In an Advent letter to the 37 other Anglican primates around the world sent on Friday, the Rt Revd Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, calls for repentance from those who by their use of hostile language towards homosexuals, have contributed to anger and vitriol which can lead to suicide and even murder.
He has written in the letter: “And we should not forget those questions that may make us most uncomfortable. In the heat of this controversy, things have been said about homosexual people that have made many of them, including those who lead celibate lives, feel that there is no good news for them in the Church. Remember that in many countries such people face real persecution and cruelty; even where there are no legal penalties, they suffer from a sense of rejection. Young people are driven to suicide by the conviction that no-one will listen to them patiently; many feel that they are condemned not for their behaviour but for their nature. As I write these words, I have in mind the recent brutal and unprovoked murder of a homosexual man in London by a group of violent and ignorant youths.
The 1998 Lambeth Resolution on this subject declared plainly that the Anglican Church worldwide did not believe – because of its reading of Scripture – that it was free to say that homosexual practice could be blessed. But it also declared that violence in word or deed and prejudice against homosexual people were unacceptable and sinful behaviour for Christians. Earlier Lambeth Conference Resolutions had made the same point. Any words that could make it easier for someone to attack or abuse a homosexual person are words of which we must repent. We are bound to ask, with the greatest care, how we best communicate the challenge of the gospel to homosexual persons and how we may free ourselves from unreasoning fear or even hatred.“
A strong rebuke
The letter contains a strong rebuke to conservatives in the worldwide Anglican Communion for the hostility of their language towards homosexuals in the recent row over gay bishops and warns of serious consequences if Anglicans do not heal their rift. It demonstrates his level of concern about the language used towards gay people by some Anglicans, though he does not name them. The most extreme views have been expressed by the Most Revd Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria, who has called homosexuality an “aberration unknown even in animal relationships”.
Reform: we are upholding received faith
The letter has been described by one conservative group as evidence that Rowan Williams supports the liberal wing of the church. David Banting, national director of Reform, a conservative evangelical group in the Church of England, said: “If somebody who holds orthodox views is by definition thought to be homophobic, that is a very unfair argument. I am simply trying to uphold the faith as we have received it. (The letter) is presumably a gesture to the gay community who love to peddle this line that they all feel under enormous pressure and they are all being persecuted, which is not true.”
Dean of Southwark: a slap on the wrist
Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark, called the letter a “very firm slap on the wrist for archbishops and others who have been demonising homosexual people. The archbishop has to reach out and embrace the gay community and I think this letter could be the beginning of that reassurance”.