After he anoints the King next month, Justin Welby’s thoughts will perhaps turn to his own future. If Anglican gossip is to believed, Welby plans to step down to make way for a new Archbishop of Canterbury once the new Supreme Governor has been crowned. You could hardly blame him for wanting a quiet life: the divisions within the Church of England are more acute now than at any time since he was enthroned ten years ago.
Ever since February, when the C of E’s parliament, the General Synod, voted to introduce blessing services for same-sex couples, conservatives have been up in arms. The Church of England Evangelical Council, an umbrella body for the large and energetic evangelical wing, has announced that it feels ‘compelled to resist’ a policy which, if introduced, would represent ‘a departure from the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures’.
Welby’s problems are not limited to England. After the Synod’s decision, a group of 12 Anglican archbishops from the conservative Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches issued a statement saying they no longer recognise the C of E as the ‘mother church’ of Anglicanism nor Welby as the ‘first among equals’.
Church leaders in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria have threatened to break from the Anglican Communion entirely. ‘History is about to repeat itself,’ said Archbishop Henry Chukwudum Ndukuba of Nigeria. ‘The Anglican Church is at the threshold of yet another reformation, which must sweep out the ungodly leadership currently endorsing sin, misleading the lives of faithful Anglicans worldwide.’
Welby says he is ‘extremely joyfully celebratory’ about same-sex blessings, but will not personally conduct any such services: an attempt at fence-sitting which, according to the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans – a global network of conservative Anglican churches – has ‘violated his consecration vows’ to defend Christian doctrine.