(RNS) — A conservative splinter group opposed to same-sex marriage announced the formation this week of a new Anglican diocese in Australia, triggering an apparent split in the church in that country. The launch of the Diocese of the Southern Cross prompted the head of the Anglican Church of Australia, Primate Geoffrey Smith, to issue a statement Thursday (Aug. 18) characterizing it as a “new denomination.”
“This company, while established by some members of the Anglican Church of Australia and structured to mirror some of the characteristics of an Anglican diocese, has no formal or informal relationship or connection with the Anglican Church of Australia,” Smith said in the statement. Smith could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
Glenn Davies, former archbishop of Sydney in the Anglican Church of Australia, was appointed as bishop of the new diocese Thursday at the Gafcon Australasia Conference, a gathering of conservative Anglicans from Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific that met in Canberra, Australia, this week.
“This is a sad day, in many ways,” Davies told The Guardian. “If the leadership would repent and turn back to the teachings of the bible, we wouldn’t need the Diocese of Southern Cross. I’d shut it down and come back.”
This split is the latest in a series of fissures over LGBTQ inclusion that have bifurcated Anglican denominations in New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and the United States.
According to its website, the Diocese of the Southern Cross views itself as a “separate and parallel Anglican Diocese” bound by theology, rather than geography. The number of churches in the diocese remains unclear, but the Australian-wide group promises on its website to “hold to biblical convictions” and hopes “many new Anglican churches will be established.” Leaders of the new diocese could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
The diocese is a byproduct of GAFCON — the Global Anglican Future Conference — a conservative movement within the Anglican Communion formed in 2008 to “retain and restore the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion,” according to its website.
Leaders of the Australian iteration of GAFCON have been planning on launching a conservative Anglican diocese since at least 2021 in response to the Anglican Church of Australia’s murky position on same-sex marriage.
In 2020, the highest court in the Australian Anglican Church, the Appellate Tribunal, allowed clergy to bless same-sex civil marriages. In May of this year, a motion celebrating same-sex marriage failed to pass at the Anglican Church of Australia’s General Synod but won support from nearly 40% of voters. Bishops at the General Synod also voted against a statement defining marriage as only between a man and a woman and condemning same-sex marriage blessings, but approved a separate resolution recognizing that the denomination’s marriage rites currently affirm marriage as between a woman and a man.
“The issue for us is the authority of the Bible,” Richard Condie, chair of GAFCON Australia, said in a statement. “The decisions at the recent General Synod, the 2020 Appellate Tribunal opinion that opens the way to blessings for same-sex marriages, and the watering down of standards of behaviour in changes to Faithfulness in Service are examples of this. The Diocese of the Southern Cross provides an Anglican home for those who feel they need to leave their current Dioceses.”
Smith, the primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, said it’s “perplexing” that the leaders of the Diocese of the Southern Cross are departing, given the General Synod’s affirmation of traditional marriage and failure to recognize same-sex marriage. Yet members of the new diocese appeared to believe that did not go far enough in condemning same-sex marriage, saying a “majority of bishops” at the General Synod “were unable to uphold the Bible’s ancient teaching on marriage and sexual ethics.”
“My conviction is that the Anglican Church of Australia can find a way to stay together, graciously reflecting God’s great love, with our differences held sincerely,” the primate wrote. “This week’s announcement makes achieving that end more difficult but not impossible.”