By Mark Michael
As the Church of England’s bishops hold frequent and private discussions on whether that church should bless same-sex relationships, two Global South primates have renewed their warnings about an eroding sense of interdependence within the Anglican Communion, pointing to signs of deepening disagreement that surfaced during last summer’s Lambeth Conference.
The Most Rev. Dr. Justin Badi, Primate of South Sudan, and the Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, both express concern about how a redefinition of marriage would affect the Archbishop of Canterbury’s authority.
“In terms of the different positions and practices in the Communion with regard to same-sex unions, the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) has indicated that he does not see the ‘office’ of the ABC as including the role of exercising discipline among the Provinces,” Archbishop Badi wrote in a Christmas reflections letter dated December 17.
Badi, the chairman of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, referenced a statement that Archbishop Welby made during the discussion of the controversial Lambeth Call on Human Dignity at last summer’s Lambeth Conference.
Archbishop Badi added: “But if it is agreed that mutual accountability and interdependence of Provinces, together with a mechanism for Church discipline, are needed for Anglicans to remain as one Communion of Churches, then should not this role of guarding and ensuring consistency in essential matters of ‘Faith & Order’ be assigned to the Primates’ Meeting or a suitably formed new organ of the Communion?”
The Primates’ Meeting has, in fact, acted as the Communion’s principal disciplinary body in the last two decades. It responded to the 2003 consecration of Gene Robinson and the introduction of same-sex blessing liturgies in the Diocese of New Westminister by asking the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada to refrain from voting at Anglican Consultative Council meetings.
After the Episcopal Church authorized a same-sex marriage liturgy, the Primates’ Meeting outlined a series of “relational consequences” in January 2016. Only clearly lifted this summer, the consequences included a suspension on Episcopal Church members participating in Communion-wide faith and order bodies, a restriction also placed on the Scottish Episcopal Church in 2017 after it took a similar action.
Badi’s point also echoes a communique issued by the GSFA shortly after Archbishop Welby’s speech at the Lambeth Conference last summer. Then, he wrote:
“If it is the case that the Archbishop of Canterbury neither has nor seeks the authority to discipline a church of the Anglican Communion, and that matters of discipline are the responsibility of the primates, the primates of GSFA will prayerfully consider this new position statement.
“We are grateful to him for stating clearly his position; we shall study the ramifications of what he has said and bring forward proposals for the way the Anglican Communion is governed and represented as the process of resetting the Communion is launched.”
Archbishop Anis, a former chairman of the GSFA, also pointed back to last summer, noting: “During the last Lambeth Conference, a number of Bishops were not able to go against their consciences and have sacramental communion with fellow Bishops from other Provinces. Other Bishops were not able to participate at the 2022 Lambeth Conference while many innovations were tolerated by the Communion. In view of all this I ask: Can we still call it ‘The Anglican Communion’?”
Anis referred to the proposal by the Bishop of Oxford, Stephen Croft, that the Church of England begin to bless same-sex couples. A vote on the matter is planned for next February’s General Synod Meeting in York.
“Such suggestion, if it is carried out, will definitely cause ‘pain and distress’ to millions of faithful Anglicans around the world. If the Church of England went ahead with same-sex marriage and ignored the impact on the mission of other Provinces, it would disqualify herself from leading the Communion, which will be replaced by several smaller Communions and congregational churches.”
Further, he wrote, a decision to bless same-sex couples would “raise a significant question”: “would the Archbishop of Canterbury be able to lead the Anglican Communion while his own Province goes against the mind of ‘many Provinces’ in regard to this divisive issue?”