Church of England bishops head for showdown on marriage for same-sex couples

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, speaks during the 2022 Lambeth Conference. Photo/Neil Turner for the Lambeth Conference

By Catherine Pepinster for Religion News Service

It’s a headline that could have run at any time in the past three decades: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the primate of the Church of England and the ceremonial head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, attempts to balance conservative and progressive views on LGBTQ affirmation in the name of church unity.

For years, archbishops have sublimated their own views, knowing that challenging traditional teaching would threaten the church’s and the Communion’s existence. Not challenging it, however, has made for problems among churches in liberal democracies.

Now, this long-running story might be coming to an end.

This week, the bishops of the Church of England are meeting to finalize proposals to be submitted to a meeting in February of the governing body of the church, the General Synod, about marriage for same-sex couples. The document they will be discussing, “Living in Love and Faith,” focuses on many topics under the rubric of love and marriage, but it is same-sex relationships that are the most neuralgic.

The meeting comes as support for marriage for gay couples is growing within the church, most notably among evangelical members of the episcopate who have long opposed it. But if the bishops choose to recommend changing doctrine, they know that it will have consequences far beyond England’s shores in the broader Anglican Communion.

Last summer, at the Anglican Communion’s bishops’ meeting known as the Lambeth Conference, the current archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, tried to mollify conservative bishops by reaffirming a 1998 declaration that gay sex is a sin, while reassuring liberals by saying he would not punish national churches in the Communion that allow priests to marry same-sex couples. Conservative bishops from the global south called Welby’s refusal to discipline churches over gay marriage “a lamentable position,” but none threatened to leave.

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