Archbishop of Canterbury calls ‘crisis’ talks to prevent global Anglican split over gay rights

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called together Anglican leaders from across the world, to attempt to prevent a split over gay issues.

The Anglican Communion is an international alliance of churches including the Church of England and a number of other Protestants around the world – with an estimated combined 80 million members.

However, while the Church of England is relatively moderate when it comes to gay rights, a number of other churches within the global Anglican Communion remain militantly opposed.

There have long been fears that divides the more liberal churches and others within the Communion – particularly African churches who reject the teachings on gay rights – could provoke a schism.

The Communion’s last global meeting – the 2008 Lambeth Conference – faced boycotts from African bishops over openly gay members attending – and the head of the Episcopal Church in the US previously admitted that the next Conference was postponed indefinitely over similar fears.

Today the Archbishop, who acts as head of the Communion as well as the Church of England, called for a special meeting of Communion Primates, in a bid to save the global Christian alliance from disintegration.

The Archbishop told the BBC: “I have suggested to all primates that we need to consider recent developments but also look afresh at our ways of working as a communion and especially as primates, paying proper attention to developments in the past.

“The difference between our societies and cultures, as well as the speed of cultural change in much of the global north, tempts us to divide as Christians: when the command of scripture, the prayer of Jesus, the tradition of the church and our theological understanding urges unity.”

His language is less frank than his words last year, when he admitted: “I think, realistically, we’ve got to say that despite all efforts there is a possibility that we will not hold together, or not hold together for a while.”

Leaders from across the Communion have been invited to the gathering, from 11-16 January 2016 in Canterbury. The Archbishop says it will be a chance for the leaders ‘to reflect and pray together concerning the future of the Communion’.

However, analysts say he is unlikely to press for a unified pro-gay stance, and will likely instead concede a loosening of ties.