Tensions over LGBTQ issues are heating up in the global Anglican Church

Within the global Anglican communion, friction has been brewing in its 42 provinces for many years. wide disparities in the recognition of same-sex marriages and the ordination of LGBTQ ministers. Disagreements have widened this year as conservative bishops – particularly from Africa and Asia – reiterated their opposition to LGBTQ inclusion and called for “reversal” from more liberal provinces with inclusive policies.

Caught in the midst of the fray is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the chief bishop of the Church of England and ceremonial leader of the Anglican Communion, which is one of the largest Christian communities in the world. Welby has acknowledged “deep disagreements” between the provinces and urged them to “walk together” as much as possible.

The split came into the limelight four months ago at the Communion’s Lambeth Conference, which is normally held once every ten years to bring together bishops from more than 165 countries with Anglican-affiliated churches. It was the first Lambeth Conference since 2008 and the first to which married gay and lesbian bishops were invited.

The conservative primates of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda refused to take part, while other bishops, who shared their opposition to LGBTQ integration, pushed unsuccessfully for the Lambeth meeting to ratify a 1998 resolution opposing same-sex marriage.

Now these primates and their global allies are looking ahead to a conference in Kigali, Rwanda, in April. They are expected to speak about their dismay at support for same-sex marriages in some Anglican churches and how they feel Welby is not taking a tough stance against such marriages.

Welby, in turn, says neither the Lambeth Conference nor himself have the authority to discipline or impose demands on a member province.

In Nigeria, Anglican leaders say formal separation from the global church is more likely than ever because of LGBTQ integration. They cite Welby’s remarks at Lambeth and the subsequent appointment of Rev David Monteith – who has been part of a same-sex civil union since 2008 – as the new Dean of Canterbury Cathedral.

Bishop Williams Aladekugbe of the North Anglican Diocese of Ibadan in Nigeria said same-sex unions are “ungodly and devilish” and their recognition by some provinces is a major reason “we can no longer fellowship with them”.

“If there is further division, let it be,” Aladekugbe told The Associated Press. “If they don’t worship God as we worship Him, if they don’t believe in what we believe in…let us divorce (and) go our own way.”

Henry Ndukuba, primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, cited such divisions in an interview with a church TV station.

The Archbishop of Canterbury “is a symbol of unity” in the Anglican communion, Ndukuba said, but “because of the way things are going, we are not bound by the Canterbury apron.”

The umbrella organization of conservative bishops is the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GFSA). Its steering committee is chaired by Archbishop Justin Badi of South Sudan and includes archbishops from Bangladesh, Chile, Congo, Egypt, the Indian Ocean region and Myanmar.

At the Lambeth Conference, the committee issued a tough communique – indeed demanding that their views on LGBTQ issues take precedence throughout the Anglican communion and that “revisionist” provinces be disciplined or marginalized.

That threat was aimed at the provinces that have committed to LGBTQ-inclusive policies – including the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Churches in Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales. Currently, the Church of England refuses to allow same-sex marriages, but some of its bishops want this policy to change.

GFSA leaders claim that 75% of the world’s Anglican Communion population, estimated at 80-85 million, lives in Conservative-run jurisdictions.

“For too long the Anglican Communion has been driven by Western views,” Badi told the news media at the conference. “We often feel that our voice is not heard or respected.”

In their communiqué, Badi and his allies stressed that they would not defect. However, they questioned whether the global Anglican communion could consider itself a truly unified body in the current circumstances.

“Unless the revisionist provinces show genuine remorse, we will sadly accept a state of ‘disordered communion’ with them,” the communiqué reads.

Rather than chastising the LGBTQ-inclusive provinces, Welby praised the sincerity of their approach to human sexuality.

“They don’t care about the writing. They don’t reject Christ,” Welby said in Lambeth. “But they have come to a different way of looking at sexuality after much prayer, deep study, and reflection on understanding human nature.”

The Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, saw this as a breakthrough.

