How painful this must be for Anglican Christians who believe themselves to be members of a Church founded by Jesus Christ? Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury sets his doctrinal compass by judging who or who will not continue to follow his example rather than by the moral compass set by Jesus Christ himself.
In a Daily Telegraph article we are told: Although indicating that he was sympathetic to calls for the Church to publicly honour gay relationships, the Archbishop says that it is “impossible” for some followers in Africa to support homosexuality. In the interview, the leader of the Anglican Church, which has 77 million followers globally, speaks movingly of the persecution faced by Christians in parts of the world. He indicates that the Church must not take a step that would cut off these groups, most of them in the third world, however much this angers parts of society in Britain.
Following that way of thinking Christ might have said to those faithful disciples who remained with him after others walked away when he promised the Eucharist: I cannot give you this great gift of my body because these others who would like to follow me find it “impossible” to accept it.
Archbishop Welby’s followers surely expect him to decide on what he should teach and legislate for in these matters on the basis of what is right or wrong, what is sinful, and not on how many people here or there find something possible or impossible.
Welby acknowledges that in the past people experiencing same-sex attraction have suffered at the hands of others, Christians and non Christians. That this should have happened was never, and never will be, part of authentic Christian teaching. The principle which governs a Christian’s attitude to all this derives from Christ’s own example when he said to the woman taken in adultery: Go and sin no more.
The sexual attraction which led that woman to the act of adultery was not sinful. Its indulgence, her response to that attraction in an adulterous act – whether in mind or in body – was what was sinful. Christ did not fudge that.
Homosexual attraction is not in itself sinful. The Catholic Church is blue in the face reminding us of this. The indulgence of that attraction in acts – again in mind or in body – is sinful. No amount of head-counting, opinion polling, counting who does or does not find something “impossible”, will change that.
Christians in Africa have their own deeply rooted customs and social practices to cope with which are alien to Christianity. At some future date we might have a sub-Saharan occupant in the See of St. Augustine in Canterbury. If there were pressure from his flocks in Africa asking the Christian Church to bend its moral laws and come to terms with polygamy, it would be a very weak and flawed response on his part to offer as a reason for not doing so that people of another culture would find that “impossible” to accept.
A moral teaching which seeks to operate on this kind of criteria will soon wither away.