Apologies have consequences too

The world seems to be full of bishops apologising to LGBT people.

However, there seems to be a curious absence in the world of LGBT people freely accepting those apologies and being thus able to take their place as full members of the churches.

In the last week we’ve had the latest document on family life to come from the Vatican and it is very clear that there’s a change in tone from the current pope and it is hard not to welcome that. However, it is also equally clear that there’s little change in substance.

Much the same applies in the Anglican world.

Earlier this year, we had the most profound words from the Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of the Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury. However, we must begin to ask whether they were empty words or words that mean something.

After the Primates’ Meeting he was reported to have said that it was a “constant source of deep sadness that people are persecuted for their sexuality”. This was widely reported at the time as an apology to LGBT people. This was at the meeting at which the Primates decided to take action that would punish the US based Episcopal Church for treating LGBT people as, well, ordinary people. Such action was somehow too much for some members of the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop was left trying to explain that the action against the US Church was not a set of sanctions but rather a set of consequences. Oh, “all actions have consequences”, the Archbishop reminded us again and again.

The trouble for the Archbishop is that apologies have consequences too. Actual apologies that is. Apologies that don’t mark a new start, that don’t demonstrate a turning around, that don’t exhibit that metanoia experience that we all know is the gospel in action, are indicative of rather cheap grace and don’t amount very much to being apologies that should be taken seriously.

Justin Welby has his work cut out as Archbishop of Canterbury and he has my sympathies and sometimes even my prayers. However, his work won’t make any coherent sense if he goes around making insipid apologies to gay communities whilst all the while being the public face of a body which is engaged in persecuting LGBT people in its actions. The sanctions/consequences/actions against the US church were symbolic of the real persecutions that LGBT people face daily, particularly those LGBT people who live in parts of the world where we have most to fear. And the trouble is, in the church we believe rather strongly that symbols matter rather a lot.

I’m not sure what the opposite of grace is, nor what the opposite of a sacrament is. Perhaps we need to coin a word. The “consequences” that that Archbishop had the misfortune to be explaining to the world’s press after the Primates’ Meeting seem to me to the the outward sign of an inward and yet curiously visible spiritual cruelty.

You don’t get to be a front for that kind of speech and also be taken seriously when making apologies to the very people who are on the blunt end of the actions.

The trouble for bishops making apologies is that real apologies have consequences too. Real apologies mean turning things round; doing things differently; starting anew. And the fact that we’ve not seen that yet indicates that we shouldn’t take the apologies of the Archbishop of Canterbury as meaning anything other than that he’d rather people didn’t think he was beastly.

But beastly is as beastly does.

This week some of the pernicious “consequences” of the Primates’ Meeting have been worked out in the context of the rather more healthily constituted body the Anglican Consultative Council which is meeting in Lusaka at the moment. And all the while the threat remains that other churches in the communion which dare to be nice to those poor unfortunate homosexualists might also be consequenced themselves.

The Anglican Consultative Council is supposed to be a body in which the voices of lay people and clergy who are not bishops is heard internationally. It seems rather a pity then that they’ve just elected not only a bishop to chair it for the next six years but one of the Primates themselves.

How long will it be before we realise that we’ve got a bigger problem with the Episcopate in the Anglican Communion than we have with LGBT people who just want to get on with the rather extraordinary calling of just being an ordinary follower of Jesus.

Only this week I heard of yet another person unwilling to join the Anglican Communion because it is known for being at best ambivalent about the way it treats LGBT people. These disputes are costing us members and we should not take seriously mission initiatives which come from those who are making mission in Western countries almost impossible.

And still the absurdities of the situation grow. This week one of the churches which the Church of England (and my own church for that matter) is in full communion with decided to open marriage to same-sex couples. The Church of Norway joins the Church of Sweden in doing this joyfully and thus welcoming gay and lesbian people fully into its life of faith. This passed with almost no comment in the Anglican world. Are gay Norwegians really not as spiritually wicked to those of an anti-gay persuasion than gay people from Little England? Are gay Lutherans just not worth a schism? If not, why not? Do we think that these Lutherans, upon whom we’ve expended rather a lot of ecumenical agape in recent years, just can’t help themselves? Why are gay Anglicans in the US the target and not gay Lutherans in Norway? I have to confess I just don’t get it. Does one church have better lesbians that the other. Or more wicked ones?

And it leaves people like the Archbishop of Canterbury exposed. He may have a gift at the moment of keeping many (though clearly not everyone) in the Anglican world talking to one another and that’s not to be sniffed at. However, there is a danger that whilst the talking goes on, the church becomes so internally incoherent that it risks looking spectacularly foolish in public.

