The next five questions the Archbishop needs to be asked

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).


  1. James Byron says

    Welby yet again dodged the central point: does he believe that homosexuality is always sinful?

    If yes, all his platitudes about love and acceptance of gay people are just used to mask the same oppressive position held by most other evangelicals. Worse, if anything, ’cause at least they’re honest.

    • If we are to take Jesus at his word in the Sermon on the Mount, when is heterosexuality never sinful?

      We are all sinful. We all sin in how we live out our sexuality, as in other areas of our lives. The sexual orientation of the person involved has nothing to do with it.

      Maybe more people need to remember that?

      • I think it is relevant whether or not Bishop Justin believes that certain sexual acts are inherently sinful, even when the parties involved freely consent and the act harms no-one.

        Pointing out that ‘all have sinned’ is a favourite tactic by conservatives (small c) to deflect attention away from the homophobia inherent in their position.

      • [Bob] That would be a very miserable attitude to hold, a weak attempt to grab power over people and not far from the perversion of mistaking any kind of love for sin.

  2. Charles Read says

    and sadly none of these questions are allowable at General Synod

  3. James Byron says

    Charles, really? Who decides?

    • Jonathan MacNeaney says

      Only factual questions allowed at synod. No hypotheticals. Questions from both sides of the debate were raised at the last synod. You can see them and the answers online.

      • James Byron says

        Thanks for the info, Charles & Jonathan. 🙂

        That being so, a straight-up, “Archbishop, do you believe that what Higton terms ‘homosexual genital acts’ are always sinful, and if so, why?” ought to fall within the rules.

  4. Simon Kershaw says

    Because you can’t ask questions about someone’s opinion, only about matters of fact.

  5. Regarding your second question, it’s a point of fact that clergy of the C of E are not allowed to be members of the BNP – so no, in point of law and fact it’s not just about sex.

  6. Ender's Shadow says

    It’s always disappointing when clergy show a lack of knowledge of the bible – one might come to believe that they don’t actually believe it.

    To the question:
    ‘so what exactly can lay people get away with that clergy can’t whilst still being in good standing in the church’

    The author of the pastoral epistles offers this list of requirements for ‘episcopoi’

    “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

    1 Tim 3

    Whilst some of these are ‘qualties’ rather than sins, the reference to drunkenness and violence suggest that these sins do disqualify a person from being a cleric.

    • Is it your view that violence and drunkenness are thus in some way more acceptable for the lay Christian?

      • We are in danger of indulging in semantics here, but let’s see if I can tease it out. Paul lists a propensity to violence and drunkenness as a feature that leaves a person not eligible to be an ‘episcopus’. Therefore an ‘episcopus’ who has gain that status despite having that propensity, is in a problematic place, compared to a lay Christian. Which is NOT to claim that actual violence and drunkenness are acceptable to laity but not ‘episcopoi’.

        You asked a precise question. I’ve offered what I believe is a biblical answer. Actually the fact the Gene Robinson was an alcoholic actually provides an additional reason for deprecating his consecration, so the point is not merely academic.

      • venetia says

        Do not judge..lest you be judged. We are all God’s children. Who cares ?

    • Can I just confirm that there are a very great many things in the Bible that I don’t believe our hold to- not least the presumption in the quoted passage that those in charge in the church will all be male.

  7. Ender's Shadow says

    On the wider topic of the AbC’s comments that have caused such confusion, it is indeed sad that he fails to understand that attending a ceremony marking a gay relationship is the moral equivalent of attending one to mark a person joining ISIS or a racist organisation. All are evil institutions that reject the way of God; it is not appropriate for a Christian with a clear view on the matter to attend in a way that suggests they don’t have a problem with the celebration of what the person is doing. Which of course is not to suggest that we should treat them without love – but ultimately it is not loving to appear to rejoice at someone entering into something that is wrong.

    • Andrew Cain says

      Enders Shadow. Thank you for expressing the conservative mind set so clearly. Every time people like you speak their hearts you do more to promote the progressive agenda than any of the rest of us. Keep it up and soon the Church of God will move away from the hatred and fear you express to the bright future of acceptance and love.

      • Please offer me evidence of ‘hatred’ in what I have posted.

        Fear is a more interesting allegation. If I believe that Paul’s phrase that ‘those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God’ does relate to people who practice gay sex, then I have every right to be fearful that those people will find God rejecting them at the final judgement. Therefore those who encourage the belief that it will be ‘all right on the night’ despite such, as I would see it, rebellion against God, are to be a cause for concern. The letter of the Galatians offers an example of a pastor concerned that the teaching of others is likely to cause those whom he cares about to lose their place with God. Paul’s suggestion that those teaching circumcision should go the whole way and emasculate themselves is a measure of his concern; why should we be less concerned in the face of similarly dangerous teaching, from our perspective?

