The leader of a global group of traditional Anglicans has condemned the Church of England for “compromising with the secular preoccupations of the West” in an attack that significantly ratchets up the latest fallout between liberals and conservative over the thorny issue of homosexuality.
Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, the Primate of Kenya and the leader of the influential Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, made the comments in a statement reacting to the recent decision by the Church of England to lift the ban on gay but celibate men becoming bishops.
The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans represents conservative congregations in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia who are vehemently opposed to same sex unions and gay clerics. They formed four years ago and threatened to break away from the global Anglican Communion if openly gay men continued to be welcomed as clerics in more liberal dioceses such as the United States and Britain.
Their threats to create “a church within a church” were dampened last year when the Church of England, which is the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, signalled that there would be a moratorium on any gay men being appointed bishops in their dioceses. But the row has erupted once more after senior bishops announced that they were now lifting that ban.
Dr Wabukala, who remarried last year following the death of his first wife, hit out at that decision in a tersely worded statement released today. “It is a great sadness that before the New Year has hardly begun, the life of the Anglican Communion has yet again been clouded by compromise with the secular preoccupations of the West,” he said.
In a stark message he warned that the move would make “restoring unity to the Communion an even greater challenge” raising the spectre once more of the group he represents splintering from the main Anglican Church.
A renewed international row among the world’s 80million strong Anglican Communion is a major headache for the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. He will need to decide whether to carry on the policies of his predecessor Rowan Williams – a man who desperately tried to keep the international traditionalists inside the Anglican “big tent”. Welby himself has spent significant periods of time in Africa and will know how implacably opposed to gay rights many church leaders are in countries with prominent Anglican congregations such as Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda.
At the same time liberal dioceses will continue to push for greater equal rights for gay clergy. This weekend in the United States the Anglican Church’s first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, retired after almost ten years. His appointment as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 was the spark that lit the initial row over gay bishops. During a recent appearance on Jon Stewart’s Comedy Show, Bishop Robinson said he believed Jesus would have approved of loving and committed same sex unions.
“Here’s a guy who, in a culture that virtually demanded marriage, was a single guy, spent most of his time with twelve men, singled out three of them for leadership and one of them is known in the Bible as ‘the one whom Jesus loved,” he said.
Today’s statement from the Archbishop of Kenya’s illustrates the particular concerns that many conservatives have over even celibate gay men becoming bishops. The Church of England has insisted that any openly gay cleric will be subject to searching questions about the extent of their celibacy – something liberals have decried as discriminatory because unmarried heterosexual clerics are not subjected to the same tests. Many traditionalists, however, say they simply don’t believe that celibacy is monitored properly.
“It is common knowledge that active homosexuality on the part of Church of England clergy is invariably overlooked and in such circumstances it is very difficult to imagine anyone being brought to book,” Dr Wabakula stated. “It cannot be right that [gay men] are able to enter into legally recognised relationships which institutionalise and condone behaviour that is completely contrary to the clear and historic teaching of Scripture.”
Other conservatives, however, have encouraged their theological allies to be more welcoming of the ban against gay but celibate bishops being lifted. Peter Ould, a London-based priest and prominent orthodox blogger, said conservatives should accept that those who are celibate are living up to the church’s teachings on gay sex and should instead concentrate their efforts on making sure church leaders enforce that celibacy.
“If conservatives want to lay out some grounds for conflict and draw their lines in the sand, wouldn’t it be better to concentrate on those responsible for enforcing discipline and Biblical pastoral care rather than those caught in the cross-fire over this issue?” he said.
Meanwhile prominent liberals have continued to decry the insistence that gay clerics should be required to be celibate. Giles Fraser, parish priest of St Mary’s, South London, told The Independent: “Celibacy has always been a vocation in the Church. It is something that is chosen, not imposed. Could you imagine that life being imposed upon people?”
However he downplayed the idea that the Church of England would split over the issue of homosexuality if a gay bishop was eventually consecrated.
“The church is not as brittle as people think,” he said. “The church is more like a family than it is a political party. You have people who hold wildly different views who still hold together because they are a family.”