On Monday, twelve Anglican archbishops published a remarkable letter officially denouncing the Church of England and the leadership of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The context of this growing rift in one of the world’s largest Christian denominations is the recent meeting of the Church of England’s General Synod and the decision to allow priests to bless same-sex marriages and civil partnerships. The archbishops’ rebuke is the first time such a large group of churches has rejected the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Church of England Capitulates on Gay Marriage
The Church of England’s General Synod spent two days of its February meeting debating proposals related to same-sex marriage. Significantly, the Church of England—which, in keeping with its name, is the official state church of England—has faced mounting political pressure for refusing to recognize same-sex marriage, which has been legal in England since 2014. Before February’s synod, some members of Parliament openly suggested using legislative means to force the Church to change its doctrine. “If the church won’t act, then parliament should give it a push,” one member of Parliament ominously suggested.
Ultimately, the Synod voted 250 to 181 to back a proposal that will permit legally married same-sex couples to receive official Church blessings and prayers. The wording of these blessings is currently under review but should be available this upcoming summer for priests who wish to use them.
Not surprisingly, the international media hailed the approved proposal as a “profound shift in [the] church’s stance on homosexuality.” But, in a reminder that the moral revolution will not be satisfied until every vestige of dissent is stamped out, some Synod members were upset that the proposal did not go far enough. After the vote, Jayne Ozanne, a member of the Synod who identifies as gay, said, “I am deeply disappointed by the way the conservatives have consistently sought to undermine those of us who sought to move towards a Church of England that could embrace a plurality of views on sexuality. By continuing to tell LGB people that they cannot hope to get married any time soon in their church or that their desire for sexual intimacy is sinful, we send a message to the nation that few will understand.”
Moral Clarity in the Global South
Within this context and ongoing friction within Anglican leadership, the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), which represents 75 percent of the worldwide Anglican Communion (including the churches in Africa, South America, most of Asia, and Oceania), released a letter on February 20, stating that the Church of England has “disqualified herself from leading the Communion as the historic ‘Mother’ Church” by its approval of blessings for same-sex couples. Referring to these blessings as an “innovation in the liturgies of the Church and her pastoral practice,” the GSFA leaders decried what they see as a clear deviation from the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. Moreover, they scolded Archbishop Welby, pointedly saying they no longer recognize him as a “first among equals” because of his work on the proposals that were passed.
In their statement, the GSFA leaders admit that the “unity of the visible Church” is important but that “our calling to be a ‘holy remnant’ does not allow us to be ‘in communion’ with provinces that have departed from the historic faith and taken the path of false teaching.” The Global South leaders will meet in April to “reset the Communion on its biblical foundation.”
At a time when many Christian denominations are reversing, revising, and rethinking their teaching on marriage and sexuality, the GSFA leaders have offered a breathtaking stand for biblical orthodoxy. The moral clarity of their statement is almost without parallel. The Bible’s teaching on marriage, as outlined in Genesis 1 and 2 and Ephesians 5, leaves no room for same-sex marriage. Moreover, the Bible leaves no possibility for recognizing homosexuality as anything but a deviation from God’s design for human sexuality (see Rom. 1, 1 Cor. 6:9, and 1 Tim. 1:10). It is not merely an “innovation” of biblical teaching to claim Christians can bless same-sex marriage, it is an inversion of the truth and calls something that is sinful “good” (Is. 5:20). Christians can no more offer a blessing to same-sex marriage than they can celebrate anything else the Bible condemns as contrary to God’s will (see also CBMW’s Nashville Statement).
A final statement from the GSFA leaders that deserves attention is when they write, “The Church of England is the ‘historic first’ province, but now that it has departed from the historic faith the responsibility falls to the remaining orthodox Primates.” It is difficult to recall a comparable statement that matches the moral clarity and courage of what the GSFA leaders are saying here. Within Anglicanism, the Church of England is the oldest and most important church of the Anglican Communion. Thus, to allege that the Church of England “has departed from the historic faith” is no small statement. But the Church of England’s halfway decision to “bless” same-sex marriage while not performing actual weddings shows that complete capitulation is only a matter of time.
Christian Marriage Is Foundational
Finally, the GSFA leaders have rightly recognized that marriage and human sexuality are not secondary or tertiary matters on which Christians can agree to disagree. The Bible’s teaching on marriage and what it points to—Christ’s relationship with His church—is so foundational to Christianity that to deviate, obfuscate, or confuse what God has revealed through His Word on the subject is to compromise the gospel itself. In other words, the church has no choice but to remain faithful to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.
While the General Synod earlier this month left many Anglicans and non-Anglican Christians frustrated, the recent letter by the GSFA leaders is a promising development. Whereas the Church of England has sown confusion, Anglican leaders in the Global South are stepping up to reassert leadership in their denomination. While it remains to be seen what will unfold, Christians everywhere should pray for a resolution that safeguards “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
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