Scottish Anglicans voted overwhelmingly in June in favour of allowing same-sex couples to marry in church, setting the church on a collision course with the Anglican communion. The Anglican church in Canada is expected to follow suit. The January 2016 meeting of primates imposed de facto sanctions on the American church for its acceptance of same-sex marriage, and issued a statement in support of the “traditional doctrine” that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
This latest decision to introduce same-sex weddings in Scotland was taken in the understanding that the Scottish church would face similar measures to those taken against the American Episcopalians for their support of same-sex marriage. These included being barred from representing the Communion at ecumenical and interfaith talks.
One of the leading advocates of Christian gay marriage in Scotland, Kelvin Holdsworth, who is provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, described any action taken by the Communion against the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) as “a price worth paying”. “We voted for the change, knowing what the consequences would be, and we are prepared for the consequences”, he said. “But they have little power. There is no canon law to hold the Anglican Communion together. It is really there to listen.”
At the time of the Scottish decision, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the secretary general of the Anglican communion, said the move would be discussed by Anglican primates at the next meeting.
“There are differing views about same-sex marriage within the Anglican communion, but this puts the Scottish Episcopal church at odds with the majority stance that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. This is a departure from the faith and teaching upheld by the overwhelming majority of Anglican provinces on the doctrine of marriage,” he was quoted by the Guardian saying.
The gap between north and south in the Anglican Communion over sexual matters remains wide, with statements in the past few days suggesting that positions are becoming entrenched. Their fragile agreement acknowledged the “deep pain” of the divisions within the communion.
As a matter of fact, three of the 39 primates have declared they will boycott next meeting in a sign of continuing discord over same-sex relationships, with one warning of the “next great Reformation” or schism within Christianity. Archbishops Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria, Stanley Ntagali of Uganda and Onesphore Rwaje of Rwanda have said they will not attend in protest at what they see as the Anglican communion’s failure to uncompromisingly back traditional interpretations of the scriptures on sexuality.
Ntagali, the 62-year-old Archbishop of Uganda, who also doubles as Bishop of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, in an interview with the BBC said he was not prepared to engage with people who took “an unbiblical view of marriage.” Ntagali said that the fabric of the Anglican communion had been torn by the actions of the US Episcopal church, which consecrated a gay bishop and approved same-sex marriage. “At times, I wonder whether we really share a common faith! If we are not walking in the same direction, then how can we walk together?” he wrote to explain why he would not attend next meeting.
In an open letter to conservative Anglicans, Archbishop Okoh of Nigeria, said he had attended the previous meeting of primates in January 2016 in the belief it might be possible to “change the pattern of repeated failure to preserve the integrity of Anglican faith and order”. Archbishop Okoh added, “the will of the orthodox primates is frustrated and misrepresented [and] false teaching is not being corrected … In these circumstances, I have concluded that attendance at Canterbury would be to give credibility to a pattern of behaviour which is allowing great damage to be done to global Anglican witness and integrity.”
Okoh, who is chairman of the conservative Anglican organisation Gafcon, said in the Guardian that 500 years after the greatest schism in Christianity, followers of the church were “living in the midst of the next great Reformation in our day also there is broken fellowship, over homosexual practice, same-sex marriage and the blurring of gender identity, none of which are mentioned in the Creeds, but all of which contradict fundamental biblical understandings of marriage and human identity” .
The decision by the three primates to boycott the gathering further illustrates the north-south divide in the Anglican church, with leaders from African countries prominent among those advocating traditional interpretations of the Bible and churches in the UK and North America generally moving in a more liberal direction.
A letter sent by a group representing more than 240 members of the Church of England general synod to all primates before the next meeting emphasized the “decisive steps [taken] towards an inclusive church that can better serve both our church and nation, and in particular the LGBTI community”.
Canon Giles Goddard, chair of the Human Sexuality Group of the Church of England’s Synod, said the status quo was not an option, even though he accepted that the majority of members of the Anglican Communion saw marriage in conventional terms. Goddard said that it was possible for Anglicans in different countries to have different takes on personal morality. “What we are trying to do is have a ‘mixed economy’ on this, just as we have in worship. We don’t have the same services all around the globe,” he reportedly said.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said due to all this the next gathering would face tough questions. He urged Anglicans to pray that primates would be able to “walk onwards together”.