What did Justin Welby say about gays and violence in Africa?

justin-welby-lbcLast week the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, conducted a radio phone-in on LBC Radio. Gillan Scott, over at God and Politics, characterised it as ‘a breath of fresh air’:

Spending an hour answering questions he covered plenty of ground and it was refreshing to hear him talking freely on a range of subjects firsthand including women bishops, welfare reform, the morality of fuel costs, foodbanks and a Christian attitudes to the environment without his words being reduced to the usual media soundbites. It was very easy to get a taste of his personality, the way that his faith has moulded him and why he is the right person to be the Archbishop of Canterbury at this time. His mixture of honesty, pragmatism and theology were thoroughly engaging, profound and at times entertaining.

But of course, inevitably the subject of same-sex marriage came up, and much of the media reporting focussed on this. His comments were given short shrift in a couple of different directions. Here are two representative samples, this first from the Huffington Post:

The “breaking story” in Anglican news circles is a radio interview with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby tying the persecution of African Christians to the fuller inclusion of LGBT people by “the western church.”…Where is the lament from the ABofC for LGBT youth who choose suicide over bullying? For those who live in fear of arrest or assault because of their sexual orientation or gender identity? Or for those who are dying the slow death of internalized homophobia not only condoned by but contributed to by “the church?”

This second is from Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow:

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s statements yesterday in a radio phone-in, which seemed to imply that opening marriage to same-sex couples would lead to murder in Africa, take us into a very murky ethical place….Generally speaking, I thought it was a poor radio performance…The particularly offensive thing which he has said is to suggest that there should be no movement on opening marriage to same-sex couples in the church because that could lead to Anglicans being murdered in Africa. I find the ethics of this very straightforward… The Archbishop of Canterbury seems to have been suggesting that our policies should be dictated by murderers.

How might we respond to the first kind of comment? Well, here’s a suggestion: How about listening to what Justin actually said?

A gay christian listening to you though may have heard the message that he or she can’t marry their partner in their church because of the conniptions it would give to some African, dare we say less enlightened people, in Africa.

Well I don’t think we dare say less enlightened actually. I think that’s a sort of neo-colonial approach and it’s one I really object to. I think it’s not about them having conniptions, getting irate, that’s nothing to do with it. It’s about the fact that I’ve stood by a graveside in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far far away in America, and they were attacked by other people – because of that a lot of them had been killed. I was in the South Sudan a few weeks ago and the church leaders there were saying please don’t change what you’re doing, because then we couldn’t accept your help and we need your help desperately. We have to listen carefully to that, we also have to listen incredibly carefully to gay people here who want to get married and also to recognise that any homophobic behaviour here causes enormous suffering, particularly to gay teenagers, something I’m particularly conscious of at the moment. And we have to listen to that very carefully and work out what we do.

Can you imagine a day when two people of the same-sex will be married in an Anglican church here?

I don’t know. Personally, I have a real, I look at the Scriptures, I look at the teaching of the church, I listen to Christians around the world and I have real hesitations about that. I’m incredibly uncomfortable saying that because I really don’t want to say no to people who love each other, but you have to have a sense of following what the teaching of the church is, you can’t just make sudden changes.

Where is the lament for victims of homophobic bullying? Right there, in what Justin actually said. And this was not the only point at which he said it. It is really disappointing when certain ‘revisionists’ bandy about comments borne of simple ignorance, and (sadly) it suggests a real reluctance to even listen to what has been said. And it is also disappointing when bishops on Facebook disseminate these views without scrutinising them—though fortunately some proper conversation did follow the posting.

How might we respond to the second point of view, which draws a simple, straight, consequentialist line from one thing to another, assuming this is what Justin was saying? Again, the first thing is to note Justin’s comment above: it is Scripture (first) and the consistent teaching of the church down the ages which has weight, not just what he witnessed in Africa. Andrew Goddard has just posted an excellent piece on Fulcrum exploring the ethical issues. In relation to the kind of comment Kelvin makes above, he notes:

Some seem to have heard Archbishop Justin offering a crude form of consequentialism, the view that whether an action is right or wrong is determined solely by whether its consequences are good or bad: a consequence of the Church of England accepting gay marriage is that Christians in Africa will be killed, this is clearly wrong, therefore I am opposed to the Church of England accepting gay marriage. This has happened due to a mix of poor reporting of the interview and to the sad fact that consequentialism is often people’s default line of moral reasoning and so assumed to be the form of moral argument being presented.

