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Archbishop of Canterbury on Church of England same-sex marriage changes

by Premier Journalist

Most Rev Justin Welby's address during the Church of England's press conference on the proposals for same-sex partnerships in the church. 

Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev Justin Welby

Just to put this slightly into historical context, questions around sexuality, relationships, and marriage, have been debated by all global churches for a very long time, certainly 40 or 50 years. In the Church of England, we've been looking seriously at this and there have been resolutions at General Synod and papers and discussions since the 1970s. But that has picked up a lot in the last ten years as culture has changed very rapidly in our society. And I really want to say these are not academic debates or theological debates. This is about the lived experience of normal human beings every day with those they love and who love them and working out how to do that. What works? What's right and wrong? And very often, Archbishop Steven will say something about this in a moment, very often, the way the church has responded has been negative and harmful.

The Living in Love and Faith, the LLF project, also hasn't been about people. It's been with people. And that's probably the biggest change in our working methods. In 2017, that paper was bought to the General Synod, which the Synod rejected. And rather than bring yet another series of small papers, we sat down and worked, as Sarah's already described, on a process which led to this book, I commend it very strongly to you, it's very light reading.

And in the process of producing this work, it started with a couple of years of deep theological thinking from people of all views and very different experiences of sexuality. It went on to two years in which the streams of thinking, which were biblical, philosophical, ethical, historical, and scientific about the psychological and biological sciences, in which those streams were mixed up and produced, in the end, this work [LLF book]. And within those streams, and within those who did this work were people who were lay and ordained, people who are gay and straight, people who fell in every single category. So it was done with people, not to them. And there's been a really deep listening, you'll find many stories in here [LLF book], about different people's experience. And that resulted in the book being published, discussions in the General Synod and Sarah very kindly, in addition to her other duties as Bishop of London, with Eeva, who's worked the whole way through, working for two and a half years on what we did about it. So not just producing a resource, but saying, ‘Okay, how are we going to act on this?’

It's been the most extensive and in-depth effort of any major faith group in exploring these questions. And many other global churches are looking at this as a major resource. So a very high-quality resource. We've also walked broadening those who are involved in making the decision. Historically, when I first became bishop ten years ago, everything was done by the senior bishops. And everyone else was told what had been decided. And they did agree with it, didn't they? And this last discussion, over the last two and a half years, involved what's called the College of bishops, which is every bishop. And on Tuesday, when we met at the EXCEL Centre, there were over 100 bishops in the room and it was a gracious, passionate, robust, but immensely united discussion, which resulted in an overwhelming majority for the direction in which we're going at the moment.

It's the first time the entire College has been involved, historically ever, in making these kinds of decisions. And it's brought us together. As Sarah [Bishop of London] said, and Eeva [LLF coordinator], huge honesty, transparency, friendship and love. And I hope and pray that as we go from here to the General Synod next month, that the vast majority of voices will have that similar concern for each other.

As it happened, I had a meeting last night with about 50 people from all shades of opinion within the church. And we were discussing this at some length, it was a supper, and everyone was listening carefully to each other. It wasn't a single discussion, everybody was talking, and the mood was extraordinarily positive. This is a moment of joy and celebration. We have actually made decisions, and they are decisions which change our approach to LGBTQI+ people.

We also say in these papers that we are divided and that there's no point in pretending otherwise. The Church of England and the Anglican Communion are very divided. Those of you who followed the Lambeth conference in July, and August, will remember that. And that brings me to my own position on this.

The Anglican Communion is a communion, not a single church. It's 43 churches around the world in 165 countries with over 2,000 languages and cultures. We scarcely agree on anything in daily life and experience. Apart from that, God in His love and grace, came as fully human, without losing any of being God, in order to reach out to every human being, whatever their sexuality or colour or race or gender, or capacity or incapacity to reach out to them, and to draw them into the experience of God's love. That's the message of the church and to live in communities that reflect that love. And that difference.

When a communion has people who range from someone I met a few years back, whose grandfather, in the hills of Papua New Guinea, was the first man of his ethnic group ever to see a wheel, through to people who have advanced PhDs from top universities in the United States and work on Wall Street. Are we going to agree on everything? Dream on. Totally different life experiences.

The Anglican Communion’s miracle is not that it has differences but that it loves one another, despite them. That's extraordinary. It's a sign of God's grace and goodness. And my role as Archbishop of Canterbury is nowhere described as a human being, which may not surprise many people. But he's described as an instrument of communion and a focus of unity. I have a pastoral responsibility for the whole Communion. I've often prayed and will continue to pray with all sorts and kinds of people with all sorts and kinds of problems, including many people who came, looking for the experience of God's love, who were gay, or who was straight, or who had trouble with their marriage, or were worried about their relationships, and I'll continue to pray for all those who come seeking prayer and to pray with love, and a deep sense that most clergy have of the privilege of being allowed into these sacred parts of people's lives.

But because of my pastoral care and responsibility, and being a focus of unity for the whole Communion, I, while being extremely joyfully celebrating every of these new resources, I will not personally use them in order not to compromise that pastoral care, for example, which will need to be exercised next week when the Pope and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland and I go on a pilgrimage of peace to the South Sudan where half a million people have died from civil war in the last nine years. And that is a self-denying ordinance. But it comes out of the global responsibility.

So, in summary, it's a long journey. I'm sure the last word hasn't been said. And I'm sure the discussions will continue. But this is an enormously important point, not only within the Anglican Communion and the Church of England, but also across the global Church in which we seek to recognise and to celebrate the love that all people have for one another regardless of who they are and where they're from. And I am filled with joy about that. And last night with all those differences, people shared their views and their feelings, which were almost all positive, with great joy that we’ve taken this step. Thank you.

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