Friction has been simmering within the global Anglican Communion for many years during its 42 provinces’ stark differences over whether to recognize same-sex marriage and ordain LGBTQ clergy. This year, the divisions have widened, as conservative bishops, particularly from Africa and Asia, affirmed their opposition to LGBTQ inclusion and demanded “repentance” from more liberal provinces with inclusive policies.
Caught in the middle of the fray is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who is the highest bishop of the Church of England and ceremonial leader of the Anglican Communion, which is one of the largest Christian communities in the world. Welby has acknowledged a “deep disagreement” between the provinces, while he has urged them to “walk together” where possible.
The split came to light four months ago at the communion’s Lambeth Conference, which normally takes place once a decade to bring together bishops from more than 165 countries with Anglican-affiliated churches. It was the first Lambeth Conference since 2008, and the first to which married gay and lesbian bishops were invited.
Conservative primates from Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda refused to attend, while other bishops who share his opposition to LGBTQ inclusion lobbied unsuccessfully for the Lambeth meeting to reconfirm a 1998 resolution rejecting same-sex marriage.
Now those primates and their allies around the world await a conference in Kigali, Rwanda, in April. They are expected to discuss their dismay at the support for same-sex marriage in some Anglican churches and what they see as Welby not taking a strong stand against such marriages.
Welby, in turn, says that neither the Lambeth Conference nor he individually has the authority to discipline or sue a member province.
In Nigeria, Anglican leaders say a formal split from the global church over LGBTQ inclusion is more likely than ever. They cite Welby’s comments in Lambeth and the subsequent appointment of the Most Reverend David Monteith, who has been in a same-sex civil partnership since 2008, as the new dean of Canterbury Cathedral.
Bishop Williams Aladekugbe of the Anglican Diocese of Northern Ibadan in Nigeria said same-sex unions are “impious and devilish” and that their recognition by some provinces is one of the main reasons why “we cannot continue to have fellowship with them.”
“If it’s going to be more divisive, so be it,” Aladekugbe told The Associated Press. “If they don’t worship God as we worship him, if they don’t believe what we believe… let’s split up (and) go our own way.”
Henry Ndukuba, primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, cited such divisions during an interview with a church-run television station.
The Archbishop of Canterbury “is a symbol of unity” in the Anglican Communion, Ndukuba said, but “because of the way things are going, we are not tied to the Canterbury apron.”
The umbrella group for the Conservative bishops is the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GFSA). Its steering committee is headed by the Archbishop of South Sudan, Justin Badi, and includes archbishops from Bangladesh, Chile, Congo, Egypt, the Indian Ocean region, and Myanmar.
At the Lambeth Conference, the committee issued a stern statement, demanding that its views on LGBTQ issues prevail throughout the Anglican Communion and that “revisionist” provinces be disciplined or marginalized.
That threat was directed at provinces that have adopted LGBTQ-inclusive policies, including the Episcopal Church in the United States and Anglican churches in Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales. For now, the Church of England refuses to perform same-sex marriages, but some of its bishops want that policy changed.
GFSA leaders argue that Conservative-run jurisdictions are home to 75% of the world’s Anglican Communion population, estimated to be between 80 and 85 million.
“For too long the Anglican Communion has been driven by the views of the West,” Badi told the media during the conference. “We often feel that our voice is not heard or respected.”
In their statement, Badi and his allies stressed that they are not defecting. However, they questioned whether the worldwide Anglican community could, in the current circumstances, be considered a truly unified body.
“If there is no genuine repentance on the part of the revisionist Provinces, then we will sadly accept a state of ‘impaired communion’ with them,” the statement said.
Welby, rather than berate LGBTQ-inclusive provinces, praised the sincerity of his approach to human sexuality.
“They are not careless with the scriptures. They don’t reject Christ,” Welby said in Lambeth. “But they have arrived at a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study, and reflection on understanding human nature.”
The Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, saw this as a breakthrough.