And that is not what being a fool for Christ is all about.


  1. Andrew Cain says

    You say so often and so eloquently what I feel.

    • Food for serious thought, Father Kelvin. I don’t suppose there has been any objection raised by the Church of England Bishops about the liberalising ativity of our Norwegian partner’s in Christ. It is this continuing double-mindedness that exposes us Anglicans to the charge of structured hypocrisy. Keep up the good work you are doing on your web-site. Christ IS risen, Alleluia!

  2. Thank you, Kelvin. It’s certainly a change of the mood music going on, but self-lacerating apologies are subject to the law of diminishing returns unless they indicate what we call “Metanoia” – change of mind, aka repentance. This means things real change. Without it, apologies breed cynicism, not hope. When, for example, a bishop tells us he is ashamed whenever he encounters homophobia in the church, curious minds want to ask him “when did you last encounter what you call homophobia in the church? What was it like? How was it separable from the ideology that validated it? And since it’s such a shameful thing, what are you going to do about it?”

    • The real disconnect for me is that Justin Welby is someone who clearly does know something about what reconcilliation is. He can’t have done that job in Coventry and not known and he can’t have named reconcilliation as one of the key strands of his time as Archbishop without knowing that metanoia is part of the deal if that is what you are chasing after.

      However, I can only come back again and again to the possibility that there are those who simply think that LGBT are indeed actually worth less than real people.

      • June Butler says

        Kelvin, after I read your words about the empty apologies by authorities in the church after which their behavior does not change, I could not help but think what you stated in your comment, that the leaders, with exceptions like Alan Wilson, believe LGTB folks are lesser. What else can we think? My advice would be to stop apologizing and be honest, which would be a step in the right direction, because at least the hypocrisy would end.

  3. adrian copping says

    Thank you for this. Something similar has been happening here in Wales in the past week or so where our Bishops have apologised AND issued some prayers which are authorised for use in connnection with ministry to LGBTI people. This is to be welcomed as a sign of a step in a positive direction but, at the same time, leaves a lot of questions and many disappointed.

  4. Bob Webster says

    Saying it is a “constant source of deep sadness that people are persecuted for their sexuality” is not an apology. At best it is a request that someone should stop making him feel bad. That could be the people doing the persecuting, or it could be us who should just be quiet and preferably go away. An apology would be “I apologize for the hurt I have caused and as a consequence of recognizing my sin I will cease that behaviour and do everything I can to get others to stop as well.”

  5. Kelvin, you are an expert at stating things so eloquently that makes everyone else in the Anglican communion squirm.

    I was not oblivious to the fact that as a lesbian woman I entered a family of churches with a huge diversity of attitudes towards my sexuality. It was only because of the grace and love of Jesus Christ that I felt safe to come into the church despite my “flaws” and receive baptism. Is my baptism any less valid because I am a lesbian?

    As a convert from Orthodox Judaism I suspect that I am sometimes more acutely aware than others at what should be in my mind a glaring hypocrisy. Rabbinical thought always looks for an alternatives to explain why a certain situation does or does not apply according to halachah (ecclesiastical law – much like the canons). But the balance either exists or it doesnt. Jesus speaks about divorce and makes it quite clear that its not really an option, while in rabbinical law, it certainly is an option. We are taught that he came to fulfil the law and yet we his church are part of a new covenant are we not? The church seems to have taken the easy way out and will marry people who have divorced, but will not marry gay couples. So if divorced people are part of the new covenant, why arent us gay folk?

    I could get into all the biblical quotation arguments and as someone that reads Classical Hebrew better than most Anglicans I know, I have no fear in taking a stand on my point. (My Greek needs a little more work however.) That said, I dont see a balanced biblical foundation for excluding some that are automatically excluded by literal translation of scripture, but not others, but rather an inherited bigotry and hypocrisy that continues to thrive simply to satisy the whims of member churches whose societies havent quite experienced the journey that ours has. While that doesnt invalidate their position, neither does it invalidate the position of our society and our spiritual progress should not be hindered to satisy the agenda of those religious leaders that appear to be pandering to the demands of those churches that have not walked the path of ours.

    I have arguments that cover more than simple translations and exegesis particularly surrounding what the rules were both before and after the death of Christ, but those are for another day. I know that I am a baptised Christian and Jesus loves me as much as any other, not because I am gay or straight, but because I am one of his, and therefore he wants me to thrive within his covenant rather than the stifling, unreasonable and hair splitting laws that came before – Ones that I personally know how incredibly impossible they are to live by, no matter what your sexuality, or colour, or intellectual ability. – I was there once.

