Rip it up and start again? Church meeting will not solve splits

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A landmark conference of Anglican church leaders will do little to solve deep splits which divide the institution, a Goldsmiths expert has said.

Dr Abby Day, Reader in Race, Faith and Culture in the Department of Sociology, said the Primates 2016 meeting taking place in Canterbury will result in “irreconcilable differences” and a “possible walk-out” by Bishops of the Anglican Communion.

She concludes that it may even be worth the church leaders from 38 countries simply giving up on global homogeneity – and letting the worldwide churches “go their separate ways”.

Dr Day, who edited the recently-published work Contemporary Issues in the Worldwide Anglican Communion: Powers and Pieties said: “Leaders of Anglican churches worldwide are becoming a little hot under their collective clerical collars this week. Bishops of the Anglican Communion -  a network of Anglican churches in 38 countries -  are meeting in Canterbury.

“Bets are that there will be at least irreconcilable differences, and probably a semi-staged walk-out by Bishops of the Global South.

She added: “The main disagreement is over same-sex relationships: the conservative wing of the church and the Bishops in African countries are wholly opposed. Underlying this is a theme of colonial struggles for power.

“The ‘Anglican Communion’ is a colonial-era invention of 1867 consisting of 38 member churches, or ‘Provinces’ worldwide, of which three-quarters are based in former British colonies. It is not the Anglican church, or the Church of England, whose roots go back to Henry VIII.

“The last time the Bishops all got together was 1998 when they agreed to a series of appalling statements condemning homosexuality. Times have changed, but only just. While those of the apparently liberal north can criticize those in the global south for being homophobic, UK bishops opposed legislation allowing same-sex marriage.”

The meetings, in Canterbury Cathedral, have been described as a “last throw of the dice” to save the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Most Rev Justin Welby called the leaders of the 37 other national Anglican churches around the world for a crisis meeting in Canterbury in an attempt to bridge the divide between liberal conservative branches over issues such as sexuality

The 85 million-strong family of churches has effectively been in schism for the last 13 years since the US branch of Anglicanism, The Episcopal Church, ordained its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Traditionalists said this amounted to an abandonment of Biblical teaching and accused the Americans of heresy.

Dr Day said: “My edited collection Contemporary Issues in the Worldwide Anglican Communion: Powers and Pieties contains 14 chapters written by experts on topics from gay rights to domestic violence. What is clear is that there is no consensus, no single voice.”

Dr Day added: “That’s why the ripples and schisms affecting this week’s conference are no surprise. It may be time to forget the idea of global homogeneity and allow the churches to go their separate ways.

“With regular church attendance in the UK falling below one million people, it may also be time to ask what relevance there is for Bishops to be holding seats in the House of Lords.”

Primates 2016 will conclude on Saturday 16 January 2016.