The Rt Revd Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, is being named as the next Archbishop of Canterbury with an announcement expected tomorrow. The BBC is asking me what Changing Attitude’s response is to his appointment.
The MailOnline’s headline is: ‘Former oil boss who opposes same sex marriage emerges as favourite to become next Archbishop of Canterbury’. On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Ruth Gledhill said the bishop was thought to be “conservative on the issue of gay marriage” and was “absolutely in favour of women bishops, but strong on protecting the position of traditionalists in the Church”. Other news reports ignored his attitude to gay bishops and equal marriage. The BBC News web page says he is considered an opponent of same sex marriage and the appointment of gay bishops.
Let’s deal with gay bishops first. Readers of this blog will know that at the July 2011 General Synod meeting in York, I spent much of my time asking bishops whether they thought they knew who the gay bishops among them were. Last month, Changing Attitude wrote to every bishop, stating that there are 14 bishops at present who are gay, and asking the House of Bishops to be honest and open when the come to discuss the Working Party reports. The Bishop of Durham’s secretary responded to our letter in non-committal terms.
Bishop Justin Welby may oppose the appointment of gay bishops, but to do so, he’d first have to out any candidate who was gay, and that isn’t going to happen. I don’t think he is, in truth, opposed to the appointment of a priest who is gay as a bishop. He might be more worried at having bishops who are gay and partnered sitting in the House.
The BBC quizzed me this morning about Bishop Welby’s apparent opposition to same-sex marriage. Changing Attitude’s next goal is to secure a change in policy from the House of Bishops which will enable same-sex relationships to be blessed in church, whether or not following a civil partnership.
Not all supporters of Changing Attitude are in agreement about the value of same-sex marriage. The trustees support the introduction of equal marriage for those who believe marriage equality is the ultimate goal.
Statements made by various bishops since the Government launched its Equal Marriage Consultation reveal that an instant re-evaluation of civil partnerships took place. Suddenly, they claimed that the entire House of Bishops had always supported civil partnerships. If this rewriting of history is genuine, we can expect to see approval given to civil partnerships following the House’s consideration of the Review Group report (assuming it also reports in favour).
The next step would be for the House to authorise a liturgy for use in church. And that would be the big breakthrough for the majority of lesbian and gay Christians. We want the Church to recognise and bless our relationships, whether they are called civil partnerships or whether as in common parlance they are already called marriage.
I hope, as the BBC web site claims, that as Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will be genuinely able ‘to bring an experienced eye to back the Church’s criticisms of unethical practice in banking and in industry’, and is likely to be more sympathetic to David Cameron’s modernising Tory instincts. How sympathetic he will be will be tested by David Cameron’s total commitment to equal marriage, something he made very clear at the Downing Street reception I attended in July.
The BBC says he is likely to be much less abrasive in his opposition to the gay rights movement than the Archbishop of York, appears to have made few enemies during his Church career, and is not identified with any one of its warring factions. This could help him as he tries to steer the Church through its troubles over gay rights, says the BBC.
Changing Attitude welcomes his appointment, prays that he isn’t confronted with the appointment of a man known to be gay too early in his Archiepiscopate and has the wisdom to bring his ethical experience into his engagement with the House of Bishops when matters affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, lay and ordained, are considered in the coming months.
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