After looking carefully at both context and content of Justin’s comments, he observes:

This was, in short, an appeal to neighbour-love that politely suggested the questioner needed a bigger vision of what this fundamental Christian command required…

In other words, Archbishop Justin is very far from offering a consequentialist argument that the cruel, wholly unjustifiable infliction of suffering on African Christians should determine and fix the church’s stance.  Rather, in the face of a call for a sudden change in church practice, he appealed to the classic Anglican process of patient corporate, reasoned ecclesial reflection which listens to a range of human experience and studies tradition and Scripture, with Scripture as definitive.

Andrew then explores the complex issues around the cost of making the right choices, given that all options have consequences for different parties—and there are challenges on all sides of the discussion.

Those pressing for change therefore need seriously to attend to these complex realities and questions even though they are not as obvious and pressing for most English Anglicans in their parishes as they are for bishops whose ministry connects them with the wider church.  Those of us upholding the current teaching and discipline similarly have seriously to address the complex realities and questions we face here and now with the introduction of same-sex marriage and ask those in other parts of the Communion to understand our context as we seek to understand theirs.

If this happens, then the ‘facilitated conversations’ might have some purpose and be fruitful. But only as long as the kind of responses we saw above are well and truly set aside.

And, by the way, could you please pray for Justin Welby and his ministry? It cannot be either pleasant or easy knowing that every comment you make on this question is going to be misreported and misinterpreted in a thousand different directions.

Additional note

I think there is an interesting (and surprising) reflection from Andrew Brown on the question. He includes this comment:

Christians are called on to do what is right, and to trust that God will bring good out of it even if evil immediately follows. Failing to do what you believe is right is, in some lights, a kind of blasphemy.

Welby does not, in fact, believe in gay marriage, so he’s off that particular hook. And he has already said enough in favour of gay people to disgust the Ugandan and Nigerian churches. I don’t think you can accuse him of cowardice on this issue, even if he’s wrong.

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26 thoughts on “What did Justin Welby say about gays and violence in Africa?”

  1. Just read your blog and was nodding agreement all the way though.
    I am praying for Justin Welby, that God will continue to strengthen him, guide him and encourage him in his calling. I think of the words ‘ Bowed, but not broken.’

  2. You omitted this comment: “Well, why can’t we just do it now? Because, the impact of that on Christians in countries far from here, like South Sudan, like Nigeria and other places, would be absolutely catastrophic, and we have to love them as much as we love the people who are here.” Sympathy for LGBT people doesn’t undo that comment.

    I can, with effort, respect the integrity of the evangelical position: you believe the Bible is God’s revealed will; and the Bible condemns same-sex relationships. What I can’t respect is the sort of emotional blackmail Welby resorted to. If it was unintentional, it was certainly careless, and I hope we see a retraction.

    One is more likely to come if open evangelicals like yourself and Andrew Goddard step up and dissent. Your post sympathizes with Welby, but I don’t see any recognition of the pain this has caused LGBT people. You might feel obliged to condemn gay relationships, but even on your own terms, you’re not obliged to defend this.

    • Sorry, I don’t understand why we should dissent. You can be offended as you like by one comment taken out of context and in isolation. Your note ‘Sympathy for LGBT people doesn’t undo that comment’ doesn’t justify your egregious misreading of what he said.

      ‘Emotional blackmail.’ Did you actually read Andrew’s piece…?

      • I certainly did, and found his separation of consequentialism and “neighbor-love” a distinction without a difference: regardless of what you call it, Welby urged English and American Anglicans to exclude gay people to save lives in Africa. What context alters that?

        True “neighbor-love” would be to stand in solidarity with gay people here and in Africa (why didn’t Welby mention the LGBT people in Nigeria and Uganda?) and condemn sectarian murder with righteous fury, whatever pretext it uses.

