Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ departure at the end of the year as leader of the Church of England and Anglican churches around the world brings to mind the growing importance of Africans in the Anglican Communion and the other “mainstream” churches, particularly as African Anglicans are exploding in numbers.
Virtually all of the African Anglican churches see homosexuality as sinful, or, at best, profoundly irregular, and strongly oppose the ordination of gay priests and bishops. (South Africa is a notable exception.)
Reflecting the prevailing view in those countries that homosexuality is not a disorder or inherently sinful, Canadian and American Anglicans (Episcopalians) ordain and consecrate openly gay bishops and priests. While there is no consensus as yet, many of the members of both churches are sympathetic to gay marriage.
Opinion within the Church of England remains divided, and Archbishop Williams vetoed the consecration of an openly gay bishop, though his stance on sexuality has been considered liberal. Majority sentiment within the Church of England may be opposed to gay marriage. However, the current Conservative government says that it will legalize it.
Archbishop Williams has spent much of the last decade working against a possible schism between the African churches and particularly the Anglican churches in Canada and the U.S. over the core issue of homosexuality in the church. The issue remains for his successor.
The British press is already handicapping who the successor Archbishop Williams might be. At present, the favorite is the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who is Ugandan born, and is second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England. The Ugandan press is touting him as the “Ugandan head of the Anglican Communion.” Much of the British and African press are presuming that the Archbishop of York will be more sympathetic to the African perspective than his predecessor.
Selection of an Archbishop of Canterbury is a complex process that takes into account numerous factors, and the Archbishop of York has never had the automatic right to Canterbury. Despite the press handicapping, it is much too early to say who Archbishop Williams’ successor will be. But, if it is not the Archbishop of York, many Africans will be disappointed and may see it as yet another example of mainstream churches taking into account too little the explosive growth of Christianity in Africa.