CANTERBURY, United Kingdom, January 12, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The heads of the Anglican Communion in 38 countries started a week-long meeting this week in a seemingly desperate effort to prevent the third largest Christian denomination from splitting over homosexuality.
On the opening day, Anglicanism's spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who has summoned the primates, or senior archbishops, of each national, self-governing church to England for the “gathering,” indicated he had little hope of reconciling the opposing sides at the theological level.
“Reconciliation doesn't always mean agreement,” he told the BBC. “It means finding ways of disagreeing well.” Even if some churches within the 85-million-strong tradition go their “separate ways,” he insisted, they would still be “family.”
One leader who said he was planning to go his separate way was Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, head of the Church of Uganda. On January 6, Archbishop Ntagali issued a pastoral message to the Ugandan church announcing that “the Provincial Assembly of the Church of Uganda has resolved to not participate in any official meetings of the Anglican Communion until godly order is restored.”
To restore it, he explained, the Anglican Communion must agree to condemn and discipline the Episcopal Church of the United States for its 2003 ordination of Gene Robinson, a divorced father of two living in an openly homosexual relationship, as bishop.
If that doesn't happen at the outset, five other primates are expected to walk out with Uganda's: those of Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Congo, according to one “senior C of E source,” who told the Guardian newspaper, “There's going to be a lot of drama. It's 90% likely that the six will walk out. If we get past Tuesday, we'll be doing well.”
Meanwhile, eight shrinking but still influential churches are pushing for official acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex “marriage”: those of the United States, Canada, South Africa, South India, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, and Brazil.
To provide some chance of reconciliation, Archbishop Welby arranged to precede the official “meeting” of primates with an informal “gathering.” To it he invited not only the primates, but Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America, a dissenting group of 112,000 American and Canadian Anglicans who broke away from their respective national churches in 2008 precisely over the homosexual issue.
Welby hopes those attending the gathering will agree that all who consider themselves part of the Anglican tradition can at least be friends, if not take communion together. But many parts of the Anglican Communion who acknowledge Welby as their spiritual leader already don't communicate.
Several African churches consider themselves in communion with the ANC rather than the U.S. Episcopal and Canadian Anglican churches. In England, some C of E dioceses and some parishes don't recognize female priests, let alone homosexual priests and homosexual female priests, and won't take communion from any of them.
Just as the North American Anglicans forged ahead with gay bishops and priests 13 years ago despite the opposition of the rest of the worldwide church, so they led the way ordaining women as priests in the 1970s and '80s despite their co-religionists crying foul. But opposition to the “priesting of women” was confined to Anglo-Catholics within the Anglican church, many of whom who broke away, while “Low Church,” or evangelical Anglicans, kept silent.
Now the opposition to homosexuality is coming chiefly from “Low Church” Anglicans who have broken away in turn. Now some of the dissenting Anglo-Catholic groups from a generation ago have joined with the Low Church conservatives in Archbishop Beach's Anglican Church in North America.
Since the Anglo-Catholic dissenters won't accept communion from the female priests belonging to the Low Church dissenters, they ironically model the kind of co-operative diversity Welby would like to see emerge this week at Canterbury.
Meanwhile, the ANC has joined with the African churches, which, though still formally within the Anglican fold, are increasingly unhappy with Anglicanism's positions not only on homosexuality, but on abortion, premarital sex, and divorce. Together in 2008 they formed GAFCON, the Global Anglican Futures Conference, ostensibly to dissent from within, but potentially to provide the nucleus for separated church faithful to Christian moral teachings.
They have leverage. Their churches are growing, while those in the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada are shrinking. Some African churches are sending missionaries to the U.K.