The Anglican Communion has promoted a compromise on same-sex marriage. But can the compromise hold in the future?

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The issue of sexuality and same-sex marriage created controversy at the start of the 15th Lambeth Conference, where the churches of the Anglican Communion meet every decade. The issue of same-sex marriage has become divisive inside the communion, which is chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Currently, only a small number of churches in the communion conduct same-sex marriages, though Archbishop Welby appeared to take a pragmatic approach to the debate.

In a pivotal speech, Welby reaffirmed a resolution passed by the Lambeth Conference in 1998 labeling same-sex marriage wrong, adding that “homosexual practices” are incompatible with scripture. However, Archbishop Welby went on to say that those churches that moved away from this historical teaching would not be sanctioned or condemned.

How Anglican churches will walk together along this middle way before the next Lambeth Conference convenes in ten years remains to be seen. The fastest growing provinces within the Anglican Communion tend to be the most conservative on issues pertaining to human sexuality. That could set up a battle over how same-sex marriage in the future, potentially when the church is even more conservative.

The Archbishop of Canterbury lacks the power of the Roman Catholic Pope to issue papal edicts. But as the historical center of the seat of Anglicanism, the Church of England can influence other churches in the Anglican Communion by their example. There is some evidence that the church is liberalizing on some issues. The presence of close to 100 women at this year’s conference compared to 11 at the last Lambeth Conference can be attributed in large part to the Church of England approving women bishops. Until the Church of England grants equal rites of ordination and marriage to LGBT members in good standing, they lack such influence on this matter.  

Despite these tensions, some bishops posted online about their experiences of camaraderie among both liberal and conservative bishops. For example, the Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel, Bishop of Olympia, wrote on his blog about how this conference exemplified the “beautiful middle way” that defines Anglicanism, while also noting the other issues addressed at this conference such as creation care and climate justice. Along those lines, The Rt. Rev. Bonnie Perry, Bishop of Michigan, posted on her diocese’s website, “We are all siblings in Christ and I commit myself and I hope you will join me in walking together, listening and learning from our friends from around the world.”

As a freelance writer with dual MDiv/MSW degree from Yale Divinity School and Columbia University, I focus on the rise of secular spirituality, religious satire, spiritual health & wellness, faith...

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