Speaking yesterday at the opening of the new premises of the Evangelical Alliance the Archbishop of Canterbury had some forthright things to say on the churches stance to LGBT people. It was also of course the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech, and while the language wasn't as all encompassing and inclusive ad King's famous words it was a radical step forward.
What he said was:
“One of things that I think is most noticeable where we make a bad impression in society at the moment is because we are seen as against things, and you talk to people and they say I don’t want to hear about a faith that is homophobic, that is this that that, that is the other."Later on he added:
"What I voted against was what seemed to me to be the rewriting the nature of marriage in a way that I have to say within the Christian tradition and within scripture and within our understanding is not the right way to deal with the very important issues that were attempted to be dealt with in that bill.
"The bill was clearly, quite rightly, trying to deal with issues of homophobia in our society. As I said at the time in the House of Lords, the church has not been good at dealing with homophobia – it has at times, as God's people, either implicitly or explicitly supported it and we have to be really, really repentant about that because it is utterly and totally wrong.
"But that doesn't mean that redefining marriage is the right way forward. That discussion is continuing and the church is deeply and profoundly divided over the way forward on it. I am absolutely committed not to exclude people who have a different view from me, I am also absolutely committed to listening very carefully to them."
"But I am continuing to think and listen very carefully as to how in our society today we respond to what is the most rapid cultural change in this area than there has been for a very long time.
"We have seen changes in the idea about sexuality, sexual behaviour. We have to face the fact that the vast majority of people under 35 not only think that what we're saying is incomprehensible but also think that we're plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism and other forms of gross and atrocious injustice. We have to be real about that.
"I haven't got the answer one way or the other until my mind is clear on this. I'm not going to get into the trenches."While he has tried to defend the way the Lords Spiritual (and others) used Christianity as their shield in the same-sex marriage* vote, he did say that the Church had failed to counter homophobia and even at time been explicit in nurturing it.
I know many of the LGBT community will be saying this isn't good enough, his comments don't go far enough. But you have to look at the history of the way the Church first dealt with the issue of slavery and then the issue of racism. First they acknowledged that they themselves were involved in something that was wrong and then they moved to sort it out.
But the fact that he recognises that those under 35, even within the church, are at odds with the stance that the Church has taken on this issue is surely a sign of hope. I truly do hope that he does listen to other opinions that those, that as he said in his speech, he still holds. As someone who has come up against a church that encourages members to study the scriptures for themselves but then not to listen when you come to a different view to them about homosexuality I know there is still a long way to go.
Of course while Justin Welby mentioned these issues I notice that Christian Today ignored all this and focused only on the racial unity he called for. Maybe emphasising that some of what the Archbishop has said has certainly landed on stony ground in the 'Christian' press.
Yesterday I noticed this story about a church in the States that kicked out an entire family because they 'failed' to stop loving their lesbian daughter. I tweeted along the lines that they seem to have forgotten the tale of the prodigal son. Unlike the prodigal son a vast number of LGBT Christians are finding that instead of the constantly open arms of the father, the church is the one who is looking them out, keeping the fatted calf for the chosen ones that they allow into their midst.
* And I hate the fact that this is all that was achieved and not equal marriage for all.