Archbishop of Canterbury calls church to unity, not unanimity as three African primates decline invitation
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby invited the primates of Rwanda, Uganda and Nigeria to reconsider their decision not to attend this summer’s Lambeth Conference during an online press conference held June 6.
“We have said very clearly to them if they walk through the door on the first day of the retreat, we will sing hallelujah and welcome them warmly,” he said.
Archbishops Henry Ndukuba of Nigeria, Laurent Mbanda of Rwanda, and Stephen Kaziimba of Uganda have exchanged several letters with Welby and his office in which they signal their intention not to attend nor send any bishops from their countries. The three primates are protesting against the practice of blessing same-sex marriages adopted by certain parts of the Anglican Communion, which they say should be ended without further dragging out the debate. Together, the churches of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda comprise about 20 million of the world’s 85 million Anglicans.
Welby had contended that while Christians may disagree on issues of practice, the best path was to continue in prayer and discussion. But the primates rejected his argument.
“Sadly, it is an example of virtue-signaling that condones evil by hiding behind endless prayer and discussion, thereby giving the impression that what is really laudable is the discussion rather than the decision to obey the clear word of God on the pressing issue of human sexuality and marriage,” the three wrote in their most recent letter.
At the press conference, Welby reacted to their wording. “I’m glad that they were clear and robust. I think that is only proper. It’s the only way we’ll understand each other.” He cited John 17:21 as his guiding principle for hoping that Christians who disagree continue to discuss their differences. Welby noted that in that passage, which takes place during the Last Supper, Jesus prays for the unity but not the unanimity of those who follow Him. “The only way can get to these points is by prayer and by being willing to be in engaged in contact with those with whom we disagree,” he said.
In fact, he added, the history of the church is built on bringing together very different people under the one belief that unites them. “In Acts 11:19, you find it was in Antioch they were first called Christians, because they were so diverse there was no other word that would describe them except the name of the person they followed,” Welby said. “The idea that scores of millions of people in 165 countries are ever going to agree on very much at all is an illusion. But we do agree that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Also speaking at the press conference, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, general secretary of the Anglican Consultative Council and former archbishop of of Kaduna, Nigeria, stressed that the three primates were not speaking on behalf of all the primates or bishops of Africa, many of whom have accepted invitations to this summer’s conference.
“We keep trying, praying and speaking with the individual bishops. We just wish [the primates] will allow individual bishops to make up their minds having discussed with their dioceses. I think the result would be different,” he said.
Within the ongoing debate, said Welby, the church has an opportunity to learn how to better hold respectful discussions on difficult, significant issues. He repeated several times throughout the conference that questions of how the church deals with sexuality are far from being matters of indifference.
“People feel passionately—and I agree these issues are of immense importance. And they want to make sure they are heard,” he said. “I don’t think the Church of England, once we go back a few generations, has a hugely meritorious history of allowing those it disagrees with to be heard.”
The Lambeth Conference, which is held roughly every ten years, will take place this year in Canterbury and London, England July 26-Aug. 8.