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US Episcopalians facing ‘not a sanction, but a consequence’ says Welby

15 January 2016


Sorry about the hurt: Archbishop Welby at the press conference in Canterbury on Friday

Sorry about the hurt: Archbishop Welby at the press conference in Canterbury on Friday

THE Episcopal Church in the United States has not been “punished” or “sanctioned” for its support for same-sex marriage, but must accept the “consequences” of unilateral action, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Friday.

Addressing a press conference at Canterbury Cathedral, Archbishop Welby repeatedly repudiated the use of the word “sanctions”. He also emphasised his concern for LGBTI people and said that he would “love” to see a change in laws criminalising them.

The Episcopal Church had made a change to a “basic understanding of doctrine, ahead of the rest of the Communion and without consultation” he said. “We are not sanctioning them. We do not have the power to do so. We simply said, if any province, on a major issue of how the Church is run or what it believes, is out of line, there will be consequences in their full participation in the life of the Communion.”

The Episcopal Church would play a “full part on moral issues”, he said, referring to the refugee crisis, corruption, and evangelism”, but would “not play a role in deciding for the moment on issues of doctrine and polity — how we run ourselves”.

There were, he emphasised, “plenty of other issues that would trigger a similar response on other subjects”.

“It is not a sanction but a consequence,” he repeated. “If you do X, Y will follow.” Although he refuse to release the voting figures, he confirmed that an “overwhelming majority supported the consequences”.

He was backed up by the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba. “The Episcopal Church has changed a fundamental formula of marriage without really respecting the process we set ourselves, and there ought to be consequences,” he said. The action had been taken “for the good of the Church, to create order”.

Before taking several questions highlighting the impact of the communiqué on the LGBT community, Archbishop Welby emphasised his concern for them.

He included in opening prayers those holding a vigil outside the cathedral, “who themselves have suffered greatly”. They were a reminder of “the pain and suffering of many LGBTI people around the world, and the extreme suffering in some countries where they are criminalised”.

The Archbishop said that it was for him “a constant source of deep sadness that people are persecuted for their sexuality”. He said that he was speaking in a personal capacity: “I do not have the authority or right to speak on behalf of everyone.”

He went on: “Personally, I want to say how sorry I am about the hurt and pain, in the past and present, the Church has caused and the love that we have at times failed to show and in some parts of the world still do, including here.” This had caused some people to “doubt they are loved by God”, he said.

The vigil was organised by the African LGBTI organisation Out and Proud Diamond Group, supported by the Peter Tatchell Foundation, and attended by people mostly from Africa.

Archbishop Welby reassured the room that he was concerned about how the LGBTI would receive the news contained in the communiqué, “and that is why we agreed a very strong statement — the strongest that has been made yet, although it was implied before — on the criminalisation of LGBTI people.”

Asked about whether the Communion should be lobbying governments to change anti-gay laws, he said that he would “love to see a change” and spoke of the Church of England’s part in campaigning against the criminalisation of homosexuality in the early 1960s. But he emphasised the power dynamics at play given the legacy of colonialism. He expressed sympathy for politicians who said “We have heard quite enough from former colonial governments about how we should live”.

The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, expanded on this theme.

“There are gays and lesbians in Africa, of course, and we have always had them,” he said. “But generally on the continent our culture does not support the promotion of this type of lifestyle. I know a lot of gays ,but they would not start propagating it as a way of life.”

He spoke of “strong groups from outside coming to impose what is culturally unacceptable on us . . . If the West would just leave Africans, we know how to live together with our differences. The Church has a role to play, I agree, but I would not support the word ‘lobby’. Let the Church play a role and begin to make everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation, feel part of the family, and we will have some respite.”

It was, he said, “the responsibility to every Anglican to give pastoral care and protection to those who have a different sexual orientation”.

The condemnation of homophobia had not been included in Thursday’s communiqué, Archbishop Welby said, because the latter had been leaked. The two documents had been designed to be published together. The communiqué had been “completely taken out of context, then very heavily interpreted to try to give a particular view it was not intended to bear nor carry”.

Archbishop Welby’s answers conveyed frustration with what he described as “parochial” questions. Asked whether the agreement made the Communion look “out of line”, he answered: “In the US and the UK, yes. But not in many other parts of the world.”

The Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr Paul Kwong, denied that the Communion was outdated. “We are moving forward because we want to feel responsible to the whole world, not to a particular region or area. . . We are a faithful and relevant Church to the world in terms of mission.”

The Primates sought to emphasise the collegiality at work. Dr Kwong suggested that they had “become very good friends”. Dr Makgoba revealed that they had washed each other’s feet.

In the past, he said, people had asked how his Church could remain in the Communion, given the persecution of black people by white people. “The Communion said: ‘Hold together; for there is hope in God.’”

Asked whether the fraught issue of sexuality would be his successor’s burden, Archbishop Welby reflected that “every Archbishop of Canterbury comes into post thinking ‘If only I deal with this I can get on with life.’” This was an “illusion”.

The agreement on “consequences” meant that the Primates had established “a way of dealing with Church-dividing issues when a particular province goes off on any subject, and a way of saying ‘If you go off on your own, you are entitled to, but we are interdependent; so have an obligation of love to each other, and, if you ignore that there will be consequences in how you relate to other members of the Communion.’

“It’s not a punishment. We respect their autonomy . . . but it does not mean that there are no consequences.”

He refused to be drawn on what the situation might be in three years nor the consequences if the Anglican Church of Canada permitted same-sex marriage. He expected that “two or three” other Churches might follow this trajectory.

The week had been “an up-and-down one”, Archbishop Welby said, but the spirit had been “good”. On Wednesday, there had been a unanimous vote that all those present “wanted the Churches of the Anglican Communion to walk together”.

Religious violence and the refugee crisis had been discussed, and during the “best couple of hours of the week” the Primates had committed themselves to “proclaiming the person of Jesus Christ around the world, unceasingly and authentically . . . to all.”

He mentioned that discussions with the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros, and other religious leaders indicated that on the horizon lay “a promising change of unifying and fixing the date on which Easter is celebrated by the global Church”.

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