        I know you didn’t choose to hold your position: you consider yourself bound by scripture. Regardless, you can surely see how cruel and unjust it is to put the guilt for these massacres on an innocent and excluded minority? I urge you, listen to Welby’s comments again, and think how they’d come across if you were gay.

        • James – but Justin Welby did not urge anyone to ‘exclude’ gay people and in the Uk gay people now have the law on their side and are welcome in church. However, having a loving heart towards gay friends does not preclude misgivings about gay marriage.

          • It goes way beyond “misgivings” about gay marriage. Gay couples can’t even have their relationships blessed in church, and gay priests are forbidden to make love to their spouse, ever. (A situation the married bishops who issued the command would find intolerable.) Thanks to the sweeping exemptions the church carved out from anti-discrimination legislation, they don’t have the law on their side.

          • James – in reply to your 3.27pm/7th April post I can think of nothing to say other than ‘God bless’

        • ‘Welby urged English and American Anglicans to exclude gay people to save lives in Africa. What context alters that?’

          The context of equal acknowledgement of concerns to the gay community here, and the primacy of Scripture in his moral reasoning.

          If anyone not agreeing with you constitutes ‘homophobia’ and ‘exclusion’ then yes, there are lots of people like this. But I don’t think this is a reasonable use of the words; you are really just talking to yourself.

          • But acknowledging those concerns doesn’t undo his comments about sectarian murder. They stand alone.

            Look at the implications of this thinking: it hands every terrorist a veto. Would Welby tell African Christians to deny Christ to save themselves? Of course not, because he doesn’t think they should. Welby appears to be using African massacres to pressure those who disagree with him. If he didn’t intend emotional blackmail, he’s been negligent about the effect of his words.

            I haven’t said that anyone who disagrees with me is homophobic. I don’t believe that either you or Goddard are remotely homophobic: you’re obeying the Bible, which you honestly believe is the Word of God. It’s precisely because you’re *not* homophobic that I’m surprised to see you fail to acknowledge the unfairness of Welby’s comments, and their impact on gay people. Have you spoken to your gay friends about this? If so, what have they said?

          • James I think your comments are getting more and more bizarre.

            ‘But acknowledging those concerns doesn’t undo his comments about sectarian murder. They stand alone.’ On what possible grounds? Only your strange misreading.

            ‘Look at the implications of this thinking: it hands every terrorist a veto. ‘ No it doesn’t. Are you really suggesting that Muslim murderers are now mounting a deliberate campaign to shape C of E theological debates? How extraordinary.

            It’s fine to have you comment, but you need to offer some argument, rather than just repeating the same point ad nauseam.

    • James – I’m unhappy with the word ‘condemn’. Jesus said ‘Do not condemn’ and I really don’t get the impression that anyone on this page is condemning anyone. Nor has Justin Welby condemned anyone. Speaking the truth in love is another matter, of course – I believe that Justin Welby is moved by compassion and wisdom.

      • If a relationship is labeled a sin — not just a sin, but a “salvation issue” — condemnation is inherent to the label, as a sin is, by definition, something that God condemns.

        Not only must gay Anglicans hear their loving relationships called sinful, and be forced to suppress their sexuality for life if they’re ordained, on top of that cruel burden, they’ve just heard their archbishop tell them that affirmation in England would cause slaughter in Africa.

        No wonder this has caused outrage.

  3. Well said, Ian, and thank you for saying it (along with Andrew Goddard’s wisdom). ++Justin is simply and honestly stating a fact: in a global world, words are heard around the globe. Whether that changes our decisions or not, it might give us pause for further thought. We might like to think about consequences before we choose to do nothing about them. That would be considerate. Unremarkable grace from His Grace.

    A thought: words heard around the globe works in all directions. Recent legislative changes in Nigeria and Uganda are being observed around the Anglican Communion. It helps us to see how all Anglican churches are driven to a degree by local considerations. It reminds us how volatile some societies are. It may even give some conservative Anglicans pause for thought before seeking extra-provincial oversight from bishops as much driven by local considerations as their own.

    • Thanks Peter. I thought Andrew’s piece was excellent, and very carefully nuanced and balanced: thinking through the consequences and considering their role in decision-making is needed on all sides.

