Welby ‘juggling the impossible’ as he faces criticism after gay blessings vote

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The Archbishop of Canterbury has been praised for “juggling the impossible” following a controversial vote on same-sex blessings which saw an organisation representing some Anglican churches question his fitness to lead.

The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) criticised the passing of a motion to allow blessings of same-sex couples in civil partnerships and marriages by the Church of England’s General Synod on Thursday.

Justin Welby spoke a number of times during a two-day debate on the matter, and recognised there is “very painful” disagreement on the issue within the church.

He has welcomed the blessings, which are unlikely to come into effect before the July Synod, but said he will not personally carry them out due to his “pastoral responsibility for the whole communion”.

Speaking on a failed amendment requesting that the primate of each province of the Anglican Communion be consulted about the potential impact of the proposals before they would come into effect, he said: “I’m genuinely torn by this.

“The differences we have here are small compared to those with many around the communion. This isn’t just about listening to the rest of the world, it’s caring.

“Let’s just be clear on that. It’s about people who’ll die.”

The final motion which was voted through included a successfully carried amendment which stated there had been no change to the doctrine of marriage, which the Church of England still maintains can only be between a man and a woman.

In a statement following the vote, the GSFA, which said it has 25 Anglican provinces belonging to or associated with it, said: “The Church cannot bless in God’s name the union of same-sex partnered individuals, much less sexual relationships between same-sex persons which in God’s Word He declares to be sinful.

“The role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in leading the House of Bishops to make the recommendations that undergird the motion, together with his statements, alongside the Archbishop of York, and the Bishop of London leading up to the General Synod, cause the GSFA to question his fitness to lead what is still a largely orthodox, world-wide Communion.”

Mr Welby, who is attending the Anglican Consultative Council in Ghana, did not directly respond to the GSFA statement and it is understood the he is keen to let the debate speak for itself.

Professor Helen King, from the Open University and a member of the House of Laity in the synod, said the GSFA should have been reassured by the amended motion.

During an online briefing with the Religion Media Centre on Friday, she said: “I’m quite surprised at the reactions today from the Global South (fellowship) because the fact that we passed that amendment, saying that the final version should not be contrary or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England on marriage, I would have thought would reassure them.”

She said Mr Welby is “trying to hold together these very different roles to the Church of England and to the wider Anglican Communion and that’s a big juggling act”.

She added: “I think he’s doing really well on it. And I think you know, he needs our prayers because he’s juggling the impossible.”

Comedian Sandi Toksvig revealed last month that she had met Mr Welby and concluded that it was “very clear” that opposing factions of the worldwide Anglican Communion were being “in part held together at the expense of the human rights of the LGBT+ community”.

“It’s not okay. And I said so,” she said.

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