Sanford, Peter. Justin Welby’s last throw of the dice won’t save the church. The Guardian. 17 Sept 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11871714/Justin-Welbys-last-throw-of-the-dice-wont-save-the-church.html. Accessed 25 Sept 2015.
Justin Welby's last throw of the dice won't save the church
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
"A solution that is based on the logic of geography and business practice seems unlikely to promote the hoped-for Anglican Communion resurrection."
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.
Thus far, such internal tensions haven’t been formalised within the CofE, but in the United States the Anglican Episcopal Church – known as TEC – has seen conservative believers break away from the mainstream in protest at its endorsement of gay marriage and place themselves instead under the protection of various “missionary outreach” groupings offered by the Nigerian, Rwandan and Kenyan provinces of the communion.
The assumption that African provinces can be regarded as sharing one view, moreover, is starkly contradicted by the stance of their best-known member, the Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He preaches an accepting line on gender and sexuality.
Justin Welby’s predecessors, George Carey and Rowan Williams, both labored long in the vineyard trying to cajole and charm the Anglican provinces into finding some sort of common position. The current Archbishop of Canterbury’s plan is to be applauded because it finally acknowledges that such theological efforts are doomed to failure, and instead takes a new, more hard-nosed approach.
But a solution that is based on the logic of geography and business practice seems unlikely to promote the hoped-for Anglican Communion resurrection. Indeed, it may even make the situation worse, by exacerbating the existing internal divisions within each province. That is the gamble Justin Welby is taking with what Lambeth Palace insiders have called ‘a last throw of the dice”.