Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby addresses General Synod delegates during the debate on gay marriage at The Church House on Feb. 8, 2023, in London. / Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images
St. Louis, Mo., Feb 23, 2023 / 10:12 am (CNA).
A group of religious leaders representing a significant portion of the world’s Anglicans voted this week to reject the leadership of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby after the Church of England’s governing body in early February voted to bless same-sex couples.
The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), composed of 14 of the 25 Anglican provinces in areas such as Africa and Oceania, issued a statement Feb. 20 accusing the Church of England, of which Welby is senior bishop, of breaking communion with the provinces who remain faithful to a biblical view of marriage as being between one man and one woman.
The GSFA leaders say Welby, by overseeing the incorporation into the Anglican liturgy of blessings of same-sex unions, has thus forfeited his position as “first among equals” leader of the global Anglican Communion.
“Given this action by the Church of England’s General Synod, we believe it is no longer possible to continue in the way the Communion is. We do not accept the view that we can still ‘walk together’ with the revisionist provinces,” the GSFA’s Feb. 20 statement continues.
“With the Church of England and the archbishop of Canterbury forfeiting their leadership role of the global Communion, GSFA primates [head archbishops of each province] will expeditiously meet, consult, and work with other orthodox primates in the Anglican Church across the nations to reset the Communion on its biblical foundation,” the group said.
Since the formation of the Anglican Communion in 1867 — which is composed of 42 Anglican churches throughout the world — the archbishop of Canterbury has been considered the global communion’s spiritual and moral leader, though he has no binding authority.
Welby and Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell announced Feb. 9 that the Church of England will “publicly, unreservedly, and joyfully welcome same-sex couples in church.” This comes after the General Synod of the Church of England, made up of bishops, clergy, and laity, voted 250-181 to approve the offering of blessings to same-sex couples in civil marriages, while leaving unchanged the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
Following the vote, the GSFA said it “deeply regrets” the decision, charging that it “goes against the overwhelming mind of the Anglican Communion.” It was skeptical of the claim that the Anglican doctrine on marriage had not changed, citing the principle that “Anglican liturgy expresses its doctrine.”
The GSFA, which was established in 1994, claims to represent a large majority of the world’s Anglicans — as much as 75%, or about 64 million Anglicans. The GSFA is chaired by Archbishop Justin Badi, primate of South Sudan.
A spokesperson for Lambeth Palace told the BBC that it “fully appreciates” the GSFA’s stance but added the “deep disagreements” among Anglicans over sexuality and marriage are long-standing and that reforms in one province do not affect rules in the others.
Though debates over same-sex marriage have existed in Anglicanism for decades, the Anglican Communion was significantly fractured in 2003 when the U.S.-based Episcopal Church voted to ordain as a bishop V. Gene Robinson, a gay man in a same-sex relationship.
Church of England leaders met with other members of the Anglican communion last summer at the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference, in which the hierarchy discussed questions related to sexuality and same-sex marriage. Welby concluded at the time that the majority of the clergy affirms the teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman, though some members disagreed.
Some Catholic leaders, especially in Western Europe, have also pushed for the blessing of same-sex couples. With the assent of Pope Francis, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in March 2021 ruled that the Catholic Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions. Though the congregation recognized the “sincere desire to welcome and accompany homosexual persons,” it explained that God “does not and cannot bless sin.”