Welby ‘would rather see C of E disestablished than split over same-sex marriage’
The archbishop of Canterbury has said he would rather see the Church of England lose its privileged status as the established church of the country than risk the global church fracturing over disagreements on same-sex marriage, the Guardian has been told.
Justin Welby, who will crown King Charles in a religious ceremony in May, reportedly made the comment at a private meeting with about a dozen MPs at Westminster on Monday.
The MPs raised concerns about the prospect of the C of E offering blessings to same-sex couples who have legally married, but continuing to refuse them a church wedding.
Several MPs broached the question of whether the C of E should retain its status as the established church when it was out of step with the law of the land and with public opinion.
Welby replied that he would rather see the church disestablished than risk losing conservative groups within the global Anglican church, the Guardian has been told by people present.
A spokesperson for the archbishop said they did not recognise the comments attributed to Welby.
Disestablishment of the C of E would be a momentous break in a history stretching to the 16th century, and would lead to the church losing its reserved seats in the House of Lords.
The issue of marriage equality and LGBTQ+ rights has been causing deep and painful divisions within the C of E and the global church for four decades. Since same-sex marriage legislation for England and Wales was passed in 2013, the C of E has continued to refuse to allow same-sex couples to marry in church, and it is exempt under the Equality Act.
Next week the C of E’s legislative body, the General Synod, will consider a recommendation from bishops to allow clergy to bless same-sex civil marriages. Church weddings for same-sex couples will continue to be prohibited.
The bishops’ proposal was intended to be a compromise that would keep progressives and traditionalists from splintering from the church over the issue. But both sides have reacted furiously to the proposal. Progressives say the move would mean gay Christians are still second-class citizens in the church; traditionalists say it is a break with biblical teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.
A number of MPs have threatened parliamentary intervention unless the C of E aligns itself with the law. A cross-party group of about a dozen MPs met at Westminster on Wednesday to discuss possible next steps.
Tony Baldry, formerly the second estates commissioner, who answers questions in parliament on C of E matters, briefed the meeting on past interventions on the issues of female bishops and of divorcees being allowed to marry in church.
On Friday Welby will come face to face with opposition from sections of the global Anglican church to any acceptance of same-sex marriage when he begins a three-day visit to South Sudan with Pope Francis.
After Welby said he was “extremely joyful” at the prospect of church blessings of couples in same-sex marriages, Justin Badi Arama, the head of the Anglican church in South Sudan, accused him of “failing to defend biblical truth”.
Welby’s role as moral leader of the global church had been “severely jeopardised”, Badi said. “What the English bishops are recommending constitutes unfaithfulness to God who has spoken through his written word.” He accused them of “rewriting God’s law”.
A Lambeth Palace spokesperson said: “The Archbishop agreed to meet for a private conversation with MPs and it’s disappointing that some parliamentarians have chosen not to honour the terms of the meeting.
“We do not recognise the account of the private discussion as it has been leaked, which was much more nuanced and complex than how it has been described.”