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The head of the Anglican Communion attempted to reinforce the church’s stance against homosexual marriage this week, but the move was squashed by outcry from various bishops.
The controversy came to a head during the ongoing 2022 Lambeth Conference — a rare meeting of Anglican Communion bishops from around the world.
The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) — self-described as “a worldwide fellowship of orthodox Anglican Provinces and Dioceses within the Anglican Communion” — came to the conference with the gay marriage ban firmly on their agenda.
“We often feel that our voices are not listened to, or respected,” South Sudanese Primate Rev. Justin Badi told The Church Times. “Today, in Canterbury, we may be ‘gathered together’, but we most certainly cannot ‘walk together’ until Provinces which have gone against scripture — and the will of the consensus of the bishops — repent and return to orthodoxy.”
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He continued, “The Communion is not in a healthy condition at present, and only major surgery will put that right.”
They were bolstered in private, if not publicly, by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The archbishop, by the nature of his office, is the most senior cleric in the Anglican Communion but holds limited powers of governance on his own.
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Welby met with the GSFA in private on July 29 and offered to write a letter backing the traditional view of marriage, according to Anglican Church journalist George Conger. A call was scheduled for the conference — a sort of vote among the bishops to endorse or abandon proposed statements of belief.
The next day — after word got out about the push for a formal rejection of homosexual marriage — the conference was threatened with chaos.
Many bishops reportedly stayed seated and did not receive the Eucharist during the mass. Protests against recording votes on church calls arose, and eventually, the conference stopped keeping track of individual bishops’ decisions.
The call to reinforce Lambeth 1.10 was eventually dropped.
However, there was no demonstration against the archbishop nor the conference, and proceedings continued.
Despite the fervor, Welby made good on his promised letter, released to the faithful on Tuesday.
“I wanted to write this letter to you now so that I can clarify two matters for all of us. Given the deep differences that exist within the Communion over same-sex marriage and human sexuality, I thought it important to set down what is the case,” Welby wrote in his letter.
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He continued, “I write therefore to affirm that the validity of the resolution passed at the Lambeth Conference 1998, 1:10 is not in doubt and that whole resolution is still in existence. Indeed the Call on Human Dignity made clear this is the case , as the resolution is quoted three times in paragraph 2.3 of the Call on Human Dignity.”
The archbishop went on to point out that the 1998 statues cited did not make mention of sanctions or exclusions based on obedience. Welby said that the “Pain, anxiety, and contention” caused by Lambeth 1.10 was “very clear.”
He concluded, “To be reconciled to one another across such divides is not something we can achieve by ourselves. That is why, as we continue to reflect on 1 Peter, I pray that we turn our gaze towards Christ who alone has the power to reconcile us to God and to one another.”
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Anglicanism has been fracturing for decades over gay relationships, women’s ordination and other issues. Those rifts blew wide open in 2003 when the New York-based Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in New Hampshire.
The year before, the top US Episcopal legislative body, or General Convention, voted to authorize gay marriages in their churches.
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In 2009, Anglican national leaders in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and other church provinces helped create the Anglican Church in North America, as a theologically conservative alternative to the US Episcopal Church.
Anglicans, whose roots are in the missionary work of the Church of England, are the third-largest group of Christians in the world, behind Roman Catholics and the Orthodox.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.