Despite including many of his fiercest critics, the audience of 2,000 clergy and Church leaders at the National Evangelical Anglican Congress in Blackpool warmly applauded Dr Williams after he told them that they, and the Church, must listen to God.
He disarmed a potentially hostile audience, about 30 of whom had absented themselves from the opening ceremony in the Winter Gardens in favour of a private prayer meeting in a nearby room, by quoting from Psalm 71: “I am become as it were a monster unto many.”
In what was taken as a coded appeal for unity, he said that sin had often meant that the Church became a conspiracy “to avoid listening to God” but every generation had to listen anew.
Behind the scenes, he was warned that if he failed to discipline liberal parts of the Church, he could expect serious trouble from the increasingly confident and powerful evangelical wing.
Bishop Wallace Benn, the Area Bishop of Lewes, who is the president of the Church of England Evangelical Council, its most representative evangelical body, said that if firm action was not taken at the emergency meeting of primates convened by Dr Williams next month, the worldwide Church would come apart, slowly or quickly.
Bishop Benn said that he still hoped Bishop-elect Gene Robinson, Anglicanism’s first openly active homosexual bishop, whose appointment was confirmed by the American Episcopal Church last month, would step down before his consecration in New Hampshire in November.
“If that doesn’t happen, the Episcopal Church will have to live with the consequences,” – which could mean expulsion from the Anglican Communion – he said.
“What is at stake in the Anglican Communion at the moment is whether it will remain faithful to the Bible. That is the test for me and the Archbishop of Canterbury. I very much hope that the Archbishop will stand by orthodox Christians throughout the Anglican Communion and so far he has.”
He said that there was no reason for the Church to change its traditional ban on the ordination of homosexuals. “If that view doesn’t prevail the Church will become unhealthy and it will disintegrate. That view has to prevail.”