Are you already dreading Christmas, on account of having to host relatives who hardly bother hiding how much they hate each other? Well spare a thought for Justin Welby, who will host a big powwow of global Anglican leaders in January – many of the Anglican primates he will host don’t bother hiding their mutual antipathy at all.
He is doing the brave and right thing, trying to agree a new looser model of communion, in which the 38 provinces declare themselves in communion with Canterbury, but not necessarily with each other. Such a move would confirm the current situation as the new normal, which is definitely the least worst option. Welby reportedly admits that there is a large chance of creating a permanent schism. A Lambeth Palace aide elaborated: ‘If that happens, the whole thing goes completely pear-shaped, it will pull apart large chunks of the Church of England fairly quickly, particularly the more conservative elements’. But the damage is likely to be limited while he, an Evangelical, is in charge. The C of E’s Evangelicals trust him.
But even if this goes well, the core problem remains for the Church of England: its conservative position on homosexuality is hampering its mission to largely liberal Britain; it must overturn the ban on gay priests. How can it do so without finally alienating the African primates? It probably can’t: when the reform finally comes, in a few years perhaps, the conservative provinces will presumably fully cut their ties with Canterbury. The question is whether a lot of the C of E’s Evangelicals will go with them. To prevent this, can the Church maintain an aura of cautious, third-wayish moderation on homosexuality? In fact I think this is possible. It’s possible due to the recent rise of gay marriage as a big issue. The Church can pursue a middle way by opposing gay marriage, while dropping its ban on gay clergy. This is its narrow way of keeping the crisis over sexuality at bay. It must be as cunning as a snake, as Jesus advised.