Anglican archbishops meeting in Canterbury should "kick back, have fun, call it a family party and go back and do their stuff" because they are never going to agree on homosexuality, according to a leading academic specialising in the Anglican Communion.
Abby Day, reader in race, faith and culture at Goldsmiths, University of London, said the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion will never find a common way forward over homosexuality.
"If that means some people turn their back on each other, that's fine. The institution is well past its sell-by date. People have moved on and away from the issues that are splitting the Communion apart. It is unconscionable that people in the UK or the USA would demonise gays or support a state that said it was illegal. It is therefore impossible to compromise," she told Christian Today.
In her recent book, Contemporary Issues in the Worldwide Anglican Communion, Day warned that Church of England women in their 70s, 80s and 90s who she called "Generation A" are dying out and will not be replaced. She argued that these mothers and grandmothers of the Baby Boomers and the so-called generations X and Y, often described as the "backbone" of the Church, are the final active generation and unlikely to be replaced. Her warnings were made more credible by the release yesterday of the latest figures from the Church of England which showed weekly attendance had fallen below one million for the first time.
Day said: "There is discussion about whether this is going to be the last meeting, whether the Anglican Communion is going to fall apart. I think its important to remember the Anglican Communion is not the Church of England. It's a very informal body that was only created in 1867, the same year as the dominion of Canada. The Church of England goes back to Henry VIII."
One reason the Anglican Church in the North is declining so much is that it has failed to take account of women's needs and changing perceptions about women. All the 39 Primates meeting in Canterbury this week under the leadership of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby are men.
Day said: "They lost the Baby Boomer generation and having done that, lost the children of the baby boomers. Having done that, there's no way back. Not at all. That's why I say the women from Generation A, the silver-haired ladies, who did not want to be priests were the last active generation. Their daughters never continued in their pews or their shoes. Everything we know about religion is that it mainly occurs through family transmission. The core values of those women of Generation A loved and held precious, sacred even, are different from later generations. The Primates are all men. They are consumed by issues around sexuality rather than gender."
She said the decline in the Communion's fortunes reflects the decline of the British Empire. About three-quarters of the 38 Anglican provinces are in former colonies. The Communion maps roughly onto the Commonwealth. It is still seen as a colonial-era institution in many parts of the world.
Day does not think it has to be the end for the Communion, however.
"I do think it has a future if people recognise the shift in power from the North to the South. Power is now more in the South. What we hear are debates about homosexuality. This appears to be one of the divisive issues. But what I think it is also about is who is calling the shots. Maybe that's no longer the white man of the North."
She said things had moved on since the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution that set a conservative stance on the gay issue. "But we are not going to get agreement on this. I think they could be affiliated by spirit and interests but not necessarily by policy."
She predicted that those who want to move towards getting a consensus on homosexuality will fail. "They will then have to decide whether to accommodate it or force the issue that everyone has to sign up to the same doctrine. If they try to force that issue, I would expect some Primates would leave the meeting and seek to leave the Communion. But that's not a big deal."
More important, she said, was the power of the local. "Places where I have been in Sri Lanka, Lebanon, United States and Canada remind me of the power of the local. Even in the UK the local is important. Churches reflect a great deal from their local surroundings. The make-up of their local congregations in terms of class structure and ethnicity. When I visited some churches in Sri Lanka it was really apparent they had a very ecumenical outlook towards other religions. One church incorporated Buddhist children in their nursery. Another church used to welcome the local Tamil tea pickers to their lunches."