Archbishop Justin Welby: ‘Reconciliation doesn’t always mean agreement’

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A procession at the start of the enthronement service of the Most Rev. Justin Welby as archbishop of Canterbury inside Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, on March 21, 2013. Photo courtesy Anglican Communion News Service/The Press Association

A procession at the start of the enthronement service of the Most Rev. Justin Welby as archbishop of Canterbury inside Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, on March 21, 2013. Photo courtesy Anglican Communion News Service/The Press Association

A procession at the start of the enthronement service of the Most Rev. Justin Welby as archbishop of Canterbury inside Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent. Photo courtesy Anglican Communion News Service/The Press Association

A procession at the start of the enthronement service of the Most Rev. Justin Welby as archbishop of Canterbury inside Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, on March 21, 2013. Photo courtesy Anglican Communion News Service/The Press Association

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) Various factions within the Anglican Communion are jockeying for position as bishops of the world’s third-largest Christian tradition gather in Canterbury for the start of a six-day meeting to discuss the future of their communion.

But averting a split may not be possible.

Archbishop Justin Welby said the 85 million-strong Anglican Communion would still be a “family” even if some national churches went their “separate ways.”

In an interview with the BBC’s Radio Four Monday (Jan. 11), he said he wants reconciliation, but he said “reconciliation doesn’t always mean agreement. … It means finding ways of disagreeing well.”


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On Sunday, 105 senior Anglican leaders sent a letter to Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu arguing that the Church of England has failed to care for LGBT Christians and calling on the church to “apologize for our part in perpetuating, rather than challenging, ill-informed beliefs.”

Meanwhile last week, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda told the media he would not attend the meeting so long as “godly order” was not established.

Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda said that unless "godly order," is restored he cannot participate in any official meeting of the communion. Photo courtesy of the Church of Uganda

Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of Uganda said that unless “godly order,” is restored he cannot participate in any official meeting of the communion. Photo courtesy of the Church of Uganda

Ntagali is part of the Global Anglican Future Conference, or GAFCON, which is no longer cooperating with the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Anglican Church of Canada because of their commitment to same-sex marriage as well as the ordination of gays and lesbians.

Most of GAFCON’s conservative prelates said they will travel to Canterbury because they received a personal invitation from Welby. But they may only attend a preliminary gathering.

The meeting has been convened by Welby to discuss how it might overcome bitter quarrels over LGBT inclusion as well as women’s ordination — quarrels that have brought the global communion to the brink of schism.

If unity is not reached, there is a growing fear that several of the larger African churches in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and South Sudan may bolt.

Those threats amount to what the head of the Canadian church, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, described as “the language of warfare.”

Also expected at Canterbury is Archbishop Foley Beach, the primate of the Anglican Church in North America, a rival group to the Episcopal Church. Beach, who was invited to Canterbury by Welby, will be there to support those Anglican churches opposed to LGBT inclusion.

Welby has floated the idea of persuading the global communion to stay loyal to the mother church in Canterbury, if not necessarily to one another. He will propose a looser federation as a way to keep the feuding churches united.

“A schism would not be a disaster,” Welby said. “God is bigger than our failures. 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 because we are brought together by Jesus Christ, not by our own choice, This isn’t a club, or a political party. It is something done by God.”

(Trevor Grundy is a contributor to RNS based in Britain)

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  • Mother Mary

    This is the natural consequence of three things, two of which are Protestant staples: schism and placing authority in a text that is not a human being or church group that interprets the text. Saying scripture is our sole authority is a ruse that places authority in whomever wants to interpret it. That’s not the structure Christ set up for us. The third, which is a consequence of the two, is placing such a high value on one’s opinion. Protestants have made their opinion their Christmas Star – which it is not because God has not invested that role in human opinion. So, it’s an idol and those who are so tied to opinion are idolaters.

  • Mother Mary

    Well said. We think our opinions are sovereign and Truth. It’s a lie, for what comes from Truth is true and, therefore, never our opinion.

  • Mother Mary, you sound like a scholar and I commend you, however the RC
    church has not exactly been without blame in it’s “colorful” history of “following”
    Scripture. Popes are human and as such can and do error, as they are human!
    They do not “drop from heaven” they exist in history and are capable of error.
    And “their” interpretation of Scripture, which I can only hope comes from a
    honest and loving understanding of what Christ said, would and should be
    open to an all who are part of God’s community, not simply one branch of it.

  • Observer

    Well said Noreen. No two Christians ever have the same understanding of God or his requirements. Mistaking the RC Church established by Constantine with the true Church is an ongoing point of confusion. The Roman Popes of the 16th century provided the world with many of their own illegitimate children, male lovers and lead a corrupt church which still has a number of issues to this day. Luther and others set out to correct the faults of the RC Church. Their efforts have had some impact on bringing the Roman Church back to the fold.

    Perhaps we should all focus on follow the ecumenical creeds and reconcile that way. We should not spend a lot of time fighting over other points or proclamations of theology since the creeds.

    Humans can only do their best to try and understand God’s will.

  • John McGrath

    Lol, why can’t we all get along? Well, we can’t. But we can learn to ignore each other when we can’t. That works, shuts up the fanatics on all sides. “Ignore” can mean expressing contrary opinions, engaging in debate/discussion, but not expecting others to change or even care, and not blaming/condemning them for disagreeing with us. Looks like that is where Welby is heading. Sensible man.

    Historically, in the Lowlands, the Catholic clergy, and the Protestant clergy, held that when they explained “the truth,” it was so self-evident that only malice could be the reason the previously ignorant but now informed could disagree. After a while it became clear that this was no way to run a society, especially if you were replacing inherited princes with princes of commerce. So they they agreed, relucatntly but effectively, to quietly tolerate each other.

  • John McGrath

    Actually fundamentalist Christians in the USA are now “a church of a thousand popes,” every preacher, thoughtful or ignorant, sincere or a shyster, is a pope to be followed unquestioned. But please, let’s not pretend that papal infallibility has gone undisputed throughout the seven sacrament tradition (Protestantism being the two sacrament position). Nor pretend that when a fallible pope digs in and pronounces some ridiculous “truth” (Pius XII, condemning contraception as against natural law; Pius IX condemning liberty and democracy as against natural law), it is really the Holy Spirit talking, unless the Holy spirit is confused. Pius IX’s condemnation of democracy was quietly set aside (not denied) by Pius XII. But of course that was part of an anti-Communist deal with the CIA. So it looks like either the Holy Spirit was wrong or was right on democracy but the curch would rather ignore that enlightenment.

  • Frank Schwimmer

    Most of GAFCON’s conservative prelates said they will travel to Canterbury because they received a personal invitation from Welby. They may only attend a preliminary gathering, but they won´t waste their time in meetings with those godless and corrupt bishops from ECUSA. ACC, and CofE. Instead, they´ll take advantage of the junket to the UK, paid with godless funds from ECUSA/CofE to go shopping and sight-seeing with their wives, wives´sisters, females personal assistants and secretaries…a trip to London is a trip to London and the opportunity cannot be wasted.

  • Margaret Sjoholm-Franks

    The thing is that Jesus, the founder of Christianity, NEVER said a single word about homosexuality, and if he possibly did it was not recorded. The Gospels have not a single reference about homosexuality.

    I am using the same principles that fans of biblical literalism use to justify everything

    How do you like them apples?

  • Jay

    Not only would a schism that leads to the exit of the hateful African Chruches from the Anglican Communion not be a “disaster,” as Archbishop Welby said, but it would be a positive benefit for the Communion, especially the Church of England itself. The African Churches have wielded disproportionate power over the Communion. The resources spent on these churches could far better be used in England and North America. Moreover, the Church of England has become increasingly remote from the English people as it has kowtowed to the back views of the African churches on such issues as human sexuality and same-sex marriage. Schism would be very welcome if it means that the influence of these hateful churches will no longer stifle the Communion.

  • Chris Vogel

    Almost all of the religious denominations and sects in existence today are–like AA chapters–the result of schism in an earlier grouping, based on disagreement of some sort. The main difference now, in the West at least, is that modern secular governments do not permit the conservatives to engage in their traditional practice of slaughtering the heretics in the cause of doctrinal purity. Sometimes it doesn’t last. In the largest US Protestant denominations (Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists), the congregations in the South split from those in the North in the 1850’s, so that the southerners could continue to support slavery, in general, and the right of slave-owners and traders to be clergy. The Methodists reunited in 1939 and the Presbyterians in 1983, but not the Baptists.

  • Rev. Neil

    Hi to all A lot of misunderstanding may be looked after if, you see what was said by Pope Leo X

  • Ben in oakland

    So, this week the ECUSA was effectively suspended from the Anglican Communion. It looks like Welby was wrong about that.

    Nothing says love so much as Doctrinal purity, doctrinal rigidity, and excluding the heretics.

    Apparently, there are only two sins in the African primate worldview, or two that need concern the Guys in the Pointy Hats. homosexuality, and coming in a distant second, treating women as equals.

    There is surely no heterosexual polygamy, divorce, and adultery in Christian Africa. Hetero polygamy is simply serial marriage without divorce, and so adultery isn’t really happening. And it keeps the women in their place.

    There is no corruption, no war, no famine, no sectarian and general religious war in Africa. There is plenty of time to make sure the uppity homos and uppity women are kept down, and that anybody who is remotely Christlike in demeanor
    And action are also marginalized.

    Onward, Christian soldiers, to the Pointy Hat Store!!!!

  • Fran

    Margaret,

    Jesus did confirm when he was on earth, as his Heavenly Father, or God, told our first parents, Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:24) that a man would leave his mother and father and stick to his wife and become one flesh. Jesus said this at Matthew 19:3-6, confirming marriage by his Father, who instituted it, as only between a man and woman. They are both on the same page concerning marriage and whom it should involve, since they are both one in unity and purpose, although being two separate persons.

  • Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Lord have mercy on us.