The Anglican Communion stands on the brink of a worldwide schism over the question of homosexuality, with liberals decrying the “vilification” of gay Christians and conservatives threatening to walk out on an international Anglican summit unless “godly order” is restored.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, convoked the global summit of Anglican primates to try to move the Anglican church worldwide away from the issue of homosexuality to address other topics such as religious violence and climate change.
Yet the week-long meeting of the 38 leaders of national Anglican churches is threatened by a walk-out by Asian and African archbishops who are irate over the decision to celebrate same-sex marriage in church and the ordination of openly gay bishops.
Sources say that the Anglican Archbishops from Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda and Congo will probably stage a walk-out within a day or two of the inauguration of the summit on Monday. They call on liberal British and American prelates to publicly give up their support for gay marriage and actively homosexual bishops.
The six African churches have demanded sanctions against the U.S. Episcopal Church, which galvanized its approval of homosexual practice when it consecrated the openly gay Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.
While proposing “differing ways of interpreting the Scriptures” on the question of homosexual practice, the signers urge Welby to “be prophetic in your action and Christ-like in your love towards our LGBTI sisters and brothers.”
The letter calls on Church leadership to repent for treating gay people “like second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God” and considering them as “a problem to be solved rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ to be embraced and celebrated.”
The 105 signers of the letter, ranging from bishops to MPs, also include 20 cathedral deans, nearly half the total number in England, as well as eight retired bishops and one active bishop, the Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson.
Not all Anglican prelates agree, however, on the argument that there can be “different interpretations of scripture” on the issue of homosexuality.
Michael Nazir-Ali, for example, the former Bishop of Rochester, said that the Bible “is clear on many things, including its teaching on human sexuality and the Church has upheld that teaching for 2,000 years.”
Peter Jensen, the general secretary of GAFCON, a group of conservative Anglican churches formed to “guard and proclaim the unchanging Gospel,” proclaimed in a New Year’s message: “Truth matters even more than institutional unity.”
Jensen said that the acceptance of gay marriage “is a choice to rewrite the Bible and so the Christian faith.”
In an effort to avert a permanent schism between warring factions in the Church, Welby has proposed refashioning the Anglican communion as a loose confederation of churches rather than a single worldwide church.
The Anglican church claims some 85 million members worldwide and is divided into 38 provinces. Only eight of these are favorable to changing doctrine on marriage to allow for same-sex unions, namely, the U.S., Canada, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, South India, South Africa and Brazil.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome