Anglican Communion May Experience Schism, Says Archbishop

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby speaking at Bristol Cathedral at an event in Sept. 2014.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby speaking at Bristol Cathedral at an event in Sept. 2014. | (Photo: Bristol Diocese YouTube video screencap)

The 80-million strong global church body known as the Anglican Communion may be ripped apart by recent debates over homosexuality and female ordination, according to its leader.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Anglican Communion, recently stated that current controversies within the Communion may lead to at the least a temporary fracturing.

In an interview with the United Kingdom publication the Times, Welby said that the global church body may experience "a sort of temporary separation."

"I think, realistically, we've got to say that despite all efforts there is a possibility that we will not hold together, or not hold together for a while," said Welby.

"I could see circumstances in which there could be people moving apart and then coming back together, depending on what else happens."

Comprised of 38 provinces and approximately 80 million members, the Anglican Communion is a global body representing churches from diverse communities.

Over the past several years, the Communion has had many internal issues stemming from theological differences between liberals mostly based in industrialized nations and conservatives mostly from the Global South.

Points of contention include female ordination and the increasing acceptance of homosexuality by provinces like The Episcopal Church.

In March, for example, the Anglican Church of Uganda threatened to leave the Communion due to differing views between it and other provinces on the African nation's antigay law.

"The issue here is respect for our views on homosexuality, same-sex marriage as a country and church. If they are not willing to listen to us, we shall consider being on our own," said Uganda Anglican Archbishop Stanley Ntagali to the AFP.

"Homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture, and no one in the leadership of the church can say legitimize same-sex unions or homosexuality."

The Church of England recently garnered criticism both from those within the Communion and churches from without for its recent vote to allow female bishops.

The General Synod of the Church of England voted in favor of approving women bishops for the first time in its history, after the proposal had failed several times before finally receiving the required two-thirds majority.

A number of Anglican leaders, including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, praised the results, but noted that some in the Church of England will have problems with the significant change.

"The challenge for us will be for the church to model good disagreement and to continue to demonstrate love for those who disagree on theological grounds," Welby said after the vote."My aim, and I believe the aim of the whole church, should be to be able to offer a place of welcome and growth for all. Today is a time of blessing and gift from God and thus of generosity. It is not winner take all, but in love a time for the family to move on together."

Welby's recent comments on the likelihood of a split within the Communion came after he had completed a tour of the various provinces of the global body, noted the UK Independent.

"The thread uniting the seemingly disparate factions is their adherence to the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic terms characteristics indicating inclusion within the Christian faith. This can also be known as the Four Marks of the Church," noted the Independent.

While seeming to recognize the possibility of schism, Welby also cautioned in his remarks to the Times that it was not "inevitable."

"I'm not saying that [a split] is inevitable or even more probable than not," said Welby to the Times."I think it's very much up in the air at the moment. And my suspicion is that the vast majority of people will stay within the communion."

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