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Welby hopes to mend relations in Anglican family as Primates meet in Canterbury

11 January 2016


Family: Archbishop Welby in Canterbury Cathedral a fortnight ago

Family: Archbishop Welby in Canterbury Cathedral a fortnight ago

A SCHISM in the Anglican Communion would be a “failure” but not a “disaster”, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Monday, shortly before the opening of the first meeting of Primates since 2011.

Interviewed on Today on BBC Radio 4, Archbishop Welby said that he “certainly” wanted reconciliation; but he went on: “There is nothing I can do if people decide that they want to leave the room,” Such a walk-out — reckoned to be 90-per-cent likely, according to one senior church source (News, 8 January) — “won’t split the Communion”, he said.

He explained: “The Church is a family, and you remain a family even if you go your separate ways. That has always been the case, and it always will be. God puts us together, and we have to work out how we live with that, and how we serve God faithfully in a way that shows that you can disagree profoundly and still love and care for each other.”

He went on: “A schism would not be a disaster in the sense you put it. God is bigger than our failures. But it would be a failure. It would not be good if the Church is unable to set the example to the world of showing how we can live with one another and disagree profoundly, because we are brought together by Jesus Christ, not by our own choice.”

The Archbishop cautioned against being “mesmerised” by the issue of sexuality. The African churches were doing “some extraordinary work around poverty, and development, and AIDS, and all these areas in a way that’s really quite remarkable”.

Last week he and the Archbishop of York, received an open letter from 105 Anglicans, including 20 serving cathedral deans, asking them to take an “unequivocal message” to the Primates, including “repentance for accepting and promoting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality”.

The letter called for:

  • "Acknowledgement that we, the Church, have failed in our duty of care to LGBTI members of the Body of Christ around the world. We have not loved them as we should, and have treated them as a problem to be solved rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ to be embraced and celebrated. We have made them feel second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, often abandoned and alone."
  • "Repentance for accepting and promoting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and for the pain and rejection that this has caused. We, the Church, need to apologise for our part in perpetuating rather than challenging ill-informed beliefs about LGBTI people, such as the slanderous view that homosexuals have a predisposition to prey on the young.”

It concluded: “We understand that the Primates come from a variety of contexts with differing ways of interpreting the Scriptures, but we urge you to be prophetic in your action and Christ-like in your love towards our LGBTI sisters and brothers who have been ignored and even vilified for too long.”

The letter was coordinated by Jayne Ozanne, a former member of the Archbishops’ Council, and current member of the General Synod’s House of Laity. On Monday she said that the letter had been triggered by a BBC interview last month in which Dr Chris Sugden, the executive secretary of Anglican Mainstream, suggested that Christian leaders in Africa were “concerned about the protection of children from grooming”.

This sparked an “enormous amount of anger”, she said, “and a sense that a line had been reached; and we should not keep silent [when] people were talking about our core identities in a way that was disingenuous and degrading”.

In drafting the letter, she was “not trying to make a political statement,” she said, “but drawing the Church back to the Lambeth resolution”. One of the key outcomes of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, this called on all Anglicans to “minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals”.

Some of those she had approached felt unable to sign the letter, she said, despite agreeing with its contents: “It was the timing more than anything. They were concerned that it would put added pressure on Justin Welby at a critical time”. But she hoped that the letter would be “something he [the Archbishop] could use”.

The letter was signed 105 Anglicans, including 20 Cathedral Deans, seven Archdeacons, eight retired Bishops, five principles of theological or university colleges, and one suffragan Bishop: the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson. Since its publication online on Sunday, more than 3000 people have added their signatures.

On Monday, the Dean of Chelmsford, the Very Revd Nicholas Henshall, one of the signatories, suggested that, within the Church of England, “quite a lot of senior leaders feel very constrained, and find it very difficult to say what they mean in public”. As a Dean, he was not in that position. “It does not seem to me truth is served by us not being clear about what we say. Being complicit in certain judgements about people on the grounds of sexuality, which as a Communion we have agreed we must not do, seems to be unhelpful.”

Speaking to BBC Three Counties Radio on Sunday, Dr Wilson said that the words of the Lambeth Resolution 1.10 must be put into practice.

”There are places in the world where dreadful things happen involving gay people, and very often dreadful things that are fuelled by religious people, and I think that means religious leaders have a very special role in putting things right. . . There is no point just saying sorry to people and then not changing. We are calling for change: for a new attitude and for some measure of repentance.”

He suggested that, while the Anglican Communion “doesn’t work very well as a big political organisation”, individuals had forged strong relationships. “When you get together Anglicans from around the world, they always get on brilliantly. . . You can take people from the wildest and woolliest bits of California and put them down in Nigeria, and everybody gets on very well.”

On Monday, Dr Sean Doherty, director of studies at St Mellitus College, and a member of Living Out (established to "help Christian brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction stay faithful to Biblical teaching on sexual ethics and flourish at the same time"), said that he was not approached to sign the letter, but would have felt "uneasy" about doing so, although some of its contents was "helpful". 

"I think that it is right to call ourselves to root out and repent of homophobia where that is in the Church," he said. "But my uneasiness would be with the way it speaks of the Church in a very blanket and uniform way, where there are very good examples of how the Church has accepted and loved LGBT people. My concern is that, in seeking, quite rightly, to give a voice to those who have been voiceless, it could be in danger of marginalising voices saying 'actually, the Church has been a welcoming and loving place to me.' Like mine. . . I am very happy to say that I have always been welcomed and treated as a perfectly normal Christian, never as second class citizen."

He was "very committed" to the Lambeth Resolution on human sexuality "in its entirety", he said. 

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