Archbishop of York on ‘changing attitudes’

In the wake of the Occupy the London Stock Exchange protest outside St Paul’s Cathedral, the Archbishop of York has issued a ‘Call to re-establish a fairer society’ in which he highlights the social consequences of huge pay differentials and tax avoidance by wealthy companies and individuals:

In addition to regulation, he believes that there needs to be ‘a wider recognition of inequality as an ethical issue’, and that the current task is ‘to change attitudes’ – the phrase sounds familiar – to excessively high incomes and the accumulation of private wealth.

But what about other inequalities, such as the one we are preoccupied with in Changing Attitude, concerning the lack of equality for LGB&T people in the Church of England in which the Archbishop is a conspicuous leader?

Archbishop Sentamu wearing a hoodie

Interestingly, the Archbishop refers to this very issue at the end of the article where he cites other recently successful attitudinal changes as a hopeful sign of what can be achieved:


‘Changes in public attitudes can take place quite quickly. Over the last few decades racism has lost its respectability and is seen as unacceptable. The same applies to homophobia (the irrational fear of homosexuals) and discrimination against women. My belief and trust is that a society which has shown itself capable of making such rapid changes to attitudes in these areas will also prove capable of recognising that our society will work best when we recognise that as human beings we are all, fundamentally of equal worth and members of one society. Let us do it. Let us do it now.’

Stirring stuff! But when are these changes in social attitudes going to impact on the Church of England where we are still debating women bishops, and where, just four years ago, a commission, commissioned by the Archbishop himself, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, declared the Church of England to be ‘institutionally racist’?

In my opinion the Church of England is also institutionally homophobic by which I do not imply  a fear of homosexual people necessarily, but that there is inequality of access or inclusion for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or – and here we should add ‘institutionally transphobic’ – transgender. This is just some of the evidence for that statement:

  • The moratorium on blessing same-sex couples in Church
  • The moratorium on civilly-partnered clergy being candidates for the episcopate
  • The requirement during the ministerial discernment process – whether or not it is imposed –  that candidates should ‘submit’ to the teaching of Issues in Human Sexuality
  • The fact that this requirement is also made of those who work in the Church’s central institutions, including episcopal candidates, leading, in many cases, to perjury

With structures like this, and a half-hearted listening process, it is an enormous challenge changing attitudes but it is happening, thanks to the very social changes that the Archbishop mentions. In fact, the diocese of York has actually been inspirational in modelling the listening process but things are only going to change at an institutional level if the two archbishops, along with the other Bishops, and the General  Synod, put their weight behind it. Why should they? Well, to be honest, any call for a more equal distribution of wealth is going to ring rather hollow, when the Church of England is itself unable to demonstrate equality of opportunity regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.

 So, to quote Archbishop John, ‘Let us do it. Let us do it now.’






  1. Kate says

    “The same applies to homophobia (the irrational fear of homosexuals) and discrimination against women.”

    — I think misrepresentative bit in brackets says everything here – of course homophobes aren’t “irrationally afraid” of gay people (it’s hardly like being scared of spiders). The fact that the church is up to its neck in homophobia prevents him from more simply writing ‘The same applies to discrimination against LBGT people and women’

    • Paul Emmons says

      That homophobes are afraid of gay people is demonstrated (at least in the U.S.) by their terming opposition to marriage equality as “defense of marriage”. They argue that if same-sex marriage is allowed, it will somehow spoil their own mariages. If that isn’t fear, then you have an unusual definition of the word.

      • Christina Beardsley says

        Hi Paul, Looking back now there is great irony in the Archbishop John’s comments here. Only this week he himself has been subjected to racist abuse and many people are now naming the discrimination against women that appears to behind the endless protracted debates in the Church of England about women and the episcopate. Homophobia too, sadly, is ‘alive and kicking’ but some people who have ‘issues’ with same-sex attraction often point out that they do not have an irrational fear of gay people. Maybe we should press them to explain the visceral nature of their objections – as opposed to the more ‘rational’ appeal to Scripture texts – if it is not actually fear.

          • Christina Beardsley says

            I often use homophobia or transphobia as shorthand but I can see the argument that it is too vague/imprecise/can be sidestepped by those who claim ‘but I’m not fearful of you’. A very specific word such as ‘discrimination’ is less easy to duck.

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