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Archbishop Welby's Communion Dilemma

Archbishop Welby's Communion Dilemma


By David W. Virtue
April 2, 2013

The installation is over. He is the new king of the Anglican castle. His agony has only just begun.

Rowan Williams left before his time because of irreconcilable differences in the Anglican Communion that he could not resolve. A decade of bitter infighting between orthodox Global South archbishops and pro-gay Western pan Anglican archbishops did him in.

Now we have an evangelical on the throne of Canterbury and at the helm of 77 million Anglicans. But it will not be an easy ride; in fact it could turn out to be the worst ride of his life despite saying all the right things, appointing a Director of Reconciliation, and hoping, presumably against hope, that he can make it all work.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, said Shakespeare.

Almost immediately following his consecration, Canon Phil Ashey of the American Anglican Council wrote a compassionate but hard hitting column asking Welby why other North Americans, including the Presiding Bishop of TEC and the Primate of the ACoC, the Rector of Truro, and others were invited to the enthronement - but not the Archbishop of the ACNA (Robert Duncan)? What signal does that send to the members of the ACNA and to the leadership of the GAFCON Anglican Churches, who represent a majority of Anglicans in the worldwide Communion, and who recognize the ACNA?

Making it very clear that he was imputing the best of motives, Ashey honed in by asking, "Help me understand why there has been, apparently, no meaningful engagement with the leadership of the ACNA, given that they are one of the parties to the 'Anglican wars?' Clearly you are engaging publicly with the leaders of TEC and ACoC. How does the lack of engagement with the leadership of ACNA square with the processes of "reconciliation-as-detoxification?"

Ashey concluded by saying that it is precisely this faith that has been undermined and challenged by the unilateral actions of North American leaders from The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) by, among other things, consecrating actively practicing homosexual and lesbian bishops and authorizing same-sex blessings - contrary to the Bible, apostolic and catholic teaching, and the teaching of the Anglican Communion on human sexuality, marriage and holy orders (Lambeth Resolution 1.10 1998).

This week Russian Orthodox leader Metropolitan Hilarion warned the new head of the Church of England about the possibility of allowing female bishops, saying it could break the unity among the churches.

The Church of England narrowly rejected allowing women bishops last November, while congregations in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada all allow female bishops.

In a message to Welby, Hilarion, head of Synodal Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, said that allowing female bishops would lead to the elimination of the theoretical possibility of the Orthodox Church recognizing the hierarchy of the Anglican Church.

"We know that the Anglican Church is now going through a difficult time and various views, positions, and parties co-exist in it," Hilarion said. "However, we really hope that the traditional understanding of Christian morals and the church system will prevail in this polemic."

A full endorser of women bishops, Welby has given off uncertain signals about homosexual couples he has met. He told a gay journalist, Iain Dale, that he would be "open to discussions" on how gay marriage could work in a way that is acceptable to the Church.

He also said he is "quite uncomfortable" talking about same-sex marriage and is "still thinking my way through" the issue. He also said in comments to The Sunday Times that bringing in gay marriage would be a "weakening of the glue that holds society together". Then he said this, "Throughout the Bible it is clear that the right place for sex is only within a committed, heterosexual marriage."

Last week Archbishop Welby was accused of "wobbling" over the Government's plans to redefine marriage.

It is this kind of waffling that scares the living daylights out of Global South archbishops.

It is why, on the Friday following the enthronement, the three primates of Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda excused themselves from a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury which was attended by other Primates from the Global South. They are wary of him.

Let's put that in perspective. These three provinces make up nearly HALF the membership the Anglican Communion. There are 20 plus million Nigerian Anglicans, 4.5 million Kenya Anglicans, and over 10 million Uganda Anglicans for a grand total of nearly 35 million.

The Archbishop of Kenya, Eliud Wabukala, the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, and the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, had all attended the inauguration service on the previous day. But they left before the Friday meetings between Archbishop Welby and Global South Primates.

A spokeswoman for Lambeth Palace said that the Primates had "commitments" in their various provinces, and had to leave Canterbury soon after the service to catch flights. The other Primates "spoke on behalf of the absent Primates" at the meeting with Archbishop Welby, she said.