        We may be right, or we may be wrong. The challenge is to be coherent in our position – as you should be in yours. Merely to disdain ours because it leads to reactions that you find difficult, is not a basis for progressing the discussion. Given the free choice I would LOVE to embrace the pro-gay position. However to do so simply because it’s what I prefer, is by definition idolatry, not faithful witness to the God who has revealed himself in the bible IMHO.

        • ES, you FREELY CHOOSE how to interpret the Bible. Full-stop. I don’t have to cite to you the number of “pro-gay” Biblical scholars (who have all the cred of anti-gay Biblical scholars); I’m sure you’re familiar with them. You choose not to acknowledge not only the truth of their “pro-gay” position, but even the POSSIBILITY of their truth! OWN YOUR CHOICE.

        • Andrew Cain says

          ES – your equation of loving, consensual relationships between two Christians with that of the murderous actions of IS and the fear and hatred of racists says all that needs to said about your position. I repeat what I said, the more you say such things in public the more you undermine your credibility and that of the narrow interpretation that you seek to force on others. As has been noted – an increasing number of Christian disagree with you.

  8. Kelvin’s last question first. Exploring religious faith is very personal which means, for me, between me and God. The church is only ever part of that.

    Second question. From John Henry Newman’s sermon “Christ Hidden from the World”, preached on Christmas day: “We know that her ministers at best are but imperfect and erring, and of like passions with their brethren; yet of them He has said, speaking not to the Apostles merely but to all the seventy disciples (to whom Christian ministers are in office surely equal), “He that heareth you, heareth Me, and He that despiseth you despiseth Me, and he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me.” Much to ponder in that group of words.

  9. Meg Rosenfeld says

    Living in San Francisco and attending a parish church with a large gay membership, I tend to forget that there are people in our own Church who believe that homosexuality is sinful. I wonder how many gay people they’ve known on a casual, day to day basis? “Not many” would be my guess. They are simply human beings, with every possible mixture of good and bad, who happen to be (as it were) differently wired as regards sexuality. The most recent statistic I’ve read says that roughly 10% of the human population is homosexual. I cannot believe that God made 10% of his human children gay and now hates them for it–or wants the other 90% to hate them. it doesn’t make sense. Is God so sex-obsessed that he (or she!) judges humans primarily on sexual behavior, and not on things like kindness, generosity, creativity, or any other positive quality?

    • [Content removed by KH]

    • I know that if I were personally acquainted with someone whom I knew to have attitudes like that, I would think twice about coming out to them. Perhaps there is a chicken-and-egg situation here.

      • Meg Rosenfeld says

        But then there’s another syndrome, the “I don’t mean the people I know, because they’re nice” syndrome. My late Dad was one of those. He would say dismissive things about “all those gay people” and then hurriedly point out that he didn’t mean the really nice guys down the street, who were so helpful when my mother was learning to use the computer; or the lovely lady at church who does such wonderful work with homeless people . . . I don’t know what to call this, but it’s at least a step up from blanket prejudice.

        • It is In My Back Yard Syndrome. Closely related to Not In My Back Yard Syndrome oddly.

          • Pretty uncomfortable to be the token person in that situation, though. ‘I like you: you’re not like other XYZs,’ is often meant as a compliment, but is seldom taken as such.

          • Meg Rosenfeld says

            Yes (sigh.) Presumably Dad knows better now.

  10. Rosemary Hannah says

    The ‘gays are bad, but not the gays I know’ syndrome does show how homophobia works like racism. My partner, who is part Sri Lankan, gets a lot of ‘but not you, we like you.’ (And yes, it hurts every time)

    • I remember hearing someone tell Ruth Innes (of whom they were fond) that she was the exception that proved the rule that no women should be ordained.

      • People who say things like that do know that ‘prove’ in that saying means ‘test’ rather than ‘demonstrate’, right?

        • Meg Rosenfeld says

          My guess is that they probably don’t know that.

          • People make errors of judgement and say the wrong thing. And other people hurt because of it. We’ve all been there (both sentences).

  11. Ender’s Shadow, it was very enlightening for me to click on your name and read your blogpost which references this discussion. Enlightening in the sense that Andrew Cain identifies: I now know where you stand. I never thought I would do this, as I spend much of my book (click on my name) refuting his arguments, but perhaps the language of Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon (Associate Professor of New Testament Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) would enable you to share your view without your contribution being censored. If you are able to read my own work with an open mind, I mean without prejudging it, then you will find an in-depth theological and philosophical discussion of the link you make in your blogpost.

    • Can I suggest that further discussion about and with Ender’s Shadow takes place over on his own blog rather than here.

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