Conservative Anglican leader breaks ranks: 'We are not walking together'

A conservative Anglican leader has broken rank to launch an attack on fellow Church heads around the world, saying: 'You have to either be a relativist, pluralist or there's no place for you' in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Greg Venables, Archbishop of the South America, was among 34 heads of Anglican provinces around the world to attend a meeting in Canterbury last week. But in comments released by the traditionalist grouping GAFCON, of which he is a part, Venables offered a different reflection from that given by the Archbishop of Canterbury and other officials.

REUTERS/Antony NjugunaArchbishop Greg Venables was re-elected as the new Primate of the Anglican Church of South America after previously holding the role from 2001-2010

At the end of the week-long gathering, a communiqué from the meeting described it as a 'gift from God' and restates the leaders would 'walk together' despite deep differences over issues such as same-sex marriage.

Justin Welby declared 'business as usual' and said primates had 'arrived feeling beleaguered and left feeling uplifted' as the talks mainly focused on issues other than sexuality which, he said, 'has not been the case for 20 years'.

The Archbishop of Hong Kong, Paul Kwong, who has attended the previous five meetings, said it was the best he had ever been to not because everyone agreed but because everyone was committed to walking together.

But Venables, who left half way through the week, denied this and said 'we aren't walking together because the situation has not been dealt with'.

In comments released on Monday he said: 'What was identified clearly in the meeting is that some aren't walking together, some are walking together but at a distance, and some are walking together.'

In a critique of the 80 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion Venables said it had 'lost touch with the plain truth as revealed in Scripture, and that's a tragedy, but we've gotta keep on being there proclaiming it and speaking it. Not walking away, but not pretending either that we are walking together with people who are ignoring the plain truth of Scripture, even though they might appear to be orthodox.'

His comments differed markedly from those of the Archbishop of Kenya, Jackson Ole Sapit, who is also a member of the GAFCON primates' council. He called on his fellow conservatives 'constructively engage' in an interview with Christian Today earlier in the week.

'There are a whole range of areas that the Church is doing beautifully in and it can do even more when it is strong, when it is united because you can have a stronger voice than when we are disintegrated.'

He added: 'We can influence society, we can be able to able to influence decisions, even internationally, when we are together.

'But divided we shall be weak.' 

During the meeting the primates agreed to issue 'consequences' to the Scottish Episcopal Church for their decision to permit clerics who want to marry gay couples to do so. The de facto sanctions mean Scottish delegates cannot vote on key decision making within the Anglican structures nor represent the wider Anglican Communion.

But Venables went on to criticise the lack of 'Church discipline' and appeared to call for a more stringent and hierarchical system to punish provinces.

Unlike the Catholic Church there is no one head of the Anglican Church with each province independent and the Archbishop of Canterbury considered 'first among equals' with the other leaders.

'Maybe the Anglican way doesn't have a way of doing this,' said Venables calling for stricter discipline. 'Maybe that is what we just have to accept. The problem is part of the role of Church leadership is discipline. If we cannot exercise discipline when people wander away from the truth, then the Church cannot function as the Church, and that's where the wheels have dropped off.'

He went on: 'Certainly there is a need for leadership to exercise discipline. And we haven't found it.'

He added: 'One of the messages from the Primates Meeting was it's "business as usual." Things haven't changed. This is how it's going to be, and that saddens me deeply.'