the United States. He is using his cash to stir up the most divisive row facing the Anglican Church, one that threatens to rip it apart when its leaders meet in London this week.
At its heart is the Church's stance on homosexuality, an issue that divides liberal and conservative. Somewhere in the middle is the Anglican Communion's spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Initial estimates suggest that the Communion's leaders are split down the middle, with some 20 of the 38 opposing two separate events that have occurred in North America.
The first was the decision to appoint the openly gay Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. The second was the decision by the diocese of New Westminster in Canada to bless same-sex unions.
The conservative wing of the 70 million-strong Anglican Communion were outraged, arguing that the two events ran contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the Communion's position on homosexuality agreed at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 - while the Church should welcome practicing homosexuals into its congregations, there could be no ordination.
Leading the backlash is the American Anglican Council (AAC) based in Washington. Until recently the AAC's chief executive officer, David C. Anderson, ran St James Church in Newport Beach, California, where Ahmanson is often to be found in the congregation. The AAC's vice-president, Bruce Chapman, is president of the Discovery Institute, on whose board Ahmanson sits and which publishes research insisting Darwin was wrong.
AAC stalwart James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas, admits that Ahmanson gives $200,000 a year, although many observers believe it is considerably more. An internal memo from the vice-president makes fascinating reading. 'Fundraising is a critical topic ... But that topic itself is going to be affected directly by whether we have a clear, compelling forward strategy. I know that the Ahmansons are only going to be available to us if we have such a strategy and I think it would be wise to involve them directly in setting it as the options clarify.'
The AAC's influence is bolstered by its close links to another right-wing religious organization, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), which operates out of the same Washington office as the AAC, and on whose board Ahmanson's wife, Roberta, sits.
Between 1997 and 2002, the IRD, set up during the Cold War to fight the spread of communism, spent at least $2.5 million to monitor and resist the liberalization of America's churches.
Much of the IRD's money comes from the conservative philanthropist Richard Scaife, heir to a banking and oil fortune and owner of the Greensburgh Tribune Review, the Pittsburgh newspaper that became the bane of President Bill Clinton's life, with a series of allegations surrounding the Whitewater affair.
Now the two Organizations are on the warpath. Last week they assembled their troops for a giant rally in Dallas in anticipation of this week's meeting of Anglican leaders in London. The chief target was the liberal baby boomer generation of the Sixties whose religious leaders were accused of betraying successive generations.
At the end the conservatives had drawn a line in the sand. A carefully worded series of resolutions calls on the Primates of the Anglican Communion to discipline those bishops in the Episcopal Church 'who have departed from biblical faith and order' and 'guide the realignment of Anglicanism in North America'.
The sentiment is repeated to differing degrees around the world. Archbishop Peter Akinola, leader of the 17.5 million-strong Anglican Church in Nigeria, threatened to split from the Communion over the appointment of the openly gay but celibate Canon Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading earlier this year. Amid the furore created by the conservatives, John stood down, prompting dismay among liberals.
The issue has now become as much about geography as sexuality. Canon Chris Sugden of the UK's Anglican Mainstream movement, which shares the AAC's concerns over homosexual clergy, said: 'The average Anglican comes from a poor culture, is under 30 and is black. For them the teachings of the Christian faith on issues such as the importance of the family have been a major source of help.
'Now they find some Christians in Western society are saying, "in our culture there's pressure such that we have to modify what the Church has understood for 2,000 years. If that will cause you trouble, we're sorry".'
To outsiders, the fact that the row within the Anglican Communion is being driven by tough-talking American conservatives with close links to ultra-right-wing millionaires might look unseemly. But those sympathetic to some of the AAC's opinions say this does not mean its views should be dismissed.
'These are Americans and it's the nature of their culture. The fact an organization is bankrolled by wealthy individuals is not unique to the AAC or any other interest group. It's a case of a lot of pots and not many clean kettles,' said Dr Philip Giddings, one of those who successfully opposed the appointment of Canon John and who has friends within the AAC.
'I would expect to see a reaffirmation of the position of the Lambeth conference. That has been the overwhelming view of Anglicans. It would take unique circumstances for the Primates not to reaffirm it,' Giddings said.
This would represent a body blow to the liberal wing of the Communion and to many Anglicans in the UK, who are deeply dismayed at the signals this will send to wider society.
Richard Kirker, general-secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said: 'Is it just coincidence that the Churches that are most resistant to the full inclusion of lesbian and gay people are also the least open and democratic?'
Not to mention wealthy.
One faith, two wings
What is happening this week?
So who's upset?
Can't they agree to disagree?
Does the row matter to non-Anglicans?
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