Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury
Anglican leaders from around the world are set for a showdown this week that could see the church split apart over the issues of gay clergy and same-sex unions.
Thirty-eight Anglican primates are currently taking part in a critical summit in the English city of Canterbury.
Conservative Anglicans, many of whom are from Africa, are taking a stand against those in the church who support a more welcoming stance towards homosexuality.
Conservative Anglicans have mobilised under the banner of the GAFCON movement, which believes that it represents the authentic Anglican voice.
In a post published on the GAFCON website on Friday, Dr. Foley Beach, Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, wrote that what was at stake in the meeting “is the souls of millions of people who are being taught a false Gospel and are being led into spiritual and sexual bondage under the pretence of the Christian Faith.”
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has done his best to keep the divisions papered over but after repeated threats of a schism, this week could finally lead to some churches leaving the global mother body, known as the Anglican Communion.
Another possible result of the week-long meeting could see the communion remaining intact, but in a looser fashion than before.
There are already visible cracks. The Church of Uganda has resolved to not participate in the gathering or any official meetings of the Anglican Communion “until godly order is restored.”
In an interview with the BBC, Welby said that “there is nothing I can do if people decide that they want to leave the room.”
He urged Anglicans to avoid becoming fixated on matters of sexuality, but to instead focus on “huge issues that are affecting people around the world: conflict, persecution, religious violence.”
Welby added that, “A schism would not be a disaster… God is bigger than our failures; but it would be a failure. It would not be good if the Church is unable to set an example to the world of showing how we can love one another and disagree profoundly.”
Divisions in the Anglican Church erupted in 2003, when Gene Robinson was elected the Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the US Episcopal Church. This made him the first openly gay, non celibate priest to be ordained as bishop in a major Christian denomination.
There are an estimated 86 million Anglicans around the world, with around 50 million in Africa alone.