(Photo: Reuters/Kieran Doherty)
Anglican leaders in Africa have expressed their outrage over the Church of England's decision to approve gay bishops in its order, saying that the decision could put an end to hopes of healing broken relationships in the Communion.
Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria, one of the world's largest provinces of the Anglican Communion with 17 million members, said that the affirmation of gay bishops "could very well shatter whatever hopes we had for healing and reconciliation within our beloved Communion," Reuters reported.
Okoh added that the Church of England has given into "the contemporary idols of secularism and moral expediency," and that it is "one step removed from the moral precipice we have already witnessed in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada."
Last week, the House of Bishops of the Church of England announced that it had internally decided to allow gay clergy to serve as bishops if they promise a life of celibacy, even if they are in a same-sex civil partnership.
"All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England. But these, along with the candidate's suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case," the Right Rev. Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said in a statement.
The Rev. James further explained that the presiding members deemed it would be "unjust" to ban gay clergy from serving as bishops if they lived their lives full in accordance with the Church's teachings on sexual ethics and personal discipline.
Conservative Anglicans protested the decision, however, saying that it broke from traditional stances and that it should have been voted on in the Church's General Synod, where all bishops would have had a chance to vote on the issue.
The Anglican Communion has been divided greatly over the issue of homosexuality. The Anglican Church of Canada began blessing same-sex couples in 2002, while the U.S. Episcopal Church ordained in 2003 the Rev. Gene Robinson as the first-ever gay bishop. The Church of England had remained moderate on the issue, allowing gay clergy to serve while defending the traditional definition of marriage – but its recent turn to allow gays to move to the highest episcopate rank has been firmly opposed by African church leaders who remain conservative in their positions.
Other African Anglican leaders who have spoken out against gay bishops include the Rev. Stanley Ntagali, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, which has about 8 million Anglicans.
Ntagli said that the Church has taken "a significant step away from that very gospel that brought life, light, and hope to us."
"This decision violates our biblical faith and agreements within the Anglican Communion," the Ugandan church leader said. "This decision only makes the brokenness of the communion worse and is particularly disheartening coming from the mother Church."
Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, the Primate of Kenya and the leader of the influential Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, added that the Church of England had compromised "with the secular preoccupations of the West,"the Independent noted.
All this means that the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Justin Welby, has a lot of work in order to bridge the growing divide in the Anglican Communion. Welby has stood behind the Church in its opposition to the U.K. government's plans to legalize same-sex marriage, but he has also promised to "listen very attentively to the LGBT communities."
"I am always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us. Above all in the church we need to create safe spaces for these issues to be discussed honestly and in love," Welby has said.