BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: The U.S. Episcopal Church and the entire Anglican Communion seem headed for a historic upheaval over issues relating to homosexuality. Last June, Episcopalians in New Hampshire chose a noncelibate, openly gay priest, Reverend Gene Robinson, as their bishop. Then in August, over strong conservative opposition, the church's General Convention voted to confirm Robinson's election. The convention also moved toward blessing same-sex unions.
This week in Dallas, nearly 3,000 Episcopal conservatives overwhelmingly repudiated the convention's actions, and asked the leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion to intervene. Summoned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, those leaders are meeting in London this coming week to consider what should be done.
Kim Lawton covered the Dallas meeting. Kim ...
KIM LAWTON: The delegates issued a strong call for the international Anglican leaders to discipline the US church for its growing acceptance of homosexuality. And they demanded that U.S. Episcopal leaders return to what they called "traditional orthodox" teaching.
Bishop ROBERT DUNCAN: We call the leadership of the Episcopal Church to repent of and reverse the unbiblical and schismatic actions of the General Convention. Do you so affirm?
LAWTON: Participants stopped short of calling for a separate, conservative Anglican church in North America…although they made it clear the resources are in place to create one. Rather, they urged a structural reorganization and realignment in the US church.
Canon DAVID ANDERSON: This is your destiny. This is your church. We are the legitimate Episcopal Church of our fathers and mothers.
LAWTON: Episcopal officials who were not part of the meeting acknowledged there are divisions. But they dismissed the idea that the church is on the verge of being torn apart.
Canon CAROL COLE FLANAGAN (Diocese of Washington): I think it's another blip on our radar screen, which is to say that there certainly have been many of them in the past. We were not of one mind about the civil rights movement. We were not of one mind about the ordination of women. But we sort of soldier on and work together on those things that bind us together, which are most often issues of common mission and so I expect that that would continue to be the case.
KIM LAWTON: Around the nation, local dioceses are deeply conflicted over the church's actions -- and what to do about them. Most church leaders have been holding town hall-style meetings, so members can air their views. This one was in Virginia. Some here took issue with suggestions by Bishop-elect Gene Robinson that biblical teachings against homosexuality should be interpreted in a modern context.
Unidentified Man #1: If Gene Robinson's comment represents the new credo of the leaders of the Episcopal Church of the United States, then it's time for the majority of us to move to where the Word of God as expressed in Scripture still means something.
Unidentified Man #2: I have heard those say that it is time for some to leave the Episcopal Church. I've heard that. I hear what you are saying. But by leaving, by separating, we no longer allow the Holy Spirit to work in our midst.
Unidentified Woman: When I hear and read the words of those who consider lesbian and gay people unworthy of being part of their religious community, my heart and my soul breaks. It truly breaks. And I wonder why I continue with this or any church.
Unidentified Man #3: I have a serious problem understanding how we can be unified in our work. We talk about getting on with our work in the midst of our disagreement, but what I see our work as is proclaiming the gospel. And I hear us proclaiming two different gospels.
LAWTON: How Episcopalians ultimately respond will depend heavily on what happens at the emergency international church summit being held this coming week in England. The two million members of the U.S. Episcopal Church are part of the more than 75 million members in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Reverend IAN DOUGLAS (Episcopal Divinity School): Each of the 38 churches in the Anglican Communion are regional or national churches that basically are autonomous, or sibling churches, one to another within the Anglican Communion.
LAWTON: Professor Ian Douglas is an Episcopal priest who teaches Anglicanism and global Christianity. He says what holds these autonomous church bodies together is their relationship with the Church of England and the church's spiritual head, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Rev. DOUGLAS: The Anglican Communion is a family of churches, and like any family, there is a parent who sits at the head of the table. And for us, as Anglicans, that parent, that titular body, the Archbishop of Canterbury, sits at the head of the table and has the power of recognition and invitation to the family members to come together around the table.
LAWTON: In keeping with the church's Reformation roots, the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn't have the same theological authority as the pope. He can't tell the churches what to do. But his power of recognition is key.