Will Justin Welby’s Last Throw of the Dice to Save the Anglican Church Fail?

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby (Photo: AFP/GETTY)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby (Photo: AFP/GETTY)

The Archbishop of Canterbury wants to head off a crisis within the Anglican church. But his business methods won’t work when it comes to faith

When he was named as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013, much was made of former oil executive Justin Welby’s business background in explaining his meteoric rise through the ranks of Anglican bishops. Here, his supporters said of the cleric who had sat on the banking standards committee of the House of Lords, was someone with the right type of real-world know-how to sort out the endlessly warring factions of the worldwide Anglican Communion of 80 million souls.

The problem Welby inherited, in a nutshell, is that the Communion has for the past 20 years been deeply divided on questions of sexuality. Some traditionalist Anglican provinces, among the 38 members of what is the third largest Christian denomination in the world (after the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches) continue to see homosexuality as sinful and to oppose women priests and bishops. These provinces are mainly, but not exclusively, located in Africa.

Elsewhere, more liberal ones, especially in the United States and increasingly in England too, have voted to take a new, more permissive line on the same issues. The resulting tension over doctrine and discipline has paralysed the Anglican Communion to such a degree that its most visible manifestation, the once-every-ten-years Lambeth Conference has had to be postponed indefinitely after the 2008 gathering descended into farce.

As titular head of the Communion, Archbishop Welby has now come up with what seems at first glance an eminently sensible solution. Indeed it is just the sort of thing that could have been dreamt up in an oil industry boardroom strategy session. He is proposing to loosen the ties between the different provinces, creating in effect a federal structure where each can go their own way on contentious issues, and thereby enable the semblance of unity to remain.

It sounds neat, but like many business master plans it overlooks the fickleness of human nature – or in this case Christian belief. The scheme rests heavily on the assumption that 38 provinces can be easily categorised as traditional or conservative. But within each, there are many shades of opinion, as many shades of opinion you might argue as there are individuals who read the gospels.

So within our domestic Church of England, for instance, there are plenty of evangelical Anglicans who feel much more comfortable with the line taken by Nigerian, Kenyan and Ugandan bishops that homosexuality is sinful, and must always be regarded as such, than they do with the more nuanced approach of their own leaders. Equally, there are deeply-held differences of opinion on doctrinal issues when it comes to women’s ministry.

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SOURCE: The Telegraph
Peter Stanford is a former editor of the Catholic Herald. His latest book, Judas: The Troubling History of the Renegade Apostle is published by Hodder.

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