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Hear the sexual revolution, says Welby

12 July 2013

Presidential address

WE LIVE in a time of revolutions. And the trouble with revolutions is, once they start, no one knows where they will go. Of the most serious type, the physical type, the practical type. . . Bishop Angaelos, Head of the Coptic Church in the UK, whom I met in Egypt last week, and who is sitting with us today, knows exactly about revolutions.

But we live also in a time of many revolutions in this country. We are called by God to respond radically and imaginatively to new contexts - contexts that are set up by revolutions.

The revolutions are huge. The economic context and position of our country has changed, dramatically. With all parties committed to austerity for the foreseeable future, we have to recognise that the profound challenges of social need, food banks, credit injustice, gross differentiation of income - even in many areas of opportunity, pressure on all forms of state provision, and spending: all these are here to stay.

The social context is changing radically. There is a revolution. It may be, it was, that 59 per cent of the population called themselves Christian at the last census, with 25 per cent saying that they had no faith. But the YouGov poll, a couple of weeks back, was the reverse, almost exactly, for those under 25. If we are not shaken by that, we are not listening.

THE cultural and political ground is changing. There is a revolution. Anyone who listened, as I did, to much of the Same-sex Marriage Bill Second Reading Debate in the House of Lords could not fail to be struck by the overwhelming change of cultural hinterland. Predictable attitudes were no longer there. The opposition to the Bill, which included me and many other bishops, was utterly overwhelmed, with among the largest attendance in the House and participation in the debate, and majority, since 1945.

There was noticeable hostility to the view of the Churches. I am not proposing new policy, but what I felt then, and feel now, is that some of what was said by those supporting the Bill was uncomfortably close to the bone.

Lord Alli said that 97 per cent of gay teenagers in this country report homophobic bullying. In the United States, suicide as a result of such bullying is the principal cause of death of gay adolescents. One cannot sit and listen to that sort of reality without being appalled. We may or may not like it, but we must accept that there is a revolution in the area of sexuality, and we have not fully heard it.

The majority of the population rightly detests homophobic behaviour, or anything that looks like it. And sometimes they look at us and see what they don't like. I don't like saying that. I've resisted that thought. But in that debate I heard it, and I could not walk away from it.

We all know that it is utterly horrifying to hear, as we did this week, of gay people executed in Iran for being gay, or equivalents elsewhere. With nearly a million children educated in our schools, we not only must demonstrate a profound commitment to stamping out such stereotyping and bullying; but we must also take action.

We are therefore developing a programme for use in our schools, taking the best advice we can find anywhere, that specifically targets such bullying. More than that, we need also to ensure that what we do and say in this Synod, as we debate these issues, demonstrates above all the lavish love of God to all of us, who are all, without exception, sinners.

THE three Quinquennial Goals of growing the Church, contributing to the common good, and reimagining ministry, are utterly suited to a time of revolution.

For that reimagination to be more than surface deep, we need a renewal of prayer and the religious life. That is the most essential emphasis in what I am hoping to do in my time in this role. And if you forget everything else I say, which you may well do - probably will do - please remember that.

There has never been a renewal of church life in Western Christianity without a renewal of prayer and religious communities, in some form or another, often different. It has been said that we can imagine only what is already in our minds as a possibility; and it is in prayer, individually and together, that God puts into our minds new possibilities of what the Church can be.

The Quinquennial Goals challenge our natural tendency to be inward-looking, calling on us to serve the common good. That covers many areas, and between us all, not singly, we are able to face the challenge. May Synod rise to that.

But the second of my personal emphases, within that goal, is reconciliation - within the Church, but most of all fulfilling our particular Anglican charism to be reconcilers in the world, in our communities, in families, even, dare I say it, among ourselves.

The common good goes much further than that. Our unique presence across the country enables us to speak with authority both in Parliament and here, and in every church and cathedral and synod and gathering place across the country. Our extraordinary presence across the world as Anglicans enables us to speak with intelligence from around the world. As Anglicans, we are called to reconcile incredible differences of culture in more than 150 countries.

The Quinquennial Goals aim at spiritual and numerical growth in the Church. That includes evangelism, the third of my emphases. The lead has been set by the Archbishop of York. Here, again, we need new imagination in evangelism through prayer, and a fierce determination not to let evangelism be squeezed off our agendas.

Attitudes to hierarchy and authority have changed, and continue to change; there's nothing new in that. And, the more they do, the more we are perceived, often wrongly - but genuinely - to say one thing, about grace, community and inclusion, and do another.

And yet with all these revolutions, which raise such huge challenges to us in our lives as the Church, we see clearly that God is working a wonderful and marvellous revolution through the Church in the wind of the Spirit, blowing through our structures and ideas and imagination.

There is a new energy in ecumenism, not least shown by Pope Francis. There is a hunger for visible unity. Many churches across England are growing in depth and numbers. People are looking for answers in a time of hardship, and when we show holy hospitality and the outflow of grace, we are full of people seeking us. There is every cause for hope.

SO, HOW we journey here is essential, and that is why, during these next few days, certain things are being reimagined - not least what we do tomorrow. What is clear to all of us is that there exists, as we gather - and let's be honest about it - a very significant absence of trust between different groups; and, it must be said - and the evidence of this is clear, though sad - an absence of trust towards the bishops collectively.

One thing I am sure of is that trust is rebuilt, and reconciliation happens, when whatever we say, we do. For example, if, while doing what we believe is right for the full inclusion of women in the life of the Church, we say that all are welcome, whatever their views on that, all must be welcome in deed as well as in word. If we don't mean it, please let us not say it.

On the one hand, there are horrendous accounts from women priests whose very humanity has sometimes seemed to be challenged. On the other side, I recently heard a well-attested account of a meeting between a diocesan director of ordinands, and a candidate who was told that, if the DDO had known of the candidate's views against the ordination of women earlier in the process, he would never have been allowed to get as far as he did.

Both attitudes contradict the stated policy of the Church of England, of what we say, and are completely unacceptable. If the General Synod, if we decide, that we are not to be hospitable to some diversity of views, we need to say so bluntly, and not mislead. If we say we will ordain women as priests and bishops, we must do so in exactly the same way as we ordain men. If we say that all are welcome, even when they disagree, they must be welcome in spirit, in deed, as well as in word.

Lack of integrity and transparency poisons any hope of rebuilding trust, and rebuilding trust in the best of circumstances is going to be the work of years, and even decades. There are no magic bullets. 

Integrity and transparency de- pend utterly on a corporate integrity and transparency before God, above all in our prayer and liturgy. I sometimes wonder if one of the drivers of our lack of trust is that we have lost from our experience and our expectation two of the great moods of liturgy: of lament, and of celebration.

The ability truly to lament, to rage at circumstances, at loss, at decline, at injustice, at our own sin or the problems we face, is one that enables us to find afresh the mercy and grace of God. Lament is a liturgical mood that builds our capacity to trust God in the face of change, and then we trust each other.

Equally, the capacity to celebrate, to lift our hearts and voices in true and passionate praise and thanksgiving because the presence of God is known among us, restores our perspective. We celebrate because who cannot be overwhelmed by the love of God?

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