‘We face attacks if C of E marriage policy changes’

11 April 2014

PA

BISHOPS in South Sudan have confirmed the Archbishop of Canterbury's warning that Christians in their country face a violent reaction if the Church of England permits same-sex marriage and blessings.

Archbishop Welby gave his warning during a phone-in on LBC radio last Friday. Asked why the Church of England could not permit clergy to bless same-sex relationships, he said: "The impact of that on Christians in countries far from here, like South Sudan, like Nigeria, and other places, would be absolutely catastrophic."

He spoke of a visit to South Sudan in January: "The church leaders there were saying, please don't change what you're doing because then we couldn't accept your help, and we need your help desperately."

The LBC presenter, James O'Brien, suggested that gay Christians might interpret the Archbishop's words as a ban on marrying "because of the conniptions it would give to some, dare we say, less enlightened people in Africa".

"I don't think we dare say 'less enlightened', actually," replied the Archbishop. "That's nothing to do with it. It's about the fact that I've stood by a graveside in Africa of a group of Christians who'd been attacked because of something that had happened far, far away in America."

Returning to the subject later, he said: "What was said was that 'If we leave a Christian community in this area' - I am quoting them - 'we will all be made to become homosexual; so we are going to kill the Christians.' The mass grave had 369 bodies in it, and I was standing with the relatives. That burns itself into your soul - as does the suffering of gay people in this country."

On Tuesday, the Bishop of Maridi, the Rt Revd Justin Badi Arama, verified this report. "Gay relationships in the Church of England would mean the people of South Sudan going back to their traditional religions which do not take them to same-sex practice," said. "Secondly, there would be continued violence against Christians [in the fear] that they would bring bad and shameful behaviour or homosexual practice, and spread it in the communities."

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Any change would lead to a rift, the Bishop of Wau, the Rt Revd Moses Deng Bol, warned on Wednesday. "The Church of England blessing gay marriages will be dangerous for the Church in South Sudan, because people here, like many African countries, strongly oppose gay marriages. And so they would want the Church here to break relationship with the Church of England.

"As a Church, we need to remain united as a body of Christ. We must be mindful of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world when taking decisions, because what affects one part of the body affects the whole body as well."

Bishop Arama concurred: "As South Sudanese, we very much value the partnership, and all the efforts of the Church of England to support the Church in Sudan during all the difficult moments in our history. Same-sex practice would distort this long history, because light and darkness cannot stay together.

"It is our prayer that the Church of England should not follow the world into darkness, but lead the world into light."

On Thursday, the Bishop of Cueibet, the Rt Revd Elijah Matueny Awet, said that, if the Church of England blessed gay relationships, Christians in South Sudan would "go back and worship their traditional beliefs and Gods [rather] than worshipping the true God. . . Islam will grow rapidly in South Sudan because of the pagan believing on same-sex marriage." 

He argued, however, that it would not lead to reprisals in South Sudan, which would take a different path to that pursued in the West.

"We have been described by English people and American that we are a rude community . . . The question now, is who is rude now? Is it the one who is claiming his or her right? The one who is forcing people to accept his behavior?" 

Clergy elsewhere have been critical of Archbishop Welby's comments. On the same day as the broadcast, the Bishop of California, the Rt Revd Marc Andrus, described them as simplistic.

"His proposed way forward - to continue to oppress LGBT people in the UK - will fail to keep Africans safe for this reason: if Africa is watching the UK as closely as the Archbishop would have us all believe, then they will not miss that the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion is on the side of continued second-class citizenship for LGBT people."

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In the UK, the Vicar of St Mary with All Souls', Kilburn, and St James's, West Hampstead, the Revd Andrew Cain, said that the Archbishop had "allowed himself to be subject to moral blackmail of the worst sort". Mr Cain plans to marry his same-sex partner later this year.

"The solution is perhaps not sacrificing the mission imperatives of our country to the frankly bullying tactics of some African prelates, but to recognise that it is perhaps time that the position of primus inter pares of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Communion is no longer tenable, and to give it up to a rotating leadership. That would . . . set the Church here free to be the Church of England, and not caught in some awkward mid-point between African and European cultural and religious traditions and developments."

On Monday, Davis Mac-iyalla, a gay Nigerian Anglican who has sought asylum in the UK after receiving death threats, said that clashes in Nigeria had "no link with homosexuality at all. . . I was very shocked when the Archbishop tried to make that statement that rights given in the UK will affect Christians in Africa, and I think he is wrong in that statement or mistaken."

He suggested that it was conservative Christians in Nigeria who "try to portray the picture that it will have consequences, but it will not".

During the phone-in, the Archbishop reiterated a traditional position on same-sex relationships: "My position is the historic position of the Church, which is in our canons, which says that sexual relations should be within marriage, and marriage is between a man and a woman."

Asked whether he could imagine a day when two people of the same sex married in the Church of England, he said: "I look at the scriptures, I look at the teaching of the Church, I listen to Christians round the world, and I have real hestitations about that.

"I am incredibly uncomfortable about saying that. I really don't want to say no to people who love each other, but you have to have a sense of following what the teaching of the Church is. We can't just make sudden changes."

On Wednesday, in an interview with the Anglican Journal during his visit to Canada, the Archbishop said: "One of the things that's most depressing about the response to that [LBC] interview is that almost nobody listened to what I said. . . 

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"What I was saying is that when we take actions in one part of the Church, particularly actions that are controversial, that they are heard and felt not only in that part of the Church but around the world . . . And, this is not mere consequentialism. I'm not saying that because there will be consequences to taking action, that we shouldn't take action. What I'm saying is that love for our neighbour, love for one another, compels us to consider carefully how that love is expressed, both in our own context and globally. We never speak the essential point that, as a Church, we never speak only in our local situation. Our voice carries around the world."

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Question of the week: Should violence in Africa affect church policy in the UK? 

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