  4. Thank you, Ian. I wasn’t able to hear the entire interview, but did feel that the context of the “offending” comment was not quite what some were taking it to be; that the comment was more about process than what we should/shouldn’t decide. And thanks for the pointer to Andrew Goddard’s piece.

  5. Thank you for this piece. The reaction to Archbishop’s interview makes me doubt how much value these facilitated conversations are going to have, since there is so much filtering of what is said the original gets lost in translation. I get the impression that those who would seek to revise the church’s teaching on marriage would only be happy if the Archbishop completely agreed with them.

  6. Fellow evangelicals applaud Welby’s ordering the gays back on the cross for the sake of brotherly love. What a surprise. Evangelicals actually attempting to understand the real pain and anger felt by gays and those who love and support? Isn’t going to happen (Peter Carrell excepted, maybe). Rather we are splained to again that we are misreading, no egregiously, therefore purposely, misreading Welby’s interview. What a said example of privileged ignorance on display here.

    • Thanks for the comment Priscilla. Can you say more? In what way was Justin ‘ordering gays back on the cross’? Why were his careful comments about concern for the LGBT community irrelevant?

    • Well said, Priscilla. This was a chance for open evangelicals to show, via loyal dissent, kindness and empathy to lesbian and gay people, without changing their traditional position. Instead, they had to witness a circling of the wagons.

      • Strange that a careful, reflective engagement with what was actually going on counts as ‘circling the wagons’ when the conclusion isn’t one you agree with.

        Still waiting to hear from Priscilla why she said what she did.

  7. I’m not surprised that Welby felt it necessary to come up with yet another reason why the Church will never approve of gay marriage. We gays have to be told in no uncertain terms that our relationships are totally beyond the pale and will never be acceptable no matter how well we argue our case.

    Whether you understand Welby’s point about approval for gay marriage in England leading to the persecution of Christians in Africa as “consequentialist” or not, it makes little difference to the overall tenor of his arguments. What he’s saying quite clearly is that gay relationships are sinful and always will be. Full stop. End of story.

    This is the end of the Anglican story for me. If there’s no hope of the Church recognizing the validity of my relationship, there’s no place for me in the Church. I won’t play the role of the poor sinner so far gone in iniquity, he can no longer recognize his own sin. I won’t support a system that enshrines other people’s conscience in Church doctrine, while my conscience is relegated to the status of an unfortunate heresy.

    I won’t be waiting for “facilitated conversations”, because it’s clear now that all they’ll entail is Welby and his crew putting pegs over their noses to block out our stench while they utter empty phrases about how much God loves us despite our repulsive habits. Who in his right mind would expect any thinking adult to stick around to be pitied, patronized and “tolerated” like a disruptive autistic child?

    • ‘What he’s saying quite clearly is that gay relationships are sinful’. But that is the current position of the C of E, as I think you know. So he was reflecting on the question of whether that teaching should change. He didn’t in his comments close down the possibility of change…but said it would need to come about by particular reasoning.

      I think it is a great irony that you believe the ‘conversations’ won’t change anything. Equally, ‘conservatives’ think they are just a pretence before the inevitable change comes.

      • Oh I think the Church will change its stance on gay relationships eventually. Churches are made up of people, people change and the direction of that change is clear for us all to see. But we’re talking about generational change here. We’re going to have to wait until the old men who currently run things are wheeled off to their retirement homes before the barrier to change they represent can be pushed aside.

        Change will come, but it’s going to take time. While this may ultimately benefit gay people who are now below the age of thirty, for those like me who are approaching fifty, waiting another 20-25 years for the dinosaurs to dwindle into extinction isn’t an option. I can’t see myself patiently waiting until I’m 75 to marry the man I love in an Anglican church. Especially not when there are other churches who’ll quite happily marry us now.

        Whatever happens eventually, my current concern is the here and now. And in that here and now there is precisely zero chance of me being able to marry in an Anglican church. So I’m going to leave you all to your “facilitated conversations” (a.k.a. bald-faced filibustering) and get on with my life in a church that takes me seriously.


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