The archbishop of Canterbury has acknowledged the near-impossibility of a divided global Anglican church reaching a consensus on issues of sexuality, after he faced sharp criticism for affirming a 1998 declaration that gay sex is a sin.
Addressing more than 650 bishops from around the world at the once-a-decade Lambeth conference, Justin Welby said: “We are not at liberty to choose who are our brothers and sisters… We should seek with passion the visible unity of the church. But that is very difficult, because so often it will lead to criticism in our society.”
Welby felt the full force of such criticism this week when the broadcaster and author Sandi Toksvig accused him of putting the lives of LGBTQ+ people at risk after he stated that the controversial 1998 declaration was “not in doubt”.
Following Toksvig’s open letter to the archbishop and his “finely frocked gang”, Welby agreed to her suggestion that the pair meet to discuss the issues.
On Friday, in his second keynote address to the conference, held in Canterbury, Welby said the 85 million-strong global Anglican church must be a place of “revolution without violence”, standing up for justice and challenging the “selfishness of the rich” .
The church must not “tolerate what’s wrong because it fits the culture or we have always done it that way, or because our lawyers say so. We are to remain revolutionaries”.
As climate change “wreaks havoc around the world”, he raised the prospect of the rich withdrawing behind “high, armour-protected walls”.
Welby has sought to focus the global gathering on issues such as the climate crisis, inequality and conflict, but the rancorous issue of sexuality has remained central.
The conservative Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, which claims to represent 75% of all Anglicans, said it “cannot accept a plurality of views on essential truths”.
Justin Badi, the archbishop of South Sudan, told a press conference on Friday: “We [the Global South] represent the global face of Anglicanism. We sound the clarion call to return to biblical faithfulness.”
The global church could not “go on limping between two different opinions”. Orthodox bishops were “duty-bound to God not to ‘live and let live’ under the guise of simply walking together in continuing dialogue with those who have departed from the way (or path) of truth”, he said.
Meanwhile, 170 archbishops and bishops issued a statement affirming the “holiness of LGBT+ people’s love”. Many LGBT+ people had been “historically wounded by the church and particularly hurt by the events of the past few weeks”.
Jayne Ozanne, a prominent campaigner for LGBT+ equality within the church, said she was “overwhelmed with the level of support and concern … for the global LGBT+ community”.
Ozanne added: “We now need to look at practical ways to help educate people about matters of sexuality and gender identity, and to share the theological basis that has led so many to affirm and celebrate same sex relationships.”
The broadcaster and Church of England cleric Richard Coles said the archbishop of Canterbury’s job was “very tough”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “He has to try to hold together a [global church] in which there is a huge diversity of views. Many of the churches take a very conservative line, and there are a growing number of churches which take a more liberal line. He has to somehow try to find a way of holding that together.”
Welby’s position was “invidious”, he added, with the post of archbishop of Canterbury being one which almost always “devoured the holder”, he said.