Disagreements over whether or not to recognize same-sex unions have formally divided the Church of England.
After the Church of England’s General Synod voted to offer prayers and liturgies at civil marriages, leaders of Anglican churches across the world announced they will no longer recognize the leadership of the head of the church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches said permitting same-sex marriages makes the C of E “disqualified” from being the religion’s “mother church.” The conservative coalition, which includes church leaders from South Sudan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, represents 35 million Anglicans.
“I respect the Archbishop of Canterbury but the decision of his own province has disqualified him as the leader of the Anglican Communion,” said Archbishop Justin Badi of South Sudan, who serves as the chairman of the GFSA, to Premier Christian News. “How can he lead the Anglican Communion where his own province has a plural view about the major doctrine of the Church on marriage?”
Badi said members of the GFSA, which includes branches of the C of E in Asia and Latin America as well as Africa, would no longer “work with the revisionist provinces.”
“We will only try to encourage those who stand firm within those provinces, so that they continue to stand for the true Biblical faith and propagate that, and call for repentance to those who have gone astray,” he said.
The bishops of the GFSA represent about 25% of the global Anglican community, per ABC News.
Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria Henry Ndukuba told the media that allowing same-sex blessing was “deviant” and that the C of E was experiencing a “terrible decline, loss and irrelevance in the secular and post-Christian western world.”
“The C of E has departed from the Anglican faith and are now false teachers,” said Stephen Kaziimba, the archbishop of Uganda.
The General Synod said the Feb. 9 decision to offer blessings to same-sex couples was a way to “lament and repent” its failure “to welcome LGBTQI+ people and for the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced — and continue to experience — in churches.” While the vote permits blessings, it does not permit Anglican priests to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Same-sex civil marriages are already recognized by the Episcopal Church of America, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Episcopal Church of Brazil.
Welby accepted the results of the vote but publicly said he will not personally offer same-sex blessings “for the sake of the unity of the global Anglican church,” per The Guardian.
“For the first time, the Church of England will publicly, unreservedly and joyfully welcome same-sex couples in church,” Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell said in a joint press release. “The Church continues to have deep differences on these questions which go to the heart of our human identity.”
“As Archbishops, we are committed to respecting the conscience of those for whom this goes too far and to ensure that they have all the reassurances they need in order to maintain the unity of the Church as this conversation continues,” Welby and Cottrell added. “We hope that today’s thoughtful, prayerful debate marks a new beginning for the Church as we seek a way forward, listening to each other and most of all to God.”
The Guardian also noted that, while meeting with global church leaders in Ghana after the legislative body’s vote, Welby said, “I was summoned twice to parliament and threatened with parliamentary action to force same-sex marriage on us.”
The Anglican church has adopted more progressive stances on gender in recent years.
The C of E is currently exploring a proposal to stop using male pronouns to refer to God in favor of gender-neutral alternatives. Senior church officials have also said there is “no official definition” of a woman.