Archbishop urges Christians to ‘repent’ over ‘wicked’ attitude to homosexuality
The vast majority of people under 35 think that the Christian attitude to gay people is “wicked” and “incomprehensible”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor – The Telegraph – 28 Aug 2013
Archbishop Welby, who as a young priest once opposed allowing gay couples to adopt children, said the church now had to face up to what amounted to one of the most rapid changes in public attitudes ever.
While insisting that he did not regret voting against same-sex marriage in the House of Lords, he admitted that his own mind was not yet “clear” on the wider issues which he was continuing to think about.
And he admitted that, despite its strong official opposition to allowing same-sex couples to marry, the Church is still “deeply and profoundly divided” over gay marriage.
The Archbishop, who comes from the evangelical wing of the Church, which takes a more traditional interpretation of the Bible, publicly opposed the Government’s Same-sex Marriage Act while it was being debated earlier this year.
Yet his comments, at a meeting to dedicate a new headquarters for the Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella group representing hundreds of thousands of Christians, are by far his most outspoken intervention on the subject so far.
Noting the fact that it is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, he urged Christians to speak out about what they are in favour of rather than simply what they are against.
He praised the Alliance’s work tackling social problems by promoting food banks, working in social care or recruiting adopters and said that it was time for the Church to make “an alliance with the poor”.
But he went on: “One of things that I think is most noticeable where we make a bad impression in society at the moment is because we are seen as against things, and you talk to people and they say I don’t want to hear about a faith that is homophobic, that is this that that, that is the other.”
Asked later whether this meant that he regretted voting against gay marriage, he said he stood by his vote because he did not believe “rewriting the nature of marriage” was the best way to end discrimination against gay people.
He said: “The Bill was clearly, quite rightly, trying to deal with issues of homophobia in our society and … the Church has not been good at dealing with homophobia … in fact we have, at times, as God’s people, in various places, really implicitly or even explicitly supported it.
“And we have to be really, really repentant about that because it is utterly and totally wrong.”
He added: “That discussion [about gay marriage] is continuing and the Church is deeply and profoundly divided over the way forward on it.
“I am absolutely committed not to excluding people who have a different view from me, I am also absolutely committed to listening very carefully to them.
“We are not going to get anywhere by throwing brickbats at each other.”
He went on to describe the shift in public attitudes to homosexuality as one of the biggest social changes of recent history.
“I’m continuing to think and listen very carefully as to how in our society today we respond to what is the most rapid cultural change in this area that there has been, well, I don’t know if ever, but for a very long time,” he said.
“And we have seen changes in the idea about sexuality, sexual behaviour, which quite simply [mean that] we have to face the fact that the vast majority of people under 35 think not only that what we are saying is incomprehensible but also think that we are plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism and other forms of gross and atrocious injustice.
He added that polling suggests that the majority of Christian young people, including born again evangelical young people, also disagree with the Church’s traditional line on homosexuality.
“We have to be real about that, I haven’t got the answer and I‘m not going to jump one way or the other until my mind is clear about this,” he said.
“I’m not going to get into the trenches on it.”
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights charity Stonewall, said: “It is a tiny bit rich to say he has great sympathy for gay people when in the 10 years since the introduction of civil partnerships the Church has doggedly refused to bless people’s long term partnerships even though they are happy to have services for pets and even canals.
“Polling conducted by Stonewall found people under 45 are overwhelmingly in support of gay marriage.
“Meanwhile, church attendances continue to fall, which is very sad for lots of people, (but) that is not going to change if it doesn’t concur with half of the population.”
Benjamin Cohen, founder of campaign group Out4Marriage and publisher of PinkNews, added: “It is welcome that the Archbishop of Canterbury has recognised that the majority of people under the age of 35 do not consider same-sex relationships as anything other than normal.
“They do see that attacking gay people for the gender of the person that they love is as evil and incomprehensible as attacking someone for being born black or disabled. People don’t chose to be gay just like they don’t chose their race.
“I would not argue that the Archbishop’s stance was ‘wicked’. All the way through the debate on same-sex marriage, those of us in favour of the change always maintained that churches, synagogues and mosques should be free not to opt-in to same-sex marriage.
“This is their right. Just as it is the right of the younger generations to question the relevance of these institutions if they reject a change in the law that most young people think is nothing more than equality.”
One can never say that Archbishop Justin Welby is not open to change – especially in the entrenched attitude of the Church towards gay people. Here is evidence of that, as a contributing factor, in commenting on the Same-Sex Marriage Bill :
‘ He said: “The Bill was clearly, quite rightly, trying to deal with issues of homophobia in our society and … the Church has not been good at dealing with homophobia … in fact we have, at times, as God’s people, in various places, really implicitly or even explicitly supported it. …… And we have to be really, really repentant about that because it is utterly and totally wrong.” ‘
Despite his personal feeling that he was right in opposing the Same-Sex Marriage Bill in the House of Lords, the Archbishop admits that the Anglican Church is still deeply divided on the issue, with many members of the Church of England clearly of the opinion that committed Same-Sex relationships should be accepted in some sort of recognition by the State Church.
Aside from the subject of S.S. Marriage, though, Archbishop Justin – in no uncertain terms – is declaring the Church of England’s culpability of prejudice against the LGBT community, and is willing to admit her need of repentance of the sin of bigotry – especially in her treatment of those in the Church who happen to be intrinsically lesbian or gay. This will not necessarily improve the situation in the Church, of course, unless its institutional attitude – which has disenfranchised the Gay community – is overturned, towards a greater openness to the inclusion of all people, regardless of gender or sexual-orientation.
However, this statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury does mark a mile-stone in the Church of England’s official acceptance of blame for past injustices that have marred its relationship with an underclass of people, whose only ‘sin’ was to have been born ‘different’ from the majority. This, at least, is a sign of openness to justice for them.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand