The Archbishop of Canterbury has told the Church of England (CofE) synod that there has to be ‘massive cultural change’ over attitudes to sexuality and women bishops.
Archbishop Justin Welby spoke of his recent trips to the Anglican Communion in various African countries and said, if those churches could flourish without fear, then so could churches in the UK.
He said, ‘We have received a report with disagreement in it on sexuality, through the group led by Sir Joseph Pilling. There is great fear among some, here and round the world, that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of Scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word.
‘And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism. Both those fears are alive and well.
‘We have to find a way forward that is one of holiness and obedience to the call of God and enables us to fulfil our purposes. This cannot be done through fear. How we go forward matters deeply, as does where we arrive’.
He cited 1 John 4:18, saying that ‘perfect love casts out fear’, but said that, ‘Closed systems, full of fear eventually implode under the weight of their own contradictions and conflicts’.
Looking both ways
His comments came after the synod voted by an ‘overwhelming majority’ to support legislation that could lead to the ordination of women in the episcopate.
The archbishop said, ‘We have agreed that we will ordain women as bishops. At the same time, we have agreed that, while doing that, we want all parts of the church to flourish. If we are to challenge fear, we have to find a cultural change in the life of the church, in the way our groups and parties work, sufficient to build love and trust.
‘That will mean different ways of working at every level of the church; in practice, in the way our meetings are structured, presented and lived out; and in every form of appointment’.
Lee Gatiss, director of the Church Society, said, ‘The archbishop is absolutely right that, if the CofE is to live out its commitment to see conservative evangelicals flourish, then there is going to have to be massive cultural change, that some may find threatening.
‘This may be a hard course to steer, but I am heartened when he says that it is right we set such a course and hold it through thick and thin’.
However, nonconformist observers may be carefully pondering Justin Welby’s coded language — of the type archbishops use — and wondering whether it really does augur so well for future biblical religion.