The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a Pope

There’s currently a petition doing the rounds demanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York make some kind of statement deploring the support the Church of Nigerian (Anglican Communion) has given to recent anti-gay laws. Similar calls have been made in regard to Uganda.

I’m refusing to sign it. We should not make that demand of Archbishop Justin, it is entirely misplaced.

The first place that people in the UK should go to with objections about the Nigerian anti-gay legislation is their MP, with a demand that the Foreign Office exerts further pressure on Nigeria.

To demand that the Archbishop of Canterbury discipline or criticise Nigerian bishops is unhelpful because it plays right into the idea that the Archbishop of Canterbury has some kind of papal role within the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a Pope and we would be wise not to treat him as though he is.

I get very cross if Archbishops of Canterbury make statements about Scotland. I’ve been very hot under the collar when they’ve made statements about Scottish Independence, for example without reference to the Scottish College of Bishops. Indeed, I took a sharp intake of breath when I heard that the Church Commissioners of the Church of England have been buying up land in Bishop John’s Diocese of Edinburgh to use for wind farms.

Primates commenting on the political affairs of another country is always going to undermine collegial relationships amongst bishops and we should never impute authority to archbishops that they don’t have within our polity. One Anglican church meddling in the affairs of another’s patch is a serious business indeed.

It is particularly the case that US Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans need to be very wary of demanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury should interfere in Nigeria. Do they want the same thing to happen to them when the wind blows in the other direction? When it happened in the past, did they think it was legitimate?

The Archbishop of Canterbury may well be making contact with the Nigerian church in private. Indeed, I’d be surprised if he were not. The demand that he rebuke that church in public is misplaced.

Having said that, any bishops who are members of the House of Lords might well add their voices to those of other parliamentarians supporting the statements that the UK government is making in relation to the way LGBT people are treated abroad, particularly in Nigeria or Uganda. The relevant statement from the Foreign Secretary is here: Increasingly, I suspect that there will be a moral focus on the Church of England which is sharpest in parliament rather than in Synod. That Church seems to have departed from the morals of decent people in England and parliament is probably the place where that will play out. However, that is to digress and perhaps for another day.

Incidently I think that the Archbishop of York is in a different position to that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He might well be expected to say something regarding Uganda but not because he is an Archbishop but because he is Ugandan. One suspects, given his lack of support for gay rights in this country that we might be waiting quite a while for him to offer much support to gay and lesbian Ugandans back in that country though.

And locally, what about Scotland? Well, we’ve a personal connection with Uganda in that our Primus, the Most Rev David Chillingworth went to the consecration of the Most Rev Stanley Ntagali as Archbishop of the Church of Uganda. I thought that he was unwise to attend this event. However it now presents him with the opportunity of speaking as an episcopal friend of that country and saying clearly that when proposals are made to kill gay and lesbian Ugandas, lock up gay and lesbian Ugandans for life or risk a exacerbating the AIDS pandemic by making it impossible for gay and lesbian Ugandans to assemble and distribute information then these proposals are unacceptable. Support for such proposals from the Church of Uganda alienates that Church from Christian fellowship around the world.

It is not unreasonable to expect David Chillingworth to do this for two reasons – firstly that he personally chose to go to Uganda and associate himself with that country and secondly because no-one would mistake him for a pope.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is another matter altogether.

Oh, and whilst I’m thinking about it, the Anglican Communion Office is another legitimate place where pressure could and should  be applied. It is perfectly reasonable to ask the Secretary General to comment on the business of the churches of the communion. It is particularly important that we state often and loudly that there can be no “indaba” process with churches who are encouraging the oppression of LGBT people.

None at all.


  1. Kenneth Law says

    This is a thoroughly flawed point of view. Your argument is that there should be no condemnation of the abhorrent behaviour of the Nigerian church towards LGBT people in order to preserve some semantic distinction about Archbishop of Canterbury’s position? Because you think it would be impolite? If you’re so worried about it damaging the Church of England’s relationship with the Nigerian Church then my question is simply: what relationship is it you’re maintaining? One of condonation of its discrimination? That doesn’t sound like a relationship worth preserving.

  2. I’m not arguing that there should be no condemnation of the behaviour of the Nigerian church towards LBGT people. Indeed, I’ve condemned it often myself.

    What I’m saying is that using the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury to do this is counterproductive and plays right into the hands of those who want an Archbishop of Canterbury who can discipline and correct the US and Canadian churches. (To say nothing of the Scottish Episcopal Church). We simply should act as though the holder of that office has that power.

  3. Bro David says

    I’m not in accord with your thinking for the very reason that the ABC, while not a Pope, is supposedly an Instrument of Unity in the AC (of which York is not.) And being in communion with the ABC is one of the recognized forms of being a constituent member province of the AC.

    I’m not in accord that any punishing is to be going on. I find that there is no authority for such action on the part of the ABC with regard to other provinces. But I believe that +Justin should speak out on the moral issues of this highly unChristian behavior being commended and promoted by these provinces and I think that he should speak out swiftly and loudly.

    +York I have as much use for as I do a sack of rotted potatoes. 🙁

  4. Well, even as I was writing this, it was overtaken by events.

    The Archbishops have written to all Primates of the Communion.

  5. It is worth saying, that I’d be horrified if the English Archbishops wrote to the Scottish Primus to remind him of section 18 of the same Communique that they are now quoting at Nigeria.

    “18. In the meantime, we ask our fellow primates to use their best influence to persuade their brothers and sisters to exercise a moratorium on public Rites of Blessing for Same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage.”

    Those who demand things of Archbishops should beware of what they wish for.

  6. Andrew Cain says

    I note that the Archbishop calls for the ‘best we can offer – pastoral care and friendship’ to LGBT people. Not equal rights. Not acceptance. Not freedom from persecution, suffering and death. Shame on him and on our supine and morally bankrupt leaders.

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