Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Archbishop’s speech on gay marriage – needless concessions and a lost opportunity

Nine Church of England Bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, this week voted for Lord Dear’s amendment attempting to derail the government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. Five abstained. Ten chose not to attend. The amendment was passed by a 390-148 majority.

There has been speculation in the press that the Church of England had made a deal with government over trading abstentions for later amendments and that pressure had been put on bishops by church officials to suggest they abstain so as not to evoke a government backlash against the church.

However this has been firmly denied by the church’s parliamentary and political advisors.

Now that the bill has passed its second reading in the House of Lords the leader of the ‘Lords Spiritual’, Bishop of Leicester Tim Stevens, has issued a statement on behalf of the church about its strategy for the days and weeks ahead.

In this he says that ‘it is now the duty and responsibility of the Bishops who sit in the House of Lords to recognise the implications of this decision and to join with other Members in the task of considering how this legislation can be put into better shape’. 

He adds that ‘the issue now is not primarily one of protections and exemptions for people of faith’ but rather ‘improvement (of the bill) in a number of other key respects, including in its approach to the question of fidelity in marriage and the rights of children’. 

As a result it has been reported widely in the press, perhaps not surprisingly, that ‘the Church of England has effectively accepted defeat over gay marriage signalling that it will no longer fight against a change in the law’.

The words and actions of bishops in the coming weeks and days will no doubt undergo careful scrutiny, but my purpose in this blogpost is rather to comment on the speech that the Archbishop of Canterbury gave before supporting the Dear amendment last Monday, because I suspect I am not alone in finding it rather disappointing.  

I have reproduced his speech below (in italics) from his own website and placed my own comments after each section in non-italicised script (marked >>). The speech is 864 words and runs to ten paragraphs. It has been quoted widely but selectively and I think it is therefore important to consider it as a whole.

Archbishop Justin's speech to the Lords on the government's gay marriage Bill
Monday 3rd June 2013

My Lords, this Bill has arrived in your Lordship's House at great speed. The initial Proposals, when published at the end of the autumn, have needed much work to get them into today's form. Much of that work has been done through detailed legal effort and discussion, and I am deeply grateful to the DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) teams – and especially to the Secretary of State for the thoughtful way in which she has listened and the degree to which she has been willing to make changes in order to arrive at the stage we’ve reached today.

>> It is part of House of Lords tradition to be polite even to those with whom you strongly disagree. But the Archbishop has gone much further than this in complimenting the government for their handling of this bill. And yet the bill was launched with no democratic mandate, seeks to redefine the biblical concept of marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman enshrined in British law and poses a serious threat to civil liberties. To commend the Secretary of State for the ‘thoughtful way she has listened’ and ‘the degree to which she has been willing to make changes’, given that the government ignored half a million public submissions to its consultation and then sought to block every amendment put forward to make the bill more safe during its passage through the House of Commons, is curious to say the very least.  Not only are the Archbishop’s commendations inappropriate and unnecessary; they are actually a slap in the face to those many Christians, MPs and others who in good conscience have stood against the bill in the face of great opposition. 

We all know, and it’s been said, that this is a divisive issue. In general the majority of faith groups remain very strongly against the Bill, and have expressed that view in a large number of public statements. The House of Bishops of the Church of England has also expressed a very clear majority view –  although not unanimous, as has been seen by the strong and welcome contribution by the Bishop of Salisbury. 

>> Why does Welby consider it necessary to single out Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salibury, for commendation and call his contribution ‘strong and welcome’ when in fact Holtam takes a position diametrically opposed to what the Scriptures teach and has also likened opponents of gay marriage to those who used the Bible to justify slavery and apartheid? Should he not rather be saying that Holtam does not represent the church’s view or, at very least, not dignifying his words and actions with a comment? How does Welby’s approach to Holtam square with the Apostle Paul urging his co-workers to ‘command certain men not to teach false doctrines’ (1 Timothy 1:3), to ‘gently instruct in the hope that God will grant repentance’ (2 Timothy 2:25) and to insist that false teachers ‘must be silenced’ (Titus 1:11)? 

The so-called Quadruple Lock may have some chance of withstanding legal scrutiny in