The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted that a divided global Anglican Church is almost impossible to reach agreement on issues of sexuality after he faced sharp criticism for confirming a statement from 1998 that homosexuality is a sin.
Addressing more than 650 bishops from around the world at the Lambeth Conference once a year, Justin Welby said: “We are not free to choose who are our brothers and sisters … We should passionately seek the visible unity of the church. But it is very difficult, because so often it will lead to criticism in our society.”
Welby felt the full force of such criticism this week when the broadcaster and writer Sandi Toksvig accused him about putting the lives of LGBTQ+ people at risk after he said the controversial 1998 statement was “not in doubt”.
Following on from Toksvig’s open letter to the archbishop and his “small-clothed gang”, Welby agreed to her suggestion that the pair meet to discuss the issues.
On Friday, in his second keynote address to the conference held in Canterbury, Welby said the 85 million global Anglican Church must be a place of “non-violent revolution”, standing up for justice and challenging “the selfishness of the rich”. .
The church must not “tolerate what is wrong because it fits the culture, or we have always done it that way, or because our lawyers say so. We must remain revolutionary”.
As climate change “wreaks havoc around the world”, he raised the prospect of the rich retreating behind “tall, armored walls”.
Welby has tried to focus the global assembly on issues such as the climate crisis, inequality and conflict, but the vexed issue of sexuality has remained central.
The conservative Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, which claims to represent 75% of all Anglicans, said it “cannot accept a plurality of views on essential truths”.
Justin Badi, the archbishop of South Sudan, told a press conference on Friday: “We [the Global South] represents the global face Anglicanism. We heed the call to return to biblical faithfulness.”
The global church could not “keep limping between two different opinions”. Orthodox bishops were “obligated to God not to ‘live and let live’ under the guise of simply joining in continued dialogue with those who have strayed from the path (or path) of truth,” he said.
Meanwhile, 170 archbishops and bishops issued a statement affirming “the sanctity of the love of LGBT+ people”. Many LGBT+ people had been “historically hurt by the church and particularly hurt by the events of the past few weeks”.
Jayne Ozanne, a prominent campaigner for LGBT+ equality in the church, said she was “overwhelmed by the level of support and concern … for the global LGBT+ community”.
Ozanne added: “We now need to look at practical ways to help educate people about issues of sexuality and gender identity, and to share the theological foundations that have led so many to affirm and celebrate same-sex relationships.”
The broadcaster and Church of England cleric Richard Coles said the Archbishop of Canterbury’s job was “very tough”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “He’s got to try and hold one together [global church] where there is an enormous diversity of viewpoints. Many of the churches take a very conservative line, and there is a growing number of churches that take a more liberal line. He has to somehow try to find a way to hold it together.”
Welby’s attitude was “spooky”, he added, and the post of Archbishop of Canterbury was one that almost always “swallowed up the holder”, he said.