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Welby links gay marriage with African killings

04 April 2014

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 that."

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 sudden changes."

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, theologically".

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 here 

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