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Boycott underscores Anglican rift

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"It's the first time that the Lambeth has had a boycott," adds Theo Hobson, an author and theologian. "The aim of this year's conference is to avoid divisive issues, but that's why the Evangelicals have boycotted because they think there's a need for clarity at the moment to determine orthodoxy."

'Living through very difficult times'

In a welcome message, Williams, who has struggled to reconcile the irreconcilable over the past five years, acknowledged that the communion "is living through very difficult times, and we are bound to be aware of the divisions and conflicts that have hurt us all in recent years."

With 77 million members in 164 countries, the Anglicans claim to be the third-largest Christian denomination. They have always been the broadest of churches, and as such have been divided on a wide range of issues, from Darwinism to slavery, polygamy to scriptural interpretation and ecclesiastical rites. Lambeth conferences have habitually had to accommodate contradictory viewpoints.

But homosexuality has emerged as the most divisive issue of all, ever since the last Lambeth Conference in 1998 issued a resolution that failed to clear the matter up.

Conservatives argue it is not a question of homosexuality but of Scripture. They are alarmed at modern interpretation of the Bible. "I believe it [homosexuality] is against the Scripture because it is very clear in the Bible that it is not what the Bible teaches," says Lawrence Dena, a Kenyan bishop boycotting Lambeth.

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