Anglicans in Africa reject archbishop of Canterbury for supporting same-sex union blessings

anglican pride flag A pride flag hangs from the Peterborough Cathedral in England in 2019. | Shutterstock

The Church of England’s decision to bless same-sex couples continues to reverberate throughout the global Anglican Communion as a global meeting of Anglican leaders in Rwanda deemed the move “pastorally deceptive and blasphemous.”

The meeting voiced no confidence in Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and called on him and the Church of England to repent of their decision.

“Despite 25 years of persistent warnings by most Anglican primates, repeated departures from the authority of God’s Word have torn the fabric of the Communion. These warnings were blatantly and deliberately disregarded and now without repentance this tear cannot be mended,” said the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’ fourth Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in an April 21 statement.

In February the Church of England’s general synod voted to approve blessing same-sex couples in civil marriages. The GAFCON statement characterized the move as “another departure” from scriptural authority that damages the Anglican Communion.

“It grieves the Holy Spirit and us that the leadership of the Church of England is determined to bless sin,” they said. “Since the Lord does not bless same-sex unions, it is pastorally deceptive and blasphemous to craft prayers that invoke blessing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

The Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans has about 40 million members. Its churches include the Anglican Church in North America, though its largest national churches — including those in Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya — have long had overlapping membership with the Anglican Communion. The GAFCON meeting, held in Kigali, Rwanda, April 17–21, drew 1,302 delegates from 52 countries, including 315 bishops, 456 other clergy, and 531 laity. Its final statement is called the Kigali Commitment.

The Church of England broke from Roman Catholicism in the 16th century. Since the formation of the Anglican Communion in 1867, the archbishop of Canterbury has been considered the global communion’s spiritual and moral leader, though he has no binding authority. The global Anglican Communion is composed of 42 Anglican churches throughout the world and about 80 million members. Its major gathering is the Lambeth Conference.

“Public statements by the archbishop of Canterbury and other leaders of the Church of England in support of same-sex blessings are a betrayal of their ordination and consecration vows to banish error and to uphold and defend the truth taught in Scripture,” the GAFCON statement said. The statements also repudiate a resolution of the 1998 Lambeth Conference that declared “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture” and advised against legitimizing or blessing same-sex unions.

The Church of England change came despite the archbishop of Canterbury’s affirmation of this resolution’s validity, GAFCON said.

“We have no confidence that the archbishop of Canterbury nor the other Instruments of Communion led by him [the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meetings] are able to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture.”

The statement said successive archbishops of Canterbury have “failed to guard the faith by inviting bishops to Lambeth who have embraced or promoted practices contrary to Scripture.”

“The failure in church discipline has been compounded by the current archbishop of Canterbury’s welcoming of blessing practices contrary to Scripture,” the statement continued. The GAFCON conference said this “renders his leadership role in the Anglican Communion entirely indefensible.”

Church of England leaders need to repent of their actions, the GAFCON statement said.

“We long for this repentance but until they repent, our communion with them remains broken,” it added. “We consider that those who refuse to repent have abdicated their right to leadership within the Anglican Communion, and we commit ourselves to working with orthodox primates and other leaders to reset the communion on its biblical foundations.”

GAFCON’s leading church primates were joined by primates of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA). Together, the Kigali statement said, these Anglican leaders represented about 85% of Anglicans worldwide.

The GSFA, which was established in 1994, is composed of 14 of the 25 Anglican provinces in areas such as Africa and Oceania. It claims to represent a large majority of the world’s Anglicans — as much as 75%, or about 64 million Anglicans. The GSFA is chaired by Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, primate of South Sudan. It has similarly accused the Church of England of breaking communion with provinces faithful to a biblical view of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

“Both GSFA and GAFCON primates share the view that, due to the departures from orthodoxy articulated above, they can no longer recognize the archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the primates,” the GAFCON statement said. “The Church of England has chosen to impair her relationship with the orthodox provinces in the communion.”

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The Catholic Church has also witnessed tensions from factions, generally based in Western Europe and North America, that seek to change Church teaching on marriage, homosexual relations, and relationships. While Pope Francis and others have stressed the need for outreach and welcome to those who identify as gay or lesbian, the Church has reiterated the need to do this with respect and sensitivity.

Pastors must know “how to find the most appropriate ways, consistent with Church teaching, to proclaim to them the Gospel in its fullness,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in March 2021. The document, a response to a question about whether the Church may bless same-sex unions, answered in the negative. “God cannot bless sin,” it said.

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