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Welby arrives in Australia with a message promoting unity and difference

07 October 2022

Twitter/Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury in Perth, on Thursday, at a welcome ceremony led by Elders of the Noongar people

The Archbishop of Canterbury in Perth, on Thursday, at a welcome ceremony led by Elders of the Noongar people

ANGLICANS are called to “unity — not unanimity”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. He was speaking on Thursday evening at the start of a two-week visit to Australia.

The Archbishop and his wife, Caroline, were welcomed to Australia earlier on Thursday in a ceremony in Perth “led by Elders of the Noongar people, the traditional custodians of this land”, he wrote on Twitter. He hoped that the visit would give him “a chance to learn from First Nations people across this ancient land — to listen deeply, build relationships, stand in solidarity, and take small steps together on the slow journey towards God’s healing and justice”.

In the sermon preached in St George’s Cathedral on Thursday evening, Archbishop Welby said that Australia and the UK were both “having to reckon with the consequences of our history”. An audit of the Church Commissioners, going back to 1704, had revealed that they had “made about £450 million out of slavery”, he said (News, 17 June). “So what are we going to do with that?”

The Magnificat showed that Christians “belong to the world’s greatest revolutionary organisation”, he said; “not of violent revolution, but of a revolution of the heart and life which is the hope of our world.”

He continued: “When we listen to those words of revolution, when we learn that, although we disagree passionately with each other, passionately, vehemently, deeply, we will disagree well.

“When we learn that, then we have something to say to the world around. To listen closely to God’s word is not to become clones of each other, all spouting the same thing as if we were a sect, but to rejoice in our individuality, to embrace our mutual need for one another, to relate to one another and love one another in action and word, and in so doing to reveal Christ.”

He went on to speak of the “storm and noise about issues of human sexuality” in the run-up to the Lambeth Conference in the summer. “When we came to the afternoon when we were going to discuss the subject, we went into it with a distinct sense that the [Anglican] Communion could fall apart any minute, there could be a huge walkout,” he said. “We were close to it. Many people outside the Conference were encouraging it for one reason or another, either because we were too conservative, or we were too liberal, or too something else.”

He continued: “We tried to tell the truth: that we belong to Christ, that those who took different views belong to Christ. . . It was one of those rare moments . . . where the air felt thick with the presence of God. . .

“Everything changed. We didn’t change our minds at all. Nobody I know of said: ‘Well I’m now convinced that same-sex marriage is a good thing and I’ve always been vehemently against it,’ or vice versa. But people suddenly said: ‘I am now convinced that those I disagree with are my brothers and sisters in Christ. And in some strange way I feel a profound connection and unity with them.’ Not unanimity — unity.”

Archbishop Welby’s visit comes as tensions have risen between the Anglican Church of Australia and Gafcon. Over the summer, Gafcon launched a new diocese in Australia, the Diocese of the Southern Cross (News, 19 August), which the Australian Primate and Archbishop of Adelaide, the Most Revd Geoffrey Smith, has described as “effectively a new denomination” (News, 26 August).

Archbishop Welby was reported by The Sydney Morning Herald as saying that the move by Gafcon created “a sense of deep sadness and disappointment about what it says to those who are not Christians”.

He continued: “What it seems to me to say is that, as Christians, we are unable to manage our differences in any better way than a political party or some kind of voluntary group that’s got differences. It says we don’t hold on to the teaching of Christ in [the Gospel of John], in which Jesus prays that his followers will be one.”

Archbishop Welby’s visit to Australia also comes at a time when there has been heated debate freedom of religion in the country involving the Anglican Church of Australia.

The newly appointed chief executive of a major Melbourne football club left his post one day after his appointment rather than agree to the club’s requirement that he resign as chair of the board of City on a Hill church, because of its conservative views on homosexuality and abortion.

City on a Hill, recognised as an Authorised Anglican Congregation in the diocese of Melbourne, describes itself as a “movement of eight churches in the Anglican tradition”. Five of its churches are in Melbourne diocese, under the leadership of its founder, the Ven. Guy Mason, who is called the churches’ “senior pastor”. He is also an archdeacon in the diocese.

Essendon Football Club has a public policy of full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, whereas a sermon found on the church’s website described homosexuality as a sin. Another sermon likened abortion to a concentration camp. The church has since apologised for the language used in expressing its view on abortion.

Andrew Thorburn, formerly a banking executive, said in a statement that it was “troubling that faith or association with a church, mosque, synagogue or temple could render a person immediately unsuited to holding a particular role”. It was “a dangerous idea, one that will only reduce tolerance for others and diversity of thought and participation in our community and workplaces,” he said.

The Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, has publicly supported City on a Hill and Archdeacon Mason. Other religious leaders and politicians have also commented, labelling the situation as an attack on freedom of religion. Others, however, have described the situation as more a corporate governance issue.

Archbishop Welby has declined to comment on the controversy, saying that secular countries had not yet determined how to deal with differences over faith, ethics, and behaviour.

Archbishop Welby is due to preach in St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, on Sunday evening, during a service to mark the 175th anniversary of the diocese of Melbourne. The next day, he will be present at a meeting of Australia’s Anglican bishops.

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