The head of the 80 million-member Anglican Communion has announced that the global body's leadership will meet next year to consider a restructuring of the Communion to allow for sharp disagreements on issues such as homosexuality and gay marriage.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby announced Wednesday that the 37 primates from across the world will meet in January over the future of the Communion, including matters like sexual ethics and environmentalism.
"I have suggested that we need to consider recent developments but also look afresh at our ways of working as a Communion, paying proper attention to developments in the past," stated Archbishop Welby.
"The difference between our societies and cultures, as well as the speed of cultural change in much of the global north, tempts us to divide as Christians: when the command of Scripture, the prayer of Jesus, the tradition of the Church and our theological understanding urges unity."
Welby also stated that the Anglican Communion "must have space for deep disagreement, and even mutual criticism, so long as we are faithful to the revelation of Jesus Christ."
"We have no Anglican Pope. Our authority as a church is dispersed, and is ultimately found in Scripture, properly interpreted," continued Welby.
Jeff Walton, Anglican Program director at the Institute for Religion & Democracy, told The Christian Post that if the meeting provides what some call a "loosening" of the Anglican Communion, it will merely confirm current trends of divide within the global church.
"Traditionalist Anglicans in the Global South are already effectively separated from liberal churches in the U.S. and Canada," said Walton.
"Any change would likely simply be an official acknowledgement of the current lay of the land. I think that would be an honest move, but it is a reflection of what already exists, not a bold new proposal."
For years, the Anglican Communion has found its member churches at odds over items like homosexuality and female ordination.
Welby's move toward an Anglican Communion that will not be as united on controversial issues like those of the nature of acceptable human sexuality is a contrast to the efforts of past archbishops, according to Andrew Brown of The Guardian.
"Welby's decision represents a complete abandonment of the strategy pursued by his immediate predecessors, Rowan Williams and George Carey, both of whom were committed to getting the liberals and conservatives to work together globally," reported Brown.
"Both [liberal and conservative churches] will be able to call themselves 'Anglican' but there will no longer be any pretense that this involves a common discipline or doctrine."
Among those expected to attend the meeting next January will be The Episcopal Church's Presiding-Bishop Elect Michael Curry and the Anglican Church in North America's Archbishop Foley Beach.
Despite the two theological opposites being represented at the meeting, Walton of the IRD told CP he does not believe it will resolve the ongoing legal battles over church properties between TEC and various departing conservative congregations and diocese.
"There is a zero-sum assumption among top Episcopal Church officials that any benefit to the ACNA is a loss to the Episcopal Church. They will continue to litigate in order to hinder what they believe to be ecclesiastical competition," said Walton.