When Justin Welby was named Archbishop of Canterbury, there were some, myself included, who genuinely hoped, or perhaps wildly dreamed, he would be a breath of fresh air. After all, he came from the "evangelical" wing of the Church of England--the one that actually takes the Bible seriously, or so we were told.
Well, so much for hopes and dreams. As Sir Cedric Willingham said to King Ralph, today's breath of fresh air can easily become tomorrow's ill wind. Unfortunately, tomorrow is here and that wind is quite ill, indeed.
The Most Rev Justin Welby told an audience of traditional born-again Christians that they must “repent” over the way gay and lesbian people have been treated in the past and said most young people viewed Christians as no better than racists on the issue.The archbishop seems perfectly content to "go limping between two different opinions" (1 Kings 18:21) and be "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Ephesians 4:14). In other words, he is apparently quite happy being a spiritual child! Unfortunately for him, and the church, he is the titular head of a worldwide Communion of 80 million members. As a spiritual shepherd to so vast a flock, he is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
Archbishop Welby, who as a young priest once opposed allowing gay couples to adopt children, said the church now had to face up to what amounted to one of the most rapid changes in public attitudes ever.
While insisting that he did not regret voting against same-sex marriage in the House of Lords, he admitted that his own mind was not yet “clear” on the wider issues which he was continuing to think about.
And he admitted that, despite its strong official opposition to allowing same-sex couples to marry, the Church is still “deeply and profoundly divided” over gay marriage.
The Archbishop, who comes from the evangelical wing of the Church, which takes a more traditional interpretation of the Bible, publicly opposed the Government’s Same-sex Marriage Act while it was being debated earlier this year.
But he told the General Synod in July that the strength of feeling he encountered in support prompted him to reassess his own beliefs and urged them to face up to a “revolution” in attitudes on sexuality.
Yet his comments, at a meeting to dedicate a new headquarters for the Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella group representing hundreds of thousands of Christians, are by far his most outspoken intervention on the subject so far.
Noting the fact that it is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, he urged Christians to speak out about what they are in favour of rather than simply what they are against.
He praised the Alliance’s work tackling social problems by promoting food banks, working in social care or recruiting adopters and said that it was time for the Church to make “an alliance with the poor”.
But he went on: “One of things that I think is most noticeable where we make a bad impression in society at the moment is because we are seen as against things, and you talk to people and they say I don’t want to hear about a faith that is homophobic, that is this that that, that is the other.”
Asked later whether this meant that he regretted voting against gay marriage, he said he stood by his vote because he did not believe “rewriting the nature of marriage” was the best way to end discrimination against gay people.
He said: “The Bill was clearly, quite rightly, trying to deal with issues of homophobia in our society and ... the Church has not been good at dealing with homophobia.
“It is one of the areas where in fact we have, at times, as God’s people, in various places, really implicitly or even explicitly supported it.
“And we have to be really, really repentant about that because it is utterly and totally wrong.”
He added: “That discussion [about gay marriage] is continuing and the Church is deeply and profoundly divided over the way forward on it.
“I am absolutely committed not to excluding people who have a different view from me, I am also absolutely committed to listening very carefully to them.
“We are not going to get anywhere by throwing brickbats at each other.”
He went on to describe the shift in public attitudes to homosexuality as one of the biggest social changes of recent history.
“I’m continuing to think and listen very carefully as to how in our society today we respond to what is the most rapid cultural change in this area that there has been, well, I don’t know if ever, but for a very long time,” he said.
“And we have seen changes in the idea about sexuality, sexual behaviour, which quite simply [mean that] we have to face the fact that the vast majority of people under 35 think not only that what we think is incomprehensible but also think that we are plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism and other forms of gross and atrocious injustice.
He added that polling suggests that the majority of Christian young people, including born again evangelical young people, also disagree with the Church’s traditional line on homosexuality.
“We have to be real about that, I haven’t got the answer and I‘m not going to jump one way or the other until my mind is clear about this," he said.
“I’m not going to get into the trenches on it.”
How such a man could become an archbishop, even in the famously waffling Church of England, will likely be one of the great mysteries church historians of future generations will spend long hours discussing. At least Rowan Williams, Welby's much maligned predecessor, had a marginal talent for making mushiness sound like conviction. Welby stutters and stammers and speaketh nothing. Try reading again this utterly incoherent mishmash of words and phrases:
“One of things that I think is most noticeable where we make a bad impression in society at the moment is because we are seen as against things, and you talk to people and they say I don’t want to hear about a faith that is homophobic, that is this that that, that is the other.”
Now, ask yourself where you've heard anything like it before.
Here's one hint: