Conservative Anglican archbishops from Africa and Asia are plotting to create a new 'missionary' bishop to lead traditionalists in the UK -- after warning that the Church of England is becoming too liberal on homosexuality.
The rebel archbishops are set to give the green light to the controversial plan at a crucial meeting in Africa this week in defiance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
Insiders said the move was the 'nuclear option' as it would represent a highly provocative intervention into the Church of England by foreign archbishops and a direct challenge to the authority of Archbishop Welby, who is nominal head of Anglicans worldwide.
The move represents a highly provocative challenge for Archbishop Welby, who softened his stance on homosexuality in February
Archbishop Welby alarmed conservatives in February by issuing a letter softening his stance on homosexuality. In the letter, written with his counterpart in York, John Sentamu, he called for a 'radical new inclusion' for gays and a '21st Century understanding' of sexuality -- apparently paving the way for the first formal services to celebrate gay couples.
The Archbishop of Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh, who chairs the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) group of conservative archbishops, said the 'distressing' letter had 'downgraded the historic and biblical mind of the Church'.
Even more alarming for GAFCON leaders, however, is that the liberal Scottish Episcopal Church is expected to become the first Anglican body in the UK to approve full-scale gay marriage at its annual synod in June.
At least seven GAFCON archbishops, who represent a vast swathe of the world's Anglicans, will be at the five-day meeting starting tomorrow in Lagos, together with UK clergy.
Although several options will be discussed, the most dramatic would involve African archbishops consecrating a new bishop who could then be 'parachuted' into the UK to minister to traditional parishes.
Church of England leaders will see this as a highly unwelcome parallel Anglican Church set up without the permission of Archbishop Welby.
It is thought the most likely candidate to become the first such bishop is Canon Andrew Lines, who runs the mission organisation Crosslinks in South London and who is already the chair of GAFCON UK.
One source said: 'I would say there is now a 75 per cent probability of the GAFCON archbishops voting to consecrate a new bishop for the UK. Andy Lines has a lot of credibility internationally.
'If it did happen, though, there is a serious risk that Archbishop Welby would press the nuclear button. This would be very dangerous territory.’