Today a letter has been publicly addressed to our Archbishops as they meet with other leaders of the Anglican Communion to address the divisions that painfully exist around our understanding of gender and sexuality.
The text of the letter is relatively short. Perhaps it needs to be in order to attract signatures from as wide a spectrum as possible: had a more detailed or nuanced letter been offered, the negotiations over amendments would have been prolonged and taken the process beyond the available deadline for publication.
Dr Martin Luther King Jnr spoke of the ” paralysis of analysis ” and sometimes the pressing needs of the times requires us to unite behind a less than perfect proposition.
Here is the letter in full
The Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York
We the undersigned ask you, our Archbishops, to take an unequivocal message to your meeting of fellow Primates this week that the time has now come for:
Acknowledgement that we, the Church, have failed in our duty of care to LGBTI members of the Body of Christ around the world. We have not loved them as we should, and have treated them as a problem to be solved rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ to be embraced and celebrated. We have made them feel second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, often abandoned and alone.
Repentance for accepting and promoting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and for the pain and rejection that this has caused. We, the Church, need to apologise for our part in perpetuating rather than challenging ill-informed beliefs about LGBTI people, such as the slanderous view that homosexuals have a predisposition to prey on the young.
We understand that the Primates come from a variety of contexts with differing ways of interpreting the Scriptures, but we urge you to be prophetic in your action and Christ-like in your love towards our LGBTI sisters and brothers who have been ignored and even vilified for too long.
Please be assured of our prayers for you at this time, and that the world will know by our words and actions that everyone who is baptised into the faith is of equal value in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Brother Ivo was amongst the earliest oppponents of the redefinition of marriage; he is critical of many of the tactics adopted by some supporters of the wider LGBTI agenda. Yet when invited to join the initiative he felt it important to accept.
Being a great supporter of the institution of traditional marriage was never necessarily antagonistic to gay people; one can hold such a position whilst fully supportive of the need for our gay friends to enjoy legal rights and securities which Civil Partnership conferred – and more.
Brother Ivo shares the view of like-minded, much-loved, gay friends who say “we can never be married – we are not male and female”. Yet is perfectly possible to wish to uphold traditional marriage and to simultaneously to wish to embrace and celebrate gay relationships as they are, for what they are.
In parenthesis, Brother Ivo is not greatly enamoured of historic apologies: we have more than enough of our own deficiencies to repent, without donning second hand sackcloth and ashes.
Yet reading this text there is an important core of truth.
We as a Church are not always welcoming to those who are “different” in a variety of ways: we have prevaricated for too long on this subject probably out of cowardice: we are frequently insensitive to gay Christians as they seek to join in our worship of The Lord and offer service to the needy. We know that in some parts of the Communion, the Church remains complicit in some dreadful treatment of gay people legally and culturally and we ought to have been more active against it.
Brother Ivo knows from professional engagement that the confusion of homosexual orientation and paedophilia is mistaken,
These thoughts alone would probably have been sufficiently persuasive, but the sermon by the Preacher to the Papal Household, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa at the Westminster Abbey service at the opening of General Synod was decisively influential . The sermon was entitled “Rebuild my House”.
Set within the context of our leaving behind historic and unnecessary division, Fr. Raniero urged –
“We should never allow a moral issue like that of sexuality divide us more than love for Jesus Christ unites us.”
Those words should be etched onto all our hearts.
In the spirit of this, bridge building is needed, and so it was that Brother Ivo reminded himself that if we are going to find a way forward, compromises will have to be made. If he presses compromises on others, it seemed incubent upon him to set an example and to accept “the good ” even if it is not “the nuanced best”, even if does not say all that he might wish in the way he would prefer.
Making that choice is not cost free. Asking Christians in other parts of the world to remain within a more gay friendly communion, asks them to accept greater tension with Islam in areas where that is a hard ask- easier for us than them.
Yet it is the treatment of our gay brothers and sisters in Africa that also made a difference for this Christian. Even the firmest upholders of strict biblical interpretation within our own country are surely troubled by the oppressive legislation throughout much of the African continent
We must, however trust our leaders and allow them some “wiggle room” – not being too prescriptive in our expectations as to how they present and when they they raise these issues. Sometimes in negotiation, the timing is as important as the substance. What is agreed on the fourth day would often have been impossible at the outset
If the talks break down, as well they might, Archbishop Justin has already said that the door will remain open. That is good.
One might therefore ask, “Then why sign the letter” at all?
At the last General Synod, Brother Ivo attended the launch of the Church Army course on sharing the Gospel “Faith Pictures”, at which Archbishop Justin confided his own early embarrassment when asked to join in public evangelisation. Even today, he told us that his personal mantra immediately before engaging inevery interview is ” Don’t forget to mention Jesus”.
On that basis, one trusts he and Archbishop John will not take it amiss if they are invited to adopt a similar mantra as they enter these present discussions –
” Don’t forget the pain of our LBGTI brothers and sisters”.