Several Anglican bishops from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific said Monday that they no longer recognize Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby as their leader, deepening a rift within the global Anglican Communion over gay marriage.
Some bishops who belong to the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches said they no longer consider Welby to be the spiritual head of the global communion and do not regard the Church of England, which Welby heads, as the “mother church” of Anglicanism.
Earlier this month the Church of England’s national assembly, the General Synod, voted to let priests bless same-sex couples, while maintaining a ban on clergy conducting gay weddings. Same-sex civil marriage has been legal in Britain for almost a decade.
The synod’s decision was a compromise measure that came after years of wrangling about the church’s stance on homosexuality. Welby said he wouldn’t personally bless any same-sex couples because it’s his job to unify the 85 million members of the global Anglican Communion.
The dissenting bishops said the Church of England had “departed from the historic faith” and the synod’s decision ran “contrary to the faith and order of the orthodox provinces in the communion.”
The primates said they were “no longer able to recognize” Welby “as the ‘first among equals’ Leader of the global Communion.” The statement was signed by the Global South Fellowship’s chair, South Sudan Archbishop Justin Badi, and the archbishops of Chile, the Indian Ocean, Congo, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Uganda, Sudan, Alexandria and Melanesia.
The bishops represent about a quarter of the 42 member churches of the Anglican Communion.
The move brings a schism in the communion closer, but it’s not clear what happens next.
Welby’s Lambeth Palace office said in a statement that “no changes to the formal structures of the Anglican Communion can be made unless they are agreed upon by the Instruments of Communion.”
“The deep disagreements that exist across the Anglican Communion on sexuality and marriage are not new,” the statement said. But, it added: “In a world of conflict, suffering and uncertainty, we must remember that more unites us than divides us.”