Archbishop Calls for Listening and Unity
Justin Welby Appeals to General Synod Before Vital Debate
The Archbishop of Canterbury has appealed to General Synod for greater listening and unity. He addressed the membership ahead of their three-day gathering, expected to be dominated by debates and questions on the Bishops’ published response to the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process.
In his Presidential Address in the opening session at Church House, Westminster, Archbishop Justin Welby drew from the account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 and stated that the builders at Babel “want to make a name for themselves, and so choose to attempt self-created unity. They do it not with mutual love, but by coercion.
“We constantly face this temptation – to make something of ourselves, or to seek to impose our own unity through rules, hierarchies and structures which become a way of controlling others…
“Then at Pentecost, rightly linked to Babel, God the Holy Spirit does something spectacular, something that creates possibilities beyond human imagination or ambition.
“Pentecost is not a gift of translation, but the creation of a new people grafted into the old. This is a gathering, not a scattering, but on an entirely new basis of gathering. Those gathered are gathered by love of Christ and by being saved…
“Just as God has spoken in His word, God speaks to us today, in a language that our hurting hearts understand. It’s a language that gives us a new identity, made in the image of God. God gathers out of a physically and ideologically scattered people a church which acts in unity for those who are different, and does it with unquestioning love.
“A common identity, those who are saved, a common tongue, speaking Christian, together offer a common community. To those driven into doubt, or disbelief by the raucous hammering at each other in all our churches around the world – not just Anglican, I know what it feels like to have some raucous hammering – which seems to reject people for their sexual identity or their ethnicity, or their gender, or their youth, or their age or their character or their past or their potential future – we must say; “God himself has come for you. God himself cannot bear to be apart from you, he binds himself to you. He invites you to participate in his divine life and he sets you in his church where all, all have a cherished and essential place.”
“That is the good news we carry. Whoever we meet, they are loved by God freely and completely. We may say it, we must live it and how we do that is one of the great tests of these times of societal, national and international division. For we live today in a time of war physical, and war cultural. We too easily import culture wars and lapse into their language. It is the sea we swim in. We do not need to drink it.”
“The church is not called to avoid or to endorse wokery, but to be awake to the Holy Spirit, to show that no division is greater than the unity of our identity in Christ. That is God’s accomplished work and our spiritual reality.”
Sixty-four questions on LLF were submitted by Synod members, although some of those covered similar areas and concerns. Bishop Sarah Mullally of London answered on behalf of the House of Bishops, and asserted, “The Church of England has not changed its doctrine”.
“While not explicitly stated in the Church’s Canons, for many years the Church has taught that the only rightful place for sexual activity is Holy Matrimony. The House of Bishops has not repudiated this but acknowledges that there is disagreement in the Church about how this applies today. As part of developing the Pastoral Guidance bishops will need to clarify this situation and any procedural implications that may or may not follow.”
On the proposed Prayers of Love and Faith, containing blessings for couples outside marriage, Bishop Mullally explained that these prayers had not been requested by the Church within the listening process itself, but the demand had come from some of the bishops informally.
“The Listening with Love and Faith document does not report any requests for prayers for covenanted friendships. However, a number of bishops had significant anecdotal evidence that such prayers would be welcomed by people in a variety of situations and contexts.
“The prayers are silent on the question of the sexual intimacy of the couple. The blessing that is conferred is God’s blessing on the two people. The new Pastoral Guidance will offer further clarity on the necessary qualities of a relationship for it to be considered chaste and holy for all God’s people, and what it means in practice for clergy to ‘endeavour to fashion their own life and that of their household according to the way of Christ’.”
Synod members wondered how the nuance of this answer was conveyed in the Archbishop of York’s broadcast comments on Radio 4’s Sunday programme (22 January): “Physical and sexual intimacy belongs in a committed, stable and faithful relationship, and therefore, when we see a committed, stable, faithful relationship between two people of the same sex we are now in a position where those people can be welcomed fully into the life of the church on their terms.”