The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is saying as much, and he did so before a very gay-hostile crowd of British evangelicals. During the ceremonial opening of a new HQ for the Evangelical Alliance, the Archbishop made this striking admission:
... the Church has not been good at dealing with homophobia ... in fact we have, at times, as God’s people, in various places, really implicitly or even explicitly supported it.“And we have to be really, really repentant about that because it is utterly and totally wrong.”And he followed that up with an even more striking statement:
“And we have seen changes in the idea about sexuality, sexual behaviour, which quite simply [mean that] we have to face the fact that the vast majority of people under 35 think not only that what we are saying is incomprehensible but also think that we are plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism and other forms of gross and atrocious injustice."Is this the beginning of a thaw in relations to LGBT people by Christian hierarchs?
The sympathetic tone (though not the substance) of recent remarks by the new Pope about gay priests leads some to believe that we are on the brink of some kind of break in the ice.
I remain very skeptical.
The Pope's tone might be a departure from his predecessors (OMG! He said "gay!"), but the basic substance remains the same; gays remain a freak of nature, an aberration in natural law, "intrinsically disordered" pathological beings worthy of our pity (the polite form of contempt).
What about Canterbury? He hasn't changed his mind about his opposition to the marriage equality bill. He made a real effort in Parliament, speaking personally against the bill in the House of Lords. The hierarchy of the Church of England suffered a bitter defeat in Parliament (and by implication, a stinging rebuke from British voters). Like the Pope's remarks, I think these statements by Canterbury are more form than substance. I think they are less a real change of mind than an attempt to do damage control. As Andrew Brown recently pointed out in The Guardian, the Church hierarchy is now forced to admit that opinion in the pews is very deeply divided over same-sexuality, especially along generational lines, even among evangelicals. Opinion on the subject among the laity is actually much closer to secular views than those of their religious leaders. The religiously sanctioned homophobia (which Canterbury now admits) continues to offend and alienate the larger population, especially among those under 35.
Perhaps the Archbishop feels a little more independent than his predecessor, Rowan Williams. Central Africa's deeply homophobic churches continue to descend to ever more violent and draconian excesses. The Russian Orthodox Church explicitly blesses the current anti-LGBT pogrom by the Russian government and silently condones the brutal murders of young gay men, provoking a reaction of shocked revulsion in Western public opinion.
Justin Welby may not feel quite so bound to appease these churches as did his predecessor Rowan Williams.
That may be, but there is no evidence of any warming of feelings by Lambeth Palace toward the Episcopal Church USA. Canterbury may not understand Episcopal polity, and he probably doesn't care. Welby may want to put some distance between himself and those other homophobic churches, not because he opposes them, but because being associated with them looks bad.
Once again, Christopher Seitz dominates the comment thread on this topic on Thinking Anglicans. Here is his opening salvo that starts another long comment thread:
Incoherent? Why would it be incoherent to condemn homophobia and vote against 'marriage' between people of the same gender? Wasn't this the same view held by his predecessor, and Christians of wide scope worldwide? People can condemn +Welby and +RDW for holding this position, but incoherent it isn't.For once, I actually agree with Seitz (pace JCF), but not for the reasons he thinks. I think Welby, like the Pope, hasn't changed his mind on anything. He's just changing his publicity tactics.
As usual in these comment threads, Seitz (who starts these ruckuses) complains about being ganged up upon:
"That's right, Pat, we support miscegenation laws and are homophobic bigots -- that's what concluding the BCP understanding of Christian marriage, as faithful Christian belief and practice, now amounts to..."yadda, yadda, yadda.
It never ceases to amaze me how thin-skinned right wing Christians can be. Make them a little uncomfortable and they start writing a new chapter for themselves in Fox's Book of Martyrs. The USA and Britain are hardly Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood. No mobs are coming to burn their churches. None of them have to pay any penalty tax for being Christians. None of them are denied housing, employment, or public accommodation for being Christian. No neighborhoods, schools, or professions are denied to them. They can walk the streets and ride the buses in relative safety. No one in the West gets beaten up for being Christian.
On the other hand, you are in danger of being beaten up on the street for being gay, and in 29 states in the USA, you can be denied employment, housing, and public services.
