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“Lord have mercy upon us all”

Anglicans around the world are getting fed up with the progressive Church of England and its bishops

Members of the General Synod of the Church of England gather at Church House in central London, to consider an LGBT measure on Feb. 9. James Manning/PA via Associated Press

“Lord have mercy upon us all”
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Late last week, the Church of England voted to allow its clergy and bishops to bless same-sex marriages. Whatever technicality the church thinks matters in making such a distinction, the Church of England still does not technically marry people in same-sex marriages. A commentator for the BBC recognized the obvious cognitive dissonance. “It may sound contradictory to vote to bless same-sex marriages, but still consider them as unions that defy Church of England doctrine, said BBC religion editor Aleem Maqbool, “but that after five years of consultation is the formula that’s been settled on.”

According to the measure, same-sex couples can now “come to church after a civil marriage or civil partnership to give thanks, dedicate their relationship to God and receive God’s blessing.”

The senior prelates in the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, made it clear they viewed the change as a vehicle for welcoming same-sex couples into the church—eventually without restriction. For the first time, they declared, “the Church of England will publicly, unreservedly, and joyfully welcome same-sex couples in church.” Although the church stopped short of formally changing its doctrines, the vote—led by the Church of England’s most progressive bishops—was recognized by the majority of worldwide Anglicans as another departure from Biblical teaching and the historic practice of the church. Indeed, that’s what it is.

Over the last three decades, the Church of England’s growing heterodoxy has been a source of concern for bishops in the Global South. Largely African and South Asian, the bishops watched with concern as the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Church of England led Anglicanism in the developing world to embrace hyper-partisan political causes and, more worrisomely, the sexual revolution.

Anglicanism is becoming more conservative and more global. Sidelining Canterbury only reinforces that point.

Bishops in poorer and less developed countries have traditionally treated the archbishops of Canterbury and York with studied courtesy because of the historicity of their offices—Thomas Cranmer, the Reformation Era archbishop of Canterbury, was one of the first Protestant martyrs in England. These “global South” bishops also respect the Church of England’s role in founding Anglican churches in the territories of the former British Empire. Goodwill towards the Church of England, however, has reached a breaking point, and orthodox bishops are closing ranks to defend biblical teaching and the historic practices of the church.

Bishops representing a majority of the world’s Anglicans caucus together in a group called GAFCON, the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. They issued a statement immediately after the Church of England’s vote. “The Church,” declared the bishops, “cannot 'bless’ in God’s name the union of same-sex partnered individuals, much less sexual relationships between same-sex persons which in God’s Word he declares to be sinful.” In an unprecedented move, they publicly called into question the archbishop of Canterbury’s fitness to lead the Anglican Communion. The tradition of treating the Church of England as a first among equals, it seems, is coming to a close because of a “widespread loss of confidence in her leadership of the Communion.” Conservative bishops from around the world agreed to meet to consider the archbishop’s status.

Removing the Church of England from a preeminent place in the Anglican Communion is, in many ways, an inevitability. Western churches in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States are withering demographically even as they become more heterodox. The functionally largest Anglican church in the world is the Church of Nigeria, and the churches of Uganda, Kenya, South India, and South Sudan, all have more communicants than any Western Anglican province. Anglicanism is becoming more conservative and more global. Sidelining Canterbury only reinforces that point.

In the United States, the small but conservative Anglican Church in North America participates in GAFCON and remains steadfastly committed to biblical teaching on sexuality. Its primate, Archbishop Foley Beach, wrote “with a heavy heart” as he observed what he called “the continued crisis of leadership and faith coming” in the Church of England. “Once again, our Western Anglican Provinces continue to ‘go their own way’ on matters of faith and practice without consultation or concern for the majority of Anglicans around the Global Communion.” The actions of the Church of England “not only deny holy practice, but reject the authority of Scripture, the teaching of the historic church, and the consensus of the Body of Christ from every tribe, tongue, people and nation alive today.” For conservative Anglicans in North America, the choice is clear, says the archbishop. “We cannot follow the Church of England down this path which leads to spiritual and moral bankruptcy. Lord, have mercy upon us all.”

Miles Smith

Miles Smith is a lecturer in history at Hillsdale College. His area of interest is the intellectual and religious history of the 19th-century United States and the Atlantic World.


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