CHRISTIANS are being killed in
Africa as a consequence of liberal attitudes towards homosexuality
in the United States and Britain, the Archbishop of Canterbury
suggested on Friday.
Speaking on LBC radio about his
opposition to same-sex marriage, he said: "I've stood by gravesides
in Africa of a group of Christians who had been attacked because of
something that had happened far, far away in America."
This is the first time that
Archbishop Welby has publicly voiced his fears for Christians
overseas as a key factor in the Bishops' opposition to same-sex
marriage and the blessing of gay couples in church. "The problem we
face is that everything we say here goes round the world, for
reasons of history and media and all that. And so we don't make
policy on the hoof," he said on Friday.
Asked why he could not simply
cede to requests by some clergy to be permitted to bless same-sex
relationships, he said: "The impact of that on Christians in
countries far from here, like South Sudan, like Pakistan, Nigeria,
and other places would be absolutely catastrophic, and we have to
love them as much as we love the people who are here."
The LBC presenter, James
O'Brien, suggested that gay Christians might interpret the
Archbishop's words as a prohibition on them getting married
"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. "I think that is a
neo- colonial approach and it's one I really object to. It's not
about them having conniptions or sort of getting
aerated. That's nothing to do with it. . .
"I was in the South Sudan a few
weeks ago and the church leaders there were saying: 'Please do not
change what you are doing because then we could not accept your
help. And we need your help desperately.' And we have to listen to
He added: "And we also have to
listen incredibly carefully to gay people here who want to get
married, and also to recognise that any homophobic behaviour here
causes enormous suffering, particularly to gay teenagers:
something I am particularly conscious of at the moment."
Clarifying his comments on the
mass grave, 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."
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. "
He added, however: "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
It was, he said, "something I
wrestle with every day and often in the middle of the night. I am
incredibly conscious of the position of gay people in this country,
how badly they've been treated over the years."
But he reiterated his view that
this was not something that the Church of England could decide
alone. "What we say here is heard round the world, and people
really worry about what we say here because, for historic reaons,
we are linked, not just the Anglican Communion, but particularly
that we are linked to Churches all round the world. And so, before
we make a major change in how we understand what we should do, we
have to listen to people and go through a process of consultation,
and talking to people, and listening very carefully, and praying
without predetermined outcomes. . .
"We have to look at the
tradition of the Church, and the teaching of the Church, and the
teaching of scripture, which is definitive in the end, before we
come to a conclusion. We are not in a position just to suddenly say
'OK, our position in this country has changed': we are one of the
great international groups that there is in this world."
While issues of sexuality
dominated the hour-long phone-in, the Archbishop fielded a wide
range of questions from some formidable callers. He told a
forthright Ann Widdecombe - who left the Church in 1993 over the
ordination of women, and claimed that "the Church of England never
seems to know what it thinks about anything" - that he believed
opponents of the ordination of women to be "wrong,
He admitted that the Church had
"not always had a brilliant record as a landlord", and that some of
its investments were causes of regret.
He was careful in his answers.
While commenting: "I do want to live in a country where the economy
works in a way that means foodbanks are really not necessary," he
refused to attack Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions
Secretary, who had "spent more time studying this than most of us".
Asked about his fellow Etonians in the Cabinet, he suggested that
"some of them have had pretty tough times as well".
There was an opportunity, too,
to highlight the "amazing" work of Christians offering a "box of
hope" as well as food, to those visiting food banks. And to remind
listeners that the average Anglican was "a sub-Saharan African
woman in her 30s".
After taking on Miss Widdecombe
and some tough questions about sexuality, it seemed to come as a
relief to the Archbishop to take a question from John, in his
nineties, from East Horsley, who had always wondered: "What is a
definition of God, please?"
"When you look at Jesus, you
see God," replied the Archbishop.
"Thank you very much, that's
very helpful," replied John.
Listen to full programme