ABC Cautions General Synod to accept Unity in Diversity

Justin Welby says ‘Church viewed liked racists over homosexuality’

Archishop of Canterbury insists it is not ‘wishy-washy’ to accommodate people with different views as the Church of England grapples with homosexuality and women bishops

The Most Rev Justin Welby acknowledged that many Anglicans would view the idea of special services honouring same-sex relationships as a “betrayal” of its traditions and even “apostacy”.

By  – The Telegraph – 8:43PM GMT 12 Feb 2014

The Archbishop of Canterbury has told the Church of England it may have to accept changes many members do not like for the sake of unity – as it prepares for a battle over wedding-like blessing services for gay couples.

The Most Rev Justin Welby acknowledged that many Anglicans would view it as guilty of “betrayal” and even “apostasy” if it implements a landmark Church report which includes a recommendation to hold special services honouring same-sex relationships.

But he warned that others would see the Church as increasingly “irrelevant” and promoting attitudes “akin to racism” over its response.

In a personal address to the Church’s decision-making General Synod, which is meeting in London, he urged members not to be afraid of “incoherence and inconsistency” in some cases and “untidy” arrangements to avoid splits.

He insisted that it was not “wishy-washy” to attempt to accommodate people with opposing views and said it was time for a massive “cultural change” in how it approaches disagreement.

He was speaking in the wake of a landmark vote intended to bring about an early resolution to the Church’s decades-long wrangles over women bishops.

The breakthrough, which could lead to the first women bishops appointed this year, followed intensive mediation sessions behind-the-scenes.

They were overseen by The Archbishop’s “Director of Reconciliation”, Canon David Porter, a Belfast-born cleric who helped lay the groundwork for the Northern Ireland Peace Process by speaking directly to paramilitaries.

The Church is planning an even larger programme of mediation sessions to decide whether to implement the recommendations of a long-awaited report on sexuality.

A panel of bishops, chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, a former Whitehall mandarin, recommended introducing special services for gay couples which would amount to weddings in all but name.

The Archbishop said the Church owed Sir Joseph and his panel a debt of gratitude despite the controversy.

“There is great fear among some, here and round the world, that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word,” he said.

“And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism.

“Both those fears are alive and well in this room today.

“We have to find a way forward that is one of holiness and obedience to the call of God and enables us to fulfil our purposes.

“This cannot be done through fear. How we go forward matters deeply, as does where we arrive.”

He said that the developing compromise deal on women bishops showed that it is possible for people with opposing beliefs to coexist without splitting.

“Yet what lies on that journey? Well, it is certainly an untidy church,” he said.

“It has incoherence, inconsistency between dioceses and between different places.

“It’s not a church that says we do this and we don’t do that.

“It’s a church that says we do this and we do that and actually quite a lot of us don’t like that but we are still going to do it because of love.

“It’s a church that speaks to the world and says that consistency and coherence is not the ultimate virtue; that is found in holy grace.

“A church that loves those with whom the majority deeply disagree is a church that will be unpleasantly challenging to a world where disagreement is either banned within a given group or removed and expelled.”

He added: “Already I can hear the arguments being pushed back at me, about compromise, about the wishy-washiness of reconciliation, to quote something I read recently.

“But this sort of love, and the reconciliation between differing groups that it demands and implies, is not comfortable and soft and wishy-washy.”


The Archbishop of Canterbury is obviously straining to open up the possibility of a family convergence within the provinces of the Anglican Communion (and, indeed, within the ranks of the Church of England) on matters involving issues of gender and sexuality:

“It’s not a church that says we do this and we don’t do that.

“It’s a church that says we do this and we do that and actually quite a lot of us don’t like that but we are still going to do it because of love.

“It’s a church that speaks to the world and says that consistency and coherence is not the ultimate virtue; that is found in holy grace.”

The Anglican reliance upon Scripture, Tradition and Reason has never promised the sort of top-down authority and tidiness that might be discerned in more structured Churches. The lack of a Papal Magisterium – like that of the Roman Catholic Church.

Post-Reformation Anglicanism has allowed for a more open system of theological speculation and praxis that sometimes might seem untidy and cumbersome. However, within that elasticity, there has always been the possibility of allowance for adaptation to the needs of the modern world. This is not the ancient world of the Jewish era, nor yet the mediaeval or reformation era. As the period of the ‘Enlightenment’ was accompanied by changes to the structures of society, so the modern world has discovered evidence of new understandings of cosmology, science and biology that have turned some areas of theological, metaphysical and sociological understandings upside-down.

Women are no longer considered to be the ‘second sex’; and sexual-orientation of human beings has been discovered to be more complex than a mere binary of exclusively feminine or masculine characteristics. Women are no longer considered as baby-factories, and have been discovered to be possessed of similar mental, spiritual and physical gifts as those of their male counterparts – with many taking leadership roles in society formerly open only to males.

In this continually changing environment, it is expected that the Church, the Body of Christ, will be ready and able (by the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit) to adapt to the needs of the emerging society – rather than insisting on its isolation from the world, on the presumed model of a mediaeval world-view, based on what may be seen as an out-dated theological emphasis on ‘biblical inerrancy’. This tendency to freeze morality in the ethos of the biblical proscriptions against women and same-sex relationships has been at the forefront of schismatic breakaway tendencies in North American Churches of the Anglican Communion – aided and abetted by the GAFCON Churches’ Victorian world-view of gender and sexuality.

Decisions made at the Church of England General Synod will undoubtedly most affect the future of the Church of England itself. However, they will also affect the relationship of the Church of England to its fellow Provinces in the Third World; and in other places that have already made the move to include women and gay people in the life and ministries of their local Churches.  And this is what Archbishop Welby has been most careful to consider – in his eirenic appeal to Anglicans to bend and sway with the changes that have already been signalled as necessary, if the world-wide Anglican Communion is to survive and remain relevant into the future.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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2 Responses to ABC Cautions General Synod to accept Unity in Diversity

  1. murraysmallbone says:

    On first reading I was reminded of Our Lord’s command to St. Peter in Lk.5;4.
    “>>>>Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets to make a catch…….”
    Matthew Henry’s bible commentary elucidates this passage very neatly.
    I am also minded of Pope John Paul’s oft repeated words in Italian “Non timete” when speaking to a home audience. “Be not afraid”. The understanding being Our Lord’s words again….”For I am with you….”

    Jesus mercy. Mary pray.

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