The Church of England is at risk of an unprecedented schism as conservative Anglican leaders gather to discuss forming a “parallel” church in protest against women bishops and gay marriage.
Evangelical leaders from the US and across Africa are meeting in London this week to consider a revolutionary plan to turn their backs on the Archbishop of Canterbury. The meeting will “chart the future of global Anglicanism” and could back the creation of a new evangelical church opposed to the liberal direction of the Church of England, which would cater for conservative Anglicans in Britain.
The move away from the “mother” church is being debated by the seven-man leadership of the Global Anglican Futures Conference (Gafcon), which was formed in 2008 to bring about a return to “authentic Anglicanism”.
The socially conservative body – which is against female bishops and has been accused of homophobia – calls for an end to “secularism” in the mainstream Anglican Church, and is expected to make a commitment to defend the “essential truths of the biblical faith”. This could go as far as ordaining new church leaders.
Gafcon declined to comment, but in an Easter message, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, a member of the Kenyan clergy and chairman of the Gafcon council, made clear that the global Anglican faith needed to be restored to “biblical truth” in the face of attacks from Islamic radicalism and “an increasingly intolerant secular culture”.
His intervention came a month after Gafcon supporters courted controversy in Britain by condemning an initiative which let Muslim worshippers hold prayers in a central London church. Archbishop Wabukala said the event, which was praised by cross-faith leaders, was a sign of the “struggle” and “crisis” developing in the Church of England. Mainstream members of the Anglican Church have described the planned establishment of a rival church as an “act of piracy” that will “cause confusion among Britain’s Anglicans”.
The move to establish a parallel church comes six months after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, warned church leaders that the diversity of the worldwide Anglican community “may be too much to manage”. Speaking in November, after the vote to allow women bishops, he denounced tribalism within the Church, which he said was causing “deep divisions”.
Last night, however, he declined to comment on speculation that the Church of England was facing schism. Some conservative Anglicans believe a formal split will not occur as long as the Church of England maintains its formal opposition to gay marriage. Andrea Williams, director of Christian Concern, which campaigned against gay marriage legislation and has promoted controversial gay aversion therapy, said: “The Bible is clear about what marriage is and the church has not gone soft on that issue. But, if it were to, that might be the red line in the sand.”
Linda Woodhead, professor of sociology of religion at Lancaster University, said: “Gafcon are paper tigers, who love to roar and get a reaction but there is no substance to them. The congregation of the Church of England – in its personal morality – is increasingly liberal. And there is nothing Gafcon can do about that.
“They already have their churches at home to impose their views on homosexuality, but they don’t have the money to set up here and pay clergy.”
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