Dr. Wabukala, who is chairman of the conservative Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) Primates' Council, had a "very good private meeting" with Archbishop Welby before he left Canterbury.

In an interview, Archbishop Welby said that he intended to adopt a "relationally based" approach to the FCA and the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). "We've got to find good ways of listening to what they have to say, and them listening to what others have to say."

The Primates of Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda signed a letter that was delivered to Archbishop Welby on the day of his inauguration. It was also signed by the Primates of Rwanda and of Sudan, and the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone of America.

The letter said in part: "We are grateful for this opportunity to worship in Canterbury Cathedral and be reminded of our historic faith that is grounded in the revealed Word of God. We encourage you to stay true to the 'faith once delivered to the saints', and as you do we will stand with you for the sake of Christ. We do look forward to a future opportunity to meet and discuss how we can work together."

Therein lies the problem. The issues are not primarily relational, they are doctrinal. The Global South primates will never sit down in the same room with Katharine Jefferts Schori because they believe she does not share the same faith as they do, especially about issues of sexuality about which the Bible is very specific. They refused to show up in Dublin and they won't show up again even with a new evangelical archbishop at the helm of the communion. It is not about Welby; it is about the faith. They reckon the US Presiding Bishop doesn't have one that they remotely recognize as she has sold out to pansexuality, denies the deity of Christ, refuses to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, says Muslims don't need converting to Christ and thinks the mission of the church is about ameliorating the world's problem through MDGs, The Five Marks of Mission without so much as a nod to the Great Commission to save souls.

Still and all, Welby has some capital that he can draw on, but the truth is it won't be enough to take to the bank if he gives off uncertain sounds about gay marriage.

Being the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England's head is not the same as being the titular head of the Anglican Communion. The bar is far higher. In Nigeria Anglicans have been, and continue to be, slaughtered for their faith, nobody dies for their faith in England. Wishy-washy sermons from countless liberal pulpits in the Church of England aren't worth dying for and nobody is going to machete you to death for saying Jesus is just one of many ways to the Father.

Welby has suffered through his own personal bereavements. This is in some measure why he has been called a "risk-taker and reconciler by nature" with his heroic efforts in Nigeria.

But the Church is not an oil company and this is not about friction between countries or tribalism gone mad. It is about the faith, a faith that has been under siege for more than a decade in the Communion. It finally erupted with the emergence of FCA/GAFCON and the formation of a new Anglican jurisdiction in North America. Relational feel good attitudes won't cut it with these tough African leaders.

Another pressing question is what will he do with the ultra liberal Anglican Consultative Council or ACC, one of the four "Instruments of Communion" of the Anglican Communion. It was created by a resolution of the 1968 Lambeth Conference. The council, which includes Anglican bishops, clergy and laity, meets every two or three years in different parts of the world.

The ACC has grown progressively more liberal over time, co-opting liberals to play important roles in its council. The penultimate Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion the Rev. Canon John L. Peterson specialty was manipulating Global South leaders, taking their cell phones from them at Kanuga so they couldn't talk to each other and pushing liberals into every slot he could find. His successor is Canon Kenneth Kearon who has done his mistress's (Jefferts Schori) bidding in order to keep the funds flowing and making sure that only token conservatives are to be found on commissions and committees, thus guaranteeing that his liberal paymasters will never be offended.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is ex officio the President of the Council. He could change things. Will he?

The truth is Welby is besieged on all sides. He is going to have to decide one way or another whose side he is on. The Global South will not let him sit in the middle for long. They are going to demand to know where he stands on core issues and what he will do with US and Canadian primates. He will also have to reconsider what he will do with the ACNA. He will not be permitted to do what Williams did and tell ACNA Archbishop Bob Duncan to simply apply to the ACC. That will go nowhere as the ACC would turn him down in a heart beat.

Even if he allows the next chairman of the Primates Council to be drawn from among the Primates and they begin to change things, how will he take the loss of power that comes with that? If he takes it graciously, things could change for the better.

Meantime, Welby's honeymoon will be short. His kairos moment is coming. The Anglican Communion will be watching to see which way he goes. The Global South will be looking and listening with the greatest intensity. The future of the Anglican Communion hangs on his decision.


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