Archbishop Welby resists Telegraph-style grandstanding

By staff writers
5 Feb 2013

Predictions that the new Archbishop of Canterbury would make a dramatic attack on the government over its marriage bill have proved wide of the mark.

Instead, Archbishop Justin Welby, who had his office conferred upon him amidst ceremony and legalese at St Paul's Cathedral in London yesterday (4 February 2013), made a low-key response when questioned about same-sex marriage by the media.

"I have no idea how the vote will go, so I am not going to get into hypothetical questions,” he said, referring to the 5 February parliamentary debate over the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which would permit partners of the same gender in England and Wales to marry in registry offices, or places of worship - but only if faith groups choose to offer this opportunity.

“I stand, as I have always stood over the last few months, with the statement I made at the announcement of my appointment, which is that I support the Church of England's position on this. We have made many statements about this and I stick with that," the Archbishop said.

The established Church opposes a change in the law. But the new Archbishop, who comes from the charismatic-evangelical wing of the Church, has said that he is against homophobia and that he is willing to talk constructively to people who take a different view from him on same-sex relations, while holding to the official position.

Insiders say that Welby is averse to the kind of grandstanding drama and polarising statements that some in the media hope for, and prefers to deal with issues in a matter-of-fact way, while seeking positive conversation among contending parties beyond the glare of publicity.

"He mostly favours light over heat," one commentator told Ekklesia. "A big confrontation is unlikely to achieve anything, and could end up making the Church look more silly than many think it already is."

The Daily Telegraph had run a breathless headline the night before the St Paul's ceremony, declaring prophetically: 'New Archbishop of Canterbury challenges David Cameron on gay marriage'.

But its subsequent video caption needed to read rather differently: 'Archbishop: no collision with PM over gay marriage', it said - although the paper chose to leave its original headline unchanged online.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, which supports marriage equality on theological as well as social grounds, commented: "The two issues that are seen as most divisive within the Church of England at the moment are women bishops and same-sex marriage.

"The new Archbishop is a strong supporter of the former, and with his solidly evangelical credentials probably stands most chance of brokering a deal on one, either or both.

"On marriage, he is conservative and (in the way that the term is popularly misused) a traditionalist. But he has said that he will talk to those who take a different, affirming stance on LGBT people within the Church, and unlike many opponents of same-sex marriage he does not wish those who think differently to him cast into the outer darkness.

"He has also made a public comment about the unacceptability of homophobia. So hopefully, overall, there will be some positive, if difficult, talking to be done."

Also on Ekklesia:

* 'Faith groups speak up for marriage equality as debate looms' - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17937

* 'Marriage, union or contract? The flawed ResPublica case against equality', by Savitri Hensman - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17935/

* 'What kind of leader will Archbishop Justin Welby be?', by Simon Barrow - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17927

* More on Justin Welby from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/justinwelby

[Ekk/3]

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License. Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.