First of all, we need to give some cheers to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
He was asked some great questions about the Usual Topic this week in an interview and he gave some great answers.
The interviewer was Michael Gove and the interview appeared in the Spectator.
The crucial bit is this:
It would be a challenge for any Archbishop of Canterbury to accommodate both the concerns of the traditionalists and the evolving views of the rest of British society. But when I ask this, Archbishop of Canterbury he doesn’t prevaricate.
If one of his own children were to be gay and fell in love with another person of the same sex, and asked his blessing, how would he react? ‘Would I pray for them together? You bet I would, absolutely. Would I pray with them together? If they wanted me to. If they had a civil service of marriage, would I attend? Of course I would.’
But, I challenged him, conscious of what many evangelicals believe, wouldn’t you say to them that while you love them, their relationship was sinful or inappropriate?
‘I would say, “I will always love you, full stop. End of sentence, end of paragraph.” Whatever they say, I will say I always love them.’
Listening to the archbishop, you get the sense that he is never calculating who might be offended, or attracted, by his words. He is following what he believes to be the path that Jesus has called him to take.
Those really are great answers and it is good to hear them coming from the leader of the Anglican Communion.
Now, I know what you are thinking – you’re thinking “Do we really have to give three cheers for someone simply behaving like a decent parent?”
Well, right now in the mire of the church’s troubles over sexuality, we do need to cheer him on when he says good things and we need to remember that it could be a very different message and a very different tone. Just the same week, a bishop in Greece has been reported to be lashing out at gay people and atheists, encouraged his ‘readers and followers to “spit on them” and “blacken them” with violence, stating that they are not humans’.
So, it really is three cheers for Archbishop Welby along with a cheer to Michael Gove for asking the right questions and getting the results printed. (And you are quite right, you are not going to hear me cheering Justin Welby and Michael Gove that often so make the most of it today).
One of the things that surprises me about the Church of England is that the bishops there are not subject to intrusive questions more often. I happen to think that Michael Gove’s questions were intrusive but necessary and reasonable. The Archbishop could have simply said, “Don’t bring my family and children into this” but it is to his credit that he didn’t. We need more of the same.
It is perhaps worth remembering in passing that one can sometimes experience ranting uncontrollable anger from bishops by asking questions about their own families (spouses, children, extended family members). I’ve experienced that and it isn’t at all pleasant. Rather oddly, some people think that they can pontificate (pun intended) about other people’s family life and personal relationships whilst their own should be utterly untouchable. It doesn’t work like that, of course, and Justin Welby was wise to give straightforward answers.
But what questions need to be asked of Justin Welby next?
Here’s my starter questions for anyone getting the chance to interview Justin Welby or any other bishops in the C of E at the moment. Or indeed those who can ask questions at Synods.
- Do you think that you would take a different view on going to a same-sex wedding if it involved someone who had worked closely with you rather than involving a family member? (Clue: The follow up question is “But what if that person was also a relative? And anyway, in what ways should one behave differently towards one’s family and towards the household of God?”).
- Do you think that there should be a different moral standard for clergy from the membership of the church? Should clergy be held to a higher moral standard. (Clue – if anyone is foolish enough to answer “Yes” the follow up is “so what exactly can lay people get away with that clergy can’t whilst still being in good standing in the church? – which areas of morality are different – just sex or other things too?”)
- Do you believe sex outside marriage is always wrong? (Clue: the follow up is “What proportion of people whom you have married have you believed to be virgins?”)
- What should a same-sex marriage involve? What should the ceremony be like? (Clue: the follow up is “Do you think that God should be involved in a marriage between two people?”)
- Do you believe that people are turned off from exploring religious faith or attracted to religious faith by the church’s prevaricating over this question? (Clue: Next question is to ask what the proportion of anti-gay people at Holy Trinity, Brompton actually is – both leaders and members of the congregation. Note that the Archbishop is likely to know how this has been changing).