There can be no place at all for homophobia in the church, the Archbishop of Canterbury elect, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, has said in his first major statement since the announcement of his appointment.
The current Bishop of Durham strongly supports women bishops, but has so far been opposed to same-sex marriage. But his comments were positive about civil partnerships, and the responsibility of the state to decide about authorising such partnerships.
He indicated that he will listen and reflect on issues that have been dividing opinion painfully in the Church of England and within the worldwide Anglican Communion.
He declared in his opening statement at a press conference at Lambeth Palace this morning: "We .. face deep differences over the issue of sexuality. It is absolutely right for the state to define the rights and status of people co-habiting in different forms of relationships, including civil partnerships. We must have no truck with any form of homophobia, in any part of the church."
He added: "I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully. I am always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us. Above all in the church we need to create safe spaces for these issues to be discussed honestly and in love."
Though a strong evangelical, Bishop Welby was described today by the Dean of Manchester Cathedral, Michael Sadgrove, as belonging to "a more holistic, more catholic world.”
Bishop Welby says he wants "the church to be a place where we can disagree in love, respecting each other deeply as those who belong to Christ."
As Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has an opportunity to "witness boldly to God’s love for all, including LGBT people, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement commented today.
"Church involvement has been falling in recent decades and, for some people, unjust treatment of LGBT people has been a factor," the movement added.
In the 2010 British Social Attitudes survey, only 37 per cent of the Anglicans who responded thought that same-sex relationships were always (or almost always) wrong, while a 2012 YouGov survey found that 79 per cent of British Anglicans aged 18-29 believe that same-sex relationships are as valid as heterosexual ones.
Many Anglican theologians have argued the case for celebrating same-sex partnerships, including Rowan Williams in his 1989 LGCM lecture, The body’s grace, LGCM pointed out - a point emphasised by a new research paper from the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, entitled 'Journey towards acceptance: theologians and same-sex love', published last week.
However, when in office, archbishops have failed to acknowledge publicly the strength of the case for greater inclusion, and this failure has harmed LGBT people, their families and the church, said LGCM.
"There is no denying that this is both a great opportunity and serious challenge for Justin Welby. I hope and pray that unlike previous archbishops, Justin will have the courage and fortitude to make the long overdue changes needed to help both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion truly live the full inclusivity of the gospel of Christ,’ said the Rev Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of LGCM and a minister of the Metropolitan Community Church.
* 'Journey towards acceptance: theologians and same-sex love', by Savi Hensman: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17246
* More on Justin Welby from Ekklesia - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/justinwelby