Gay folk like me, and our friends, have to listen to stuff like this constantly, and this guy is not all that exceptional (of course Thinking Anglicans would NEVER run anything like this; yes it's rude, but this is how a lot of -- maybe most -- Americans experience Christianity these days):
A dissenting opinion from the great Erika Baker followed by dissents to her dissent from the comment thread on Thinking Anglicans (no sarc-remarks from Dr Seitz, I promise):
what do you want from him?
Damned if he changes, damned if he doesn't?
From the beginning he has criticised homophobia in the church. He's the first one to tackle the evangelicals head on.
But he's in this half way place where people genuinely believe that they can object to the extremes of anti gay sentiment while maintaining an equal but different outlook. And yes, he made a terrible mistake when he voted for the fatal amendment.
It cannot be done.
He will discover this.
I’m always surprised that when previously staunchly anti gay people change their mind, one half of the liberal part of church lays into them for not having changed their mind earlier, for ever having held different opinions, for changing their mind too little too late, for not atoning enough – I understand the emotions but it’s deeply counterproductive.
If we really want change we have to encourage and welcome it wherever it start to appear.
I’m no friend of Justin Welby’s, the House of Lords vote put him in a very very low place as far as I’m concerned.
But I do applaud what he is doing now and I want to do what I can to encourage him along on his path.
Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 30 August 2013 at 5:06pm BST
Erika, I would be happy to see Welby change his mind, if there was any evidence that he had changed his mind.
He's reaffirmed his belief that voting against SSM was the right thing, ie that although he accepts it's going to happen, he still things SSM is wrong. He's also recently reaffirmed his position that sex should only take place in marriage, marriage he thinks should be denied to gays. How is he not homophobic if his position is that all homosexuals should be celibate? And if that isn't his position, how does he square his positions with regard to SSM (against) and sex outside marriage (against)?
So I don't believe Welby's position has moved. He opposed, and opposes, same-sex adoption and same-sex marriage, and thinks that couple of the same sex shouldn't have sex. If that's the new, anti-homophobic Welby, I'd hate to see the other one.
Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 31 August 2013 at 3:25am BST
And there we have it 'Interested Observer'. It is all about sex, and particularly the shiboleth of no sex outside marriage. The ABC has got himself into the catch 22 position. No sex outside marriage, gays can't marry, gays can't have sex because they can't marry.
The poor man is terribly conflicted yet doesn't yet seem to recognise those conflcts. One has to give him the benefit of the doubt and accept that he is trying to understand the world as it is. He also seems to be beginning to see the sheer nastiness of much of the church's respose to gltb people and how out of touch it is with the vast majority of the popuation. But until he and conservative Christians resolve this issue in the end their words remain hollow pieties.
Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 31 August 2013 at 8:54am BST
"He also seems to be beginning to see the sheer nastiness of much of the church's respose to gltb people "
But he sees that as a PR problem, not a problem of decency and principle. So far as I can tell, Welby's personal position is that homosexuality is wrong, homosexuals should repent and stop doing those things that they do, and ideally should stop being homosexual. Adoption, marriage and other institutions of the state should be closed to them, and although they shouldn't be actively punished for their sin, it should be made clear to them that they are wrong in their thought and deed.
But he realises that saying that in public is bad PR, and makes the CofE look vile. So he's trying to frame a position which says that homosexuality is in fact OK, so long as homosexuals don't do anything associated with being homosexual, and build themselves nice Ikea closets to live in.
He's not moving the CofE's doctrine, or his own thinking, a millimetre. What he's trying to do is rebrand bigotry as a sort of regrettable foible that we should excuse because he's just so loveable, while to the faithful of his evangelical flock he maintains the same message of exclusion, distaste and segregation. His position is, at root, dishonest: he wants people to believe he's a thinking man, when in fact there isn't an inch of daylight between his position now and the position of the most staunch anti-gay evangelical. No marriage. No adoption. No sex. No acceptance.
Welby will be remembered as a man who continued to be a bigot while all around him society was becoming decent. The CofE, in choosing him as ABC, has opted to fight a culture war that in the UK has essentially no troops, and has rendered the CofE politically impotent.
Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 31 August 2013 at 12:41pm BST