“What changed in rhetoric,” he said, “was a real recognition that both sides had arrived at their views through serious study of scripture, theology, and modern understanding of human nature.”

Rev Chuck Robertson, a top adviser to Curry whose dossier includes relations with the Anglican communion, described Welby’s comments as “a game changer”.

“It shows that those who have gone beyond traditional teaching have done so with great care,” Robertson said. “This is something new – a corner was turned.”

Conservative bishops’ frustration with Welby increased in October when Monteith was appointed the new Dean of Canterbury Cathedral.

Although Welby did not personally make the appointment, he issued a statement expressing his delight at the choice made by a selection panel. Within days, the GSFA Steering Committee expressed its dismay.

The announcement “challenges the seriousness with which (Welby) intends to pursue fellowship unity,” the committee said. “We take offense at the Church of England’s injunction that a person in a same-sex fellowship be appointed to an office of spiritual authority over the flock of God’s people.”

A Rwandan bishop, Alexis Bilindabagabo of Gahini Diocese, said he condemned the ordination of gay priests because “weak” people should not stand at the pulpit.

“A gay man needs to be led, but he shouldn’t be leading others,” Bilindabagabo said.

LGBTQ activists say most Anglican churches in Africa are led by conservative priests, including many who refuse to even discuss homosexuality.

“For Uganda, the Anglican Church has almost played a leadership role on intolerance,” said Frank Mugisha, a prominent LGBT leader in the East African country where a legislature once introduced legislation that would punish some homosexual acts with execution.

In some cases, Mugisha said, Anglican priests are taking a tough stance over fears of losing their flock to more conservative evangelical groups.

Unlike other Anglican provinces in Africa, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa has considered allowing dioceses to practice same-sex marriages, although it has not yet done so.

The church is based in South Africa – the only African country to legalize such unions – and also represents dioceses in several neighboring countries. For many years it was led by the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was a staunch advocate of LGBTQ rights and leading enemy of apartheid.

The Church of Southern Africa has criticized Anglican leaders elsewhere on the continent who support tough anti-LGBTQ laws.

“It is evident that some of the draconian laws in some African countries do in fact constitute human rights abuses, and some Anglican bishops in those countries have openly supported those laws,” said Bishop Allan Kannemeyer, who heads the Diocese of Pretoria.

It is unclear what lies ahead for the Anglican Communion. GSFA leaders say in their October statement there could be an opportunity for conservative bishops to increase their influence if Welby does not take the lead in “protecting the doctrine of the church.”

This issue is likely to be the focus of the April meeting in Rwanda to which GSFA bishops have been invited. Hosted by the Global Anglican Future Conference – known as Gafcon – which brings together the Archbishops of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda and leaders of conservative Anglican entities that have already split from the Anglican communion, such as the Anglican Church in North America.

No one is expected from the Anglican Communion headquarters in London.

“Some in Gafcon see it as a biblical renewal movement, which is fine, but others see it as a rival to the Anglican Communion,” said Gavin Drake, the communion’s communications director. “There is growing frustration within the community with this ‘political wing’ of Gafcon.”

By the time they meet in April, Gafcon and GFSA members could be further angered by events inside the Church of England, whose general synod will meet in February to consider proposals on same-sex marriage that have developed through a lengthy discussion process. There is a possibility of an unprecedented vote allowing Church of England priests to perform same-sex weddings for the first time.

A significant development came in early November when Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford, became the Church’s first diocesan bishop to advocate for same-sex marriage. He published a 50-page essay urging the ban to be lifted and sent it to all members of the episcopal quorum.

At stake is the Church of England’s claim to serve society as a whole. His anti-LGBTQ stance “is leading to a radical shift between the Church of England and the culture and society we seek to serve,” he said.

Five other Anglican bishops have publicly supported Croft’s call for change.


Asadu reported from Abuja, Nigeria; Crary from New York and Pepinster from London. Associated Press writers Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda and Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg, South Africa contributed.


The Associated Press’s religion coverage is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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