Archbishop of Canterbury says homophobia has to be eradicated from the Church

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke at the opening of the new headquarters of the Evangelical Alliance yesterday. The Telegraph and Guardian reported his extensive remarks about same-sex marriage and the way gay and lesbian people have been treated.

The Evangelical Alliance didn’t include them in its own report. The Archbishop knows this is one of the great challenges confronting him – the inability of conservatives (and conservative evangelicals in particular) to understand that a dramatic change in attitudes is taking place in societies around world, a change that God might be fundamentally involved with.

The speech shows how carefully and deeply the Archbishop is thinking, how far he has already travelled, and where he is stuck. He spoke on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.

I think his remarks yesterday might have been a seminal moment in the Church of England’s journey towards the full inclusion of LGB&T people – but we won’t know for some months or even a year or two just how significant the shift might be.

He said:

  • the [Church] must “repent” over the way gay and lesbian people have been treated in the past
  • 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
  • you talk to people and they say I don’t want to hear about a faith that is homophobic
  • the Church has not been good at dealing with homophobia
  • at times, [we have] as God’s people, in various places, really implicitly or even explicitly supported [homophobia]
  • we have to be really, really repentant about that because it is utterly and totally wrong

These are radical statements that show how deeply he was affected by the reaction to the Church of England’s opposition to equal marriage in the Lord’s debate. I’ve been told by bishops who were there of the intense criticism they were subjected to from Christian peers not only in the chamber but even more uncomfortably in the robing room.

Homophobia is wrong and wicked and has to be confronted. It has to be confronted where it continues to infect the Church of England (as in the Evangelical Alliances silence) and it has to be confronted in every Province of the Anglican Communion. Archbishop Justin’s statement is clear and dramatic.

He calls for repentance, a complete reversal of traditional Christian teaching and attitudes to lesbian and gay people.

This has to be what the Pilling Review Groups recommends and what the House of Bishops and College of Bishops and the General Synod have to agree in the next two to three years. There is no alternative now.

The Archbishop’s comments about homophobia address the past mistakes of the Church. Elsewhere in the speech he was more tentative in addressing the future. He said:

  • the Church is deeply and profoundly divided over the way forward on [gay marriage]
  • 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

He admitted that his own mind was not yet “clear” on the wider issues which he was continuing to think about. “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 the church now had to face up to what amounted to one of the most rapid changes in public attitudes ever.

He knows a radical change in Christian thinking and teaching about LGB&T people has to take place. In his speech yesterday he stated categorically the nature of the problem. This brings him into conflict with those who identify as conservative, traditional, mainstream, orthodox Anglicans. The Archbishop has said their theology, teaching and thinking about same-sex relationships is not mainstream – it is wicked, an atrocious injustice and must be repented of.

There will inevitably be a reaction from the conservative forces around the Communion. We wait to see how the organisers of GAFCON 2, being held in Nairobi in October, respond to the dramatic clarity of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s dramatic awakening.

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