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Welby joins protesters outside Lambeth Palace to defend Bishops’ same-sex stance

24 January 2023

Francis Martin/Church Times

The vigil outside Lambeth Palace

The vigil outside Lambeth Palace

BLESSINGS for same-sex couples is the “best we can do” in the current context, the Archbishop of Canterbury told protesters on Monday evening, in an impromptu conversation outside Lambeth Palace.

Archbishop Welby emerged from the Lambeth Palace gatehouse to defend the proposals made by the College of Bishops last week. LGBTQ+ groups have criticised the Bishops for not recommending the legalisation of same-sex marriage in church (News, 18 January).

Francis Martin/Church TimesThe Archbishop of Canterbury (left) watches Ben Bradshaw MP address demonstrators outside Lambeth Palace

“Let’s do what we can now, and see what happens,” Archbishop Welby said on Monday. “To get something through for equal marriage would require legislation. And legislation has to carry by two-thirds in each house of Synod. . .

“If we go any further [than blessings], it’s three years of legislative fighting, and quite possibly a defeat at the end of it. . . The Bishops together want to do something that avoids that — and the discussion continues.”

About 50 people attended the candlelit vigil, which was organised by Jayne Ozanne, an LGBTQ+ campaigner and member of the General Synod. It was timed to coincide with the arrival of about 90 parliamentarians for a Candlemas service in the chapel at Lambeth Palace.

Protesters sang hymns and prayed together, and held posters and placards calling for same-sex marriage to be permitted within the Church of England. “We just want to know that we’re the same as everybody else,” Ms Ozanne told Archbishop Welby.

The Labour MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw, joined the protest before going to the service, and was among several who challenged the Archbishop to show leadership on the issue.

“I have been very instrumental carrying it as far as I could, to get things to where we are today. I don’t have the votes to go further,” Archbishop Welby replied.

Adam Chinery-North, a Reader who had travelled down from Birmingham to join the vigil, averred that the apology offered by the bishops was “not accepted”.

“Apology in Christian terms implies repentance, but gay people in the Church of England will continue to be treated as second-class citizens who can’t get married, therefore that apology is meaningless,” he told Archbishop Welby, and asked him to withdraw the apology.

Archbishop Welby replied: “Apology, if you’ll forgive me saying so, is much more complicated than you’ve put it: it is always a process in which you start, and then you try to make progress.”

He said that there were a “range of views” among gay clergy, and that many had thanked him for the stance the bishops had taken.

Francis Martin/Church TimesProtesters line the entrance to Lambeth Palace on Monday evening

On Friday, several LGBTQ+ groups in the Church of England said that the proposals did not go as far as they would like, but agreed that they nonetheless amounted to a positive step (News, 23 January).

The prominent campaigner Peter Tatchell was at the protest on Monday evening, and told Archbishop Welby: “This looks like those churches in South Africa during apartheid who refused to marry interracial couples. It looks like barefaced discrimination.”

A church youth-worker, Jacob Holme, said: “Your choice not to bless couples yourself because of your role in the [Anglican] Communion, that speaks volumes.”

Archbishop Welby responded that he would “like very much to pray for people, to use those resources”, but said that he wouldn’t do so because he “cares equally for people around the world and not just for people in this country”.

He said that he had publicly rebuked the Archbishop of Uganda, Dr Samuel Stephen Kaziimba Mugalu, for comments last month in which he said that LGBTQ+ campaigners were “recruiting children into homosexuality” and suggested it would be better for them to be drowned.

Amid complaints from protesters that he was not rebuking churches in the UK for homophobic statements, Archbishop Welby said: “Here’s a promise: you send me details of a church saying something like that, and I will ensure there is a disciplinary process against the clergy who said it.”

He added that he would also take action against Church of England churches that promoted conversion therapy. In February last year, hundreds of C of E clergy signed a letter calling for a complete ban on conversion therapy (News, 25 February 2022).

Archbishop Welby spent around 15 minutes with demonstrators, offering refreshments to those who had gathered. “I was very grateful that he came out and spoke directly with us,” Ms Ozanne said, describing his appearance as “generous, kind, and brave. . .

“He allowed people to express their anger, but I do hope he heard the disappointment particularly in the leadership, because I still think that Bishops don’t understand the harm that goes on in their churches because of conservative teaching.”

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