“What changed in the rhetoric,” he said, “was a genuine recognition that both sides had arrived at their views through serious study of Scripture, theology, and modern understanding of human nature.”
The Rev. Chuck Robertson, one of Curry’s top advisers whose file includes relations with the Anglican Communion, described Welby’s comments as “a game changer.”
“It reflects that those who have gone beyond traditional teaching have done so very carefully,” Robertson said. “This is something new: a corner had been turned.”
The Tory bishops’ frustrations with Welby escalated in October when Monteith was appointed the new dean of Canterbury Cathedral.
Although Welby did not personally make the appointment, he issued a statement in which he expressed his satisfaction with the choice made by a selection panel. Within days, the GSFA steering committee conveyed his dismay.
The announcement “casts into question the seriousness with which (Welby) wants to pursue Communion unity,” the committee said. “We oppose the Church of England’s accommodation of a person in a same-sex union being appointed to a position of spiritual authority over the flock of God’s people.”
A Rwandan bishop, Alexis Bilindabagabo of the Gahini diocese, said he condemned the ordination of gay priests because “weak” people should not be in the pulpit.
“A gay man should be led, but he should not lead others,” Bilindabagabo said.
LGBTQ activists say most Anglican churches in Africa are led by conservative priests, including many reluctant to speak out about homosexuality.
“For Uganda, the Anglican church has almost played a leading role in being intolerant,” said Frank Mugisha, a prominent LGBT leader. in the East African country where a lawmaker once introduced legislation that sought to punish some homosexual acts with execution.
In some cases, Mugisha said, Anglican priests take a hardline stance because they fear losing their flock to more conservative evangelical groups.
Unlike other Anglican provinces in Africa, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa has considered allowing dioceses to perform same-sex marriages, though it has yet to take that step.
The church is based in South Africa, the only African country to legalize such unions, and also represents dioceses in several neighboring countries. It was led for many years by the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights. as well as the main enemy of apartheid.
The southern African church has criticized Anglican leaders in other parts of the continent who support tough laws against LGBTQ people.
“It is clear that some of the draconian laws in some African countries are in fact violations of human rights and some bishops of the Anglican Church in these countries have openly supported these laws,” said Bishop Allan Kannemeyer, who heads the Diocese of Pretoria. .
It is not clear what awaits the Anglican Communion. GSFA leaders, in their October statement, say that if Welby does not take the initiative to “safeguard the Church’s teachings,” there may be an opportunity for conservative bishops to increase his influence.
That topic will likely be of paramount importance at the April meeting in Rwanda, to which the GSFA bishops have been invited. It will be organized by the Global Anglican Future Conference, known as Gafcon, which includes the archbishops of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda, as well as leaders of conservative Anglican entities that have already split from the Anglican Communion, such as the Anglican Church in the North. . America.
No one from the Anglican Communion’s London headquarters is expected to attend.
“Some at Gafcon see it as a biblical renewal movement, which is fine, but others see it as a rival to the Anglican Communion,” said Gavin Drake, the communion’s director of communications. “There is growing frustration within the Communion over this ‘political wing’ of Gafcon.”
By the time they meet in April, Gafcon and GFSA members could be even more angered by events within the Church of England, whose General Synod will meet in February to consider proposals on same-sex marriage developed during a long discussion process. There is the possibility of an unprecedented vote allowing Church of England priests to perform same-sex weddings for the first time.
A significant event occurred in early November when Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford, became the church’s first diocesan bishop to speak out in favor of same-sex marriage. He published a 50-page essay urging the ban to be lifted and sent it to all members of the College of Bishops.
At stake, he said, was the Church of England’s claim to serve all of society. Her anti-LGBTQ stance “is leading to a radical dislocation between the Church of England and the culture and society we try to serve,” she said.
Five other Anglican bishops have publicly endorsed Croft’s call for change.
Asadu reported from Abuja, Nigeria; Crary from New York and Pepinster from London. Associated Press writers Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, and Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg, South Africa contributed.
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