    When our Bishops and leaders realise that Christ died exactly to make the Christian lives of the likes of me equally valid as straight people, then perhaps we’ll make a little more progress and not see these “apologies” as merely lip service. Its almost embarrassing to LGBT people for whom their faith is a core part of their lives. It certainly is for me.

  6. Any child in my Sunday School group could tell you that repentance is not just “saying sorry” it is “saying sorry, being sorry, and changing”. Possibly ++Justin’s words make it as far as the first of these, but I’m not convinced they signify the second, and the third is nowhere in sight. Perhaps I should send my 5 year old theologians to Lambeth and/or Lusaka to explain! Or perhaps it’s just that those who are issuing these ‘apologies’ aren’t really thinking in terms of repentance, or seeing the need for it, at all.

  7. Mark Falby says

    Apologies mean nothing if not backed by action.

  8. Junia says

    Well I did recently get brutally and spectacularly dumped by an American lesbian, so perhaps they just are naturally more wicked over there…

    In seriousness though, thank you for this wonderfully elegant post, Kelvin, summarising so much of what I have felt since ++Justin’s statement in January. I’m starting to get a little sick of being apologised to.

    • Cynthia says

      Speaking as an American lesbian, I’m sure the Norwegian lesbians are much better people, and that we are “naturally more wicked…” 😉

      Kelvin expresses well the debacle of January. But interestingly, Justin just delivered an amazing sermon at ACC-16 that marks a major change of heart and theology if he’s sincere. We’ll see. A lot has happened since January.

      Have a look at the sermon, it’s in the Anglican Communion news. I’d hate to think that those are just empty words. Time will tell. But I want hope.

      • Could you point us towards the sermon, Cynthia. I’m not seeing anything at all that’s new in relation to the things I’ve written about above.

        • Cynthia Katsarelis says

          Here it is: http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2016/04/new-calls-for-new-times-archbishop-welbys-presidential-address-to-acc-16.aspx

          To me this seems like a new direction, born of recent realities, and perhaps inspired by the Holy Spirit.

          Of course, my hopes could be typical, off-the-charts American optimism. We wicked American Episcopal lesbians just know that the Promised Land is at the end of the next rainbow.

          • Cynthia – this is what I was writing about above. It isn’t a new direction. It is what I’m complaining of. Talk of reconciliation whilst not engaging in it.

            There’s not a word in it about a new direction on the way the ABC relates to the Anglican Communion’s troubles. Not one.

          • Cynthia Katsarelis says

            It seems like he was asking people to focus on the major characters, climate change and religious violence, and to work together within our diversity. That sounds like a new tack. Of course, it will be interesting to see if this translates into action. Will the discrimination against married clergy stop? Will the ABC stop pandering to the primates who didn’t show up to ACC-16?

            You might be right, you seem very prophetic to me. But I want you to be wrong this time. I want hope, and to work together on things that actually matter.

          • There are simply no signs of what you hope for, Cynthia. None.

          • Cynthia Katsarelis says

            Perhaps not. But I was recently a TEC delegate to the UN Commission on the Status of Women where I met a posse of awesome women from the Anglican Communion Women delegation. We had great interaction and they affirmed a “walking together” statement they wrote in 2007. It says they are staying in communion, no matter what the guys do. We women in TEC are drafting a response, graciously receiving and affirming the statement. Against this, Justin doesn’t stand a chance and he might as well change his tune.

            PS. One of the awesome delegates was a Rachel from St. Andrew’s, Scotland.

  9. Richard Barnes says

    I was really hopeful about the Anglican Communion’s purpose from reading Rachael’s blogs from UN CSW last month. But not for long. ABC Welby’s Sermon reads like a random speech generator and says much the same as he’s been doing for months in global fora.
    It’s like a couple who talk about the garden and the difficult neighbours because they don’t want to talk about their sex life.
    Clever way to end ACC with everyone apparently united by talking about bigger issues.
    But to read ++Welby asking for nuanced theology, when he’s totally binary (Christian=happy, healthy, wealthy & wise) just made me laugh.

  10. Robin says

    > In the last week we’ve had the latest document on family life to come from the Vatican and it is very clear that there’s a change in tone from the current pope and it is hard not to welcome that.

    I don’t see any change of tone in the following, which is the beginning of paragraph 251 of “Amoris Laetitia”.

    > 251. In discussing the dignity and mission of
    the family, the Synod Fathers observed that, “as
    for proposals to place unions between homosexual
    persons on the same level as marriage,
    there are absolutely no grounds for considering
    homosexual unions to be in any way similar or
    even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage
    and family”.

    I’d call that a monumental snub, deliberately administered, or an equally deliberately administered drenching with cold water.

Speak Your Mind