Pity the poor Archbishop of Canterbury.

Like his predecessor Rowan Williams, Justin Welby finds himself twisting on the horns of a troubling dilemma.

As Cole Morton expresses it, Welby is on the

hook as the spiritual leader of 77 million Anglicans across the world with wildly differing views.


Moreton describes the conundrum confronting Canterbury.

The American bishops have just voted to allow gay weddings in church; but the African bishops are appalled, saying their beliefs and culture make it impossible to remain in communion with such people.

American bishops and the lay and clergy House of Deputies did not just vote to “allow gay weddings in church;” they approved same-sex marriage by overwhelming majorities.In the House of Bishops the vote was 129 in favour, 26 against, with five abstaining. The House of Deputies approved the resolution in a vote of 173-27. There is clearly strong support for this move in the governing bodies of the Episcopal church.

But, as Moreton points out the attitude of Episcopalians is not shared by Anglicans in all parts of the world. Moreton explains,

That puts Justin Welby in an agonised place, believing that to support gay marriage now would be to force a break from African believers at a time when they are being murdered for their faith. He has seen that for himself, standing beside the bodies of two dozen slain Christians in South Sudan, in 40C heat, with their grieving friends and relatives. “All you could really do was to weep with them. It was hugely painful.”

He came back and pleaded with bishops here not to move too fast too quickly on gay marriage. “I do believe passionately that unity is something we have to maintain,” he said privately, but this was not just some airy philosophical position. “I may be wrong, but I also believe that to take a step that means that people who desperately need our help – and who we can help – can’t take it [feel in their own culture that it is impossible to be helped by us] is something we can’t easily do.”

If Moreton has accurately represented the Archbishop of Canterbury’s position here, it seems to go something like this:

1. Certain members of the Worldwide Anglican Communion have made a decision they believe has been guided by the Holy Spirit.

2. Other members of the Worldwide Anglican Communion disagree.

3. The members of the Worldwide Anglican Communion who disagree feel they cannot stay in Communion with those who have made this grievous error.

4. Many of those who are breaking Communion with supporters of gay marriage, live in countries where their lives are threatened due to their Christian faith.

5. The support the wider Communion can offer these Anglicans whose lives are threatened due to their Christian faith will be hampered if Communion is broken.

6. Therefore those who believe God has called them to embrace same-sex marriage should wait until some undetermined future when either they give up believing their decision is correct, or those who believe God is against same-sex marriage change their minds.

It is a curious argument – don’t do something you believe to be right because it may cause people at risk to separate themselves from you, making it harder for you to help protect them from forces that seek their harm.

What kind of “unity” is this?