The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for a meeting of Anglican leaders early next year to discuss the future of the faith amid a growing split with its African churches over female priests and same-sex relationships.
In a letter to church leaders, Justin Welby also said that it is time to abandon that notion that Anglicans across the world share precisely the same vision.
“I have suggested to all Primates that we need to consider recent developments but also look afresh at our ways of working as a Communion and especially as Primates, paying proper attention to developments in the past,” the spiritual leader of the global church said in the letter inviting them to Canterbury in January.
“[A] 21st-century Anglican family must have space for deep disagreement, and even mutual criticism, so long as we are faithful to the revelation of Jesus Christ, together,” he said.
“The difference between our societies and cultures, as well as the speed of cultural change in much of the global north, tempts us to divide as Christians: when the command of scripture, the prayer of Jesus, the tradition of the church and our theological understanding urges unity,” Welby said.
As Reuters reports:
“In 2013, senior African Anglican leaders denounced the Church of England’s decision to allow celibate gay bishops, warning this would only widen divisions within the worldwide Anglican Communion.
“[Welby] … will propose to the 38 national church heads that communion be [reorganized] as a group of churches all formally linked to Canterbury but no longer necessarily to each other.”
The call for a meeting of the churches, as well as proposing a looser affiliation among them, is widely viewed as an effort to head off a complete schism.
The Telegraph writes that the archbishop “is understood to fear that the confrontation will trigger an angry walk-out by traditionalist archbishops, particularly from Africa, which in turn could lead to “large chunks” of the Church of England itself breaking away.”
The newspaper says: “Equally, he has infuriated the liberal-leaning American branch of the church – whose decision to ordain the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003 led to the rift in global Anglicanism – by inviting the breakaway traditionalist Anglican Church of North America (Acna) to the meeting even though it is not officially part of the Anglican Communion.”