Anglican Leader Says Church Split Over Homosexuality Would Be 'Failure, but Not Disaster

Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, leaving Canterbury Cathedral after his enthronement ceremony making him head of the Anglican Communion, March 21, 2013.
Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, leaving Canterbury Cathedral after his enthronement ceremony making him head of the Anglican Communion, March 21, 2013. | (Photo: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor)

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has said that the possible split in the Anglican Communion due to "profound disagreement" over homosexuality would set a bad example for the world.

"A schism would not be a disaster. ... God is bigger than our failures, but it would be a failure," Welby told BBC Radio 4's "Today" program.

"It would not be good if the Church is unable to set an example to the world of showing how we can love one another and disagree profoundly, because we are brought together by Jesus Christ, not by our own choice."

Welby made the comments ahead of a widely awaited meeting of world Anglican leaders, which has been overshadowed by bishops from Asia and Africa threatening to walk out over disagreements on issues regarding homosexuality.

While the Church of England remains opposed to gay marriage, the Episcopal Church in America, for instance, has developed more liberal views on the issue, and in 2003 consecrated Canon Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican world.

On the other hand of the scale, a number of Anglican bishops represent countries where homosexuality remains a punishable crime, and they have protested against Western leaders trying to influence their cultures to change.

Walk-outs have been threatened by the archbishops of Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda, though the CofE maintains hope that all will be able to participate at the meeting.

"The Archbishop has invited everyone. If people walk out that will be viewed with disappointment rather than anger, and the door will always be open," the Church said in a statement.

Welby admitted in his latest interview that the views among some leaders in the Anglican Communion are so different on the issue, that there is little he can do to stop a schism.

"Certainly I want reconciliation, but reconciliation doesn't always mean agreement — in fact, it very seldom does. It means finding ways to disagree well and that's what we've got to do this week," he added.

"There's nothing I can do if people decide that they want to leave the room. It won't split the communion," Welby said, insisting that the Church will "remain a family" even if a split is to occur.

The upcoming meeting at Lambeth is also set to look at other issues affecting Christians, including religiously-motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, and the environment.

The CofE's decision to begin ordaining female bishops has also proved controversial among more conservative members of the 80-million strong global church body, and Welby has in the past admitted that a split may indeed be coming.

"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," Welby said in a December 2014 interview.

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