For all its problem, one attractive feature of the United Kingdom is that its Parliament attracts and retains members with intellectual capacity and interests beyond politics. William Hague was Foreign Secretary in the previous term and has a biography of Pitt the Younger to his credit. Michael Gove, the current Justice Minister and former journalist, is another who appears to have a depth largely lacking in New Zealand politics.
Britain also has mainstream magazines where religion, faith and culture are taken seriously – as more than simply handmaidens for the latest liberal enthusiasms. In the latest issue of the Spectator, Gove writes about a recent interview/discussion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Gove is quite taken with Welby, and concludes
Justin Welby stands out. There is something special about him. And his candour, commitment and kindness are gifts in which all can share this Christmas.
Candour is one area of the interview has already drawn attention
But when I ask this, Archbishop of Canterbury he doesn’t prevaricate.
If one of his own children were to be gay and fell in love with another person of the same sex, and asked his blessing, how would he react? ‘Would I pray for them together? You bet I would, absolutely. Would I pray with them together? If they wanted me to. If they had a civil service of marriage, would I attend? Of course I would.’
But, I challenged him, conscious of what many evangelicals believe, wouldn’t you say to them that while you love them, their relationship was sinful or inappropriate?
‘I would say, “I will always love you, full stop. End of sentence, end of paragraph.” Whatever they say, I will say I always love them.’
Of course, one would always (aspire to) love one’s child, no matter what. It is at the heart of the parent-child relationship, epitomised in the story of the prodigal son and the loving father. The father who watched longingly, and ran through the village to welcoming the returning penitent son. But the partying and celebration took places when the younger son came to his senses, and returned home. It wasn’t to celebrate his initial scandalous departure.
I wonder how the Archbishop would have answered if he’d been asked how he would respond if, say, his child was having an adulterous affair (heterosexual) or was engaged in ongoing theft or deception? Where do sin and the call to repentance come into the picture? Of course, he’d still love the child, and would pray for him or her. But surely we don’t pray for blessings on a relationship that has its roots in sin? Would the Archbishop attend the installation of a child to a position he knew had been obtained by deception or fraud?
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by Welby’s comments. The Western church has been heading in this direction for decades, and although Welby had an evangelical background, too many evangelicals have been heading the same way in the last decade or so. None of us is without sin, and sexual sin is not worse than other sin. But practising homosexuality – and when the Archbishop is asked about civil marriage among homosexuals that is what is meant – is wrong. It is sinful, and has been treated as such in Judaism and Christianity for millennia. But pursuing the spirit of the age, relevance etc, leaders like Welby seem afraid of the word “sin”, and willing to bless, by words or by association, what God has not. Can good come from sinful relationships? No doubt. But that does not change the character of the relationships. Once upon a time people criticised the church for (apparently) being concerned only about sexual sin. These days, however eloquent an Archbishop might be in the Lords on ISIS, banking reform or whatever, perhaps we might long for leaders who call men and women to holiness, and to lives that resist the temptations of the age – whatever specific form they take.
We must hope and pray that God has not given up finally on the church in the West. But Anglicans in the rest of the world might be less inclined to take the long view, and more concerned at the abandonment of millennia of traditional teaching by officeholders such as the Archbishop of Canterbury.