Hopes of healing broken relationships in the Anglican communion over issues of homosexuality were further dimmed at the weekend with the decision of the Church of England to approve gay bishops in its order.
Primate of all Nigeria, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, was one of the first African leaders of the church to comment on the development.
According to Archbishop Okoh who heads one of the largest provinces of the Anglican Communion in the world, with a strength of about 20 million members the affirmation of gay bishops “could very well shatter whatever hopes we had for healing and reconciliation within our beloved Communion,” Reuters reported.
Okoh added that the Church of England has given into “the contemporary idols of secularism and moral expediency,” and that it is “one step removed from the moral precipice we have already witnessed in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada.”
Last week, the House of Bishops of the Church of England announced that it had internally decided to allow gay clergy to serve as bishops if they promise a life of celibacy, even if they are in a same-sex civil partnership.
“All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England. But these, along with the candidate’s suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case,” the Right Rev. Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said in a statement.
The Rev. James further explained that the presiding members deemed it would be “unjust” to ban gay clergy from serving as bishops if they lived their lives full in accordance with the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics and personal discipline.
Conservative Anglicans protested the decision, however, saying that it broke from traditional stances and that it should have been voted on in the Church’s General Synod, where all bishops would have had a chance to vote on the issue.
The Anglican Communion has been divided greatly over the issue of homosexuality. The Anglican Church of Canada began blessing same-sex couples in 2002, while the U.S. Episcopal Church ordained in 2003 the Rev. Gene Robinson as the first-ever gay bishop. The Church of England had remained moderate on the issue, allowing gay clergy to serve while defending the traditional definition of marriage – but its recent turn to allow gays to move to the highest episcopate rank has been firmly opposed by African church leaders who remain conservative in their positions.
Other African Anglican leaders who have spoken out against gay bishops include the Rev. Stanley Ntagali, the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, which has about 8 million Anglicans.
Ntagli said that the Church has taken “a significant step away from that very gospel that brought life, light, and hope to us.”
“This decision violates our biblical faith and agreements within the Anglican Communion,” the Ugandan church leader said. “This decision only makes the brokenness of the communion worse and is particularly disheartening coming from the mother Church.”
Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, the Primate of Kenya and the leader of the influential Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, added that the Church of England had compromised “with the secular preoccupations of the West,” the Independent noted.
All this means that the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Justin Welby, has a lot of work in order to bridge the growing divide in the Anglican Communion. Welby has stood behind the Church in its opposition to the U.K. government’s plans to legalize same-sex marriage, but he has also promised to “listen very attentively to the LGBT communities.”
“I am always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us. Above all in the church we need to create safe spaces for these issues to be discussed honestly and in love,” Welby has said.
Nigeria’s Primate Nicholas Okoh was also quoted as saying: “When the Church of England failed to exercise its legal and moral right to opt out of the civil partnerships legislation in 2005 warnings were given in England and around the Anglican Communion that this was a first step towards the recognition and institutionalization of behavior contrary to the plain teaching of scripture and reaffirmed for all Anglicans by the 1998 Lambeth Conference in its Resolution 1.10.
“Sadly those warnings were ignored and we now face the next step in a process that could very well shatter whatever hopes we had for healing and reconciliation within our beloved Communion.
“We are also grieved by the timing of this decision coming only days before the retirement of Archbishop Rowan Williams and before Dr Justin Welby becomes the new Archbishop of Canterbury.
“We urge the House of Bishops to reconsider their decision so as to allow for a full, prayerful and sober reflection on the call on all clergy, especially bishops, to live holy lives and not encourage what are, at best, morally ambiguous partnerships that make it impossible for a bishop to be a wholesome example to the flock. Especially, since the supposed assurances of celibacy, while perhaps well intentioned, are both unworkable and unenforceable,” said Okoh.