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Archbishop of Canterbury: Church faces ‘irreconcilable’ divide over gay sex

Nick Duffy November 2, 2017
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at St George's Chapel, Windsor, ahead of the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 18, 2018 in Windsor, England.

SITTINGBOURNE, ENGLAND - MARCH 25: The Arch-Bishop of Canterbury listens to a service after a March of Witness through the town centre on March 25, 2016 in Sittingbourne, England. Christians around the world have observed religious services to mark Good Friday. The holiday is observed during Holy Week as part of the Paschal Triduum on the Friday preceding Easter Sunday. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the church’s splits on LGBT issues are “irreconcilable”, as he admitted “not handling this issue very well”.

Deep divisions have arisen in the Anglican church over LGBT issues, both within the Church of England and globally.

Church of England bishops have been accused of discrimination in recent years, after opting to ‘punish’ gay clergy who enter same-sex unions under hastily-implemented new rules.

Meanwhile the global Anglican Communion has been torn apart by a rift between largely pro-LGBT Western churches and hardline anti-gay Anglican churches in Africa and the Global South.

(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

In the past few years, the US, Canadian and Scottish churches have sparked anger from hardline African archbishops by modernising on LGBT rights, embracing gay bishops and same-sex unions.

In an attempt to keep the Anglican Communion from splintering, the Archbishop of Canterbury has dolled out ‘punishments’ for the US and Scottish churches, accusing them of making “a fundamental departure from [Anglican] faith and teaching” on gay people.

But in a interview with Alastair Campbell for GQ Magazine, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby admitted that the rift on LGBT issues within the church was “irreconcilable”.

The Archbishop, the head of the global Anglican Church, said: “It is just irreconcilable. There are some disputes that are irreconcilable. I don’t know [where it goes] at the moment.

“What I know is we have to be faithful to the deposit of faith, the tradition of scripture. We have to be holy, above all.

“We have to be people who look like God wants us to look like. When people look at the church they should see Jesus, and really, they don’t very often, particularly when we are totally hostile to people, judgemental, unpleasant, nasty.”

He confessed that his handling of the issue had been poor, saying: “I am having to struggle to be faithful to the tradition, faithful to the scripture, to understand what the call and will of God is in the 21st century and to respond appropriately with love for all people – not condemning them, whether I agree with them or not. That covers both sides of the argument.

“I am not doing that bit of work as well as I would like to.”

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

He added: “The generosity I’ve received from gay friends in the midst of not handling this issue very well, and from people who are very traditionalist, has led to me being much less certain than I would have been 10 or 15 years ago.”

But the Archbishop skirted questions about whether he believes gay sex is a sin.

He said: “You know very well that is a question I can’t give a straight answer to.

“I don’t do blanket condemnation and I haven’t got a good answer to the question. I’ll be really honest about that. I know I haven’t got a good answer to the question.

“Inherently, within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability of relationships and loving relationships.”

When Campbell pointed out that could include same-sex relationships, the Archbishop added: “I know it could be.

“I am also aware – a view deeply held by tradition since long before Christianity, within the Jewish tradition – that marriage is understood invariably as being between a man and a woman, or, in various times, a man and several women, if you go back to the Old Testament.

“I know that the Church around the world is deeply divided on this in some places, including the Anglicans and many other Churches. The vast majority of the Church is deeply against gay sex.”

His comments come in the same month that he agreed to ‘punish’ the Scottish Episcopal Church for its embrace of same-sex unions.

Speaking to the press at an Anglican Communion meeting last month, the Archbishop confirmed that at a Primates Meeting he had agreed to push forward with sanctions on the Scottish Church, which could see them barred from Anglican Communion events.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 24: Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby speaks at a vigil outside Westminster Abbey on March 24, 2017 in London, England. Faith leaders came together for a vigil and held a one minute silence today following the terror attack on Westminster this week in which five people, including the assailant, were killed. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
(Getty)

Archbishop Welby said: “There were a lot of expressions of disappointment, strong feelings from many of the provinces.

“That was heard very carefully by the Scottish Episcopal Church, who was careful in recognising this was going to lead to consequences in terms of not being able to play a role in ecumenical or leadership roles within the Anglican Communion.

“That was in line with the decisions reached in January 2016 [for the US Episcopal Church] and there will be no difference to what was decided then.”

Welby confirmed he would be personally overseeing the implementation of the ‘consequences’, saying: “It’s been left in my hands to follow through and it will be followed through.

He added there was no “formal vote” on the issue because “there was a consensus around that”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby with the Queen, who is Supreme Governor of the Church of England (Photo by Anthony Devlin – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The Archbishop said: “People were disappointed, they were angry… but it was a very different mood to many previous primates’ meetings.

“It was more like a family having to face the fact that something’s happened that is causing grief, than a club that doesn’t like one of its members.

“People were very clear about how disappointed they were. The mood in the room was aggrieved that people have to do things that no-one likes, and that I don’t particularly like, doing.”

Despite repeated concessions to hardliners, the Anglican Communion is in a state of terminal disarray and is unlikely to ever heal its rifts.

The Communion had been due to hold its once-a-decade meeting of global bishops, known as a Lambeth Conference, in 2018.

However, the Conference was delayed over fears that there would be a boycott from hardline bishops.

It is now tentatively scheduled for 2020, but it is unclear whether key African bishops will be attending.

The last Lambeth Conference to actually be held, in 2008, was also boycotted over LGBT rights.

The Archbishop of Uganda Stanley Ntagali refused to even attend the Primates’ meeting.

Ntagali, who has egged on laws across Africa implementing harsh punishments for homosexuality, said he was not prepared to tolerate people with “an unbiblical view of marriage”.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 13: A detail of the cross necklace worn by The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby as he speaks during a press conference ahead of Archbishop Philip Freier's inauguration as Primate of Austalia at The Cathedral Chapter House on August 13, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. It is the first visit to Australia by the spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion since 1997. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Ahead of the meeting, Welby had written to the primates from around the world to insist that the Church of England remains opposed to same-sex marriage.

He wrote: “I certainly feel the need to be with you, to share our experience and in prayer and fellowship, to support one another and seek how best we can serve the call to preach the gospel, serve the poor and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”

Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, said: “I support the Bishops’ declaration that doctrine on marriage should not change – that marriage should be a lifelong commitment between a man and woman.

“The Anglican Communion position is set out [opposing same-sex marriage]. That is our lodestar.”

The first same-sex weddings in Scottish Episcopal Churches took place earlier this year.

Edinburgh’s St John’s Church hosted the wedding of Peter Matthews and Alistair Dinnie, believed to be the first such union in a SEC church.

Several others have followed suit, with churches in Glasgow and Moray also hosting same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Mr Matthews said: “As a young gay man I thought I would never, ever, get married, let alone married in a church.

“The opening liturgy of our ceremony emphasises how the love in our marriage reflects and reinforces the love of God and the love of Jesus, when he died for us on the cross.

“By getting married in church this is stating that this love is as bountiful for everyone equally.”

More: Anglican, Anglican communion, archbishop of canterbury, Church, Gay, gay sex, justin welby, LGBT, Religion, welby

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