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Anglican conference rows over same-sex marriage

By ANGUS McNEICE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-08-09 09:38
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Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. [Photo/Agencies]

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby admitted that maintaining unity in the Anglican communion has proved "very difficult", after a major church conference became embroiled in controversy over the issue of same-sex marriage.

Welby, who is the senior cleric in the Church of England, had hoped that a compromise on the church's stance on gay marriage would appease both bishops who are against it and those for it during the Lambeth Conference, which came to a close on Monday. The top-level meeting occurs once a decade, and this year, more than 650 bishops met to debate unity and identity among Anglicans.

In a statement to the bishops, who represent around 85 million churchgoers worldwide, Welby upheld a 1998 declaration that same-sex relationships are "incompatible with scripture" and that rightful marriage is "between a man and a woman". But he also stated that Anglican leadership would take no steps to reprimand congregations that chose to offer same-sex unions.

The church's reaffirmation of the 24-year-old declaration caused a public backlash and derailed Welby's efforts to focus the conference on other key issues, including climate change and wealth inequality.

British broadcaster and activist Sandi Toksvig called the decision a "shocking statement of exclusion" and said that discrimination and homophobia are linked to high rates of self-harm and suicide.

"This is a serious matter. The lives of LGBTQ+ people are at stake here," Toksvig wrote in an open letter.

Toksvig said that the church's stance against same-sex marriage would encourage conversion therapy, which is a practice that attempts to change people's sexual orientation.

In reply, Welby said that the church "vigorously opposes conversion therapy".

"The hatred and threats that you and so many in the LGBTQI+ people have experienced in the name of Jesus Christ are a sin," Welby wrote on Twitter.

"The Anglican Communion is a complicated global group of churches. We can talk about this when we meet."

The issue has highlighted a deep division within the church. Welby has previously estimated that 90 percent of Anglicans are conservative on the subject of same-sex marriage, and the church's leadership was forced to abandon plans to allow gay bishops to bring their spouses to the Lambeth Conference for the first time this year after numerous bishops threatened to boycott the event.

Meanwhile, following the reaffirmation of the declaration, a faction of bishops issued a statement saying: "LGBT+ people are a precious part of God's creation …We wish to affirm the holiness of their love wherever it is found in committed relationships."

As of Monday, 164 bishops had signed the statement.

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