The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that the Anglican Church must adapt to a changing society that has become increasingly secularized–by ordaining women bishops.
Yahoo News reports that Welby, a former oil executive who was named successor to Archbishop Rowan Williams in late 2012, gave his first address to the church’s national assembly, the General Synod, attempting to placate both reformists as well as conservative factions.
“Let’s be clear, pretending that nothing has changed is absurd and impossible,” Welby stated. “In times of revolution we too in the Church of England must have a revolution.”
With congregation numbers in decline as secularization increases, Welby was dismayed that a vote last November in the Synod narrowly failed to reach the required two-thirds majority in one of the Synod’s three houses, despite receiving support from 73% of Synod members.
In the wake of sharp criticism from Prime Minister David Cameron and outgoing Archbishop Williams following the vote, Welby told the Synod at the University of York that the Church must rid itself of its “baggage” of failing to push ahead with gender reforms.
“If we say we will ordain women as priests and bishops, we must do so in exactly the same way as we ordain men,” Welby said.
In November, Cameron said he was “very sad” about the vote’s outcome, indicating that the Church needed a “sharp prod.”
“On a personal basis I’m a strong supporter of women bishops,” said Cameron. “I’m very sad about the way the vote went yesterday and I am particularly sad for the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams because I know that he saw this as a major campaign that he wanted to achieve at the end of his excellent tenure of office.”
Cameron explained, “I think it’s important for the Church of England to be a modern church in touch with society as it is today, and this was a key step they needed to take.”
Archbishop Williams asserted that the Church of England has a “lot of explaining” to do.
Similarly, members of Parliament called for the law to be changed so that the Church would be forced to comply with sex discrimination laws.
Labour former Cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw suggested in November that the law could be changed to remove the church’s exemption from sexual discrimination laws.
“Because the Church of England is established, it is actually answerable to Parliament,” Bradshaw said. “And if the Church of England Synod is not able to save itself on this issue, then I think Parliament does have a role.”
Welby himself wrote following the vote, “Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer and love and co-operate with our healing God.”
On Monday, the Synod will begin first steps to reintroduce talks on the issue of women bishops, though the full process would still not permit female bishops until 2015 at the earliest.
Though Welby is in full support of female bishops, he has opposed bills for gay marriage.
In June, Welby met with Pope Francis for continued exploration of bridge-building between their two Churches. According to the National Catholic Register, though the meeting between the two leaders was “warm,” the Anglican Church’s proposals to create women bishops, the ordination of two actively homosexual bishops in the U.S. Episcopal Church, and the recent creation of the personal ordinariates to accommodate former Anglicans coming as groups into the Catholic Church, continue to challenge the dialogue between the two faiths.
In addition, Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis part ways on the approach to increasing secularization. While Welby appears to want to embrace it, and find ways for his church to adapt to it, Francis identifies it and seeks to provide a sharp contrast to it with evangelization and teaching about faith.
On June 1st, regarding his mission intention for the month, Pope Francis said:
The point of the ‘new evangelisation’ is thus ‘to rekindle the spark of faith in Jesus Christ, a spark which becomes a fire and awakes the desire to share the Good News. Faith is born of meeting the Risen Christ at the heart of our lives, in recognising his presence by the burning in our hearts. ‘The new evangelisation is above all a spiritual action, the capacity to make our own, in the present, the courage and the force of the first Christians.’
Where the influence of secularisation is strongest, the ‘new evangelisation’ ought to open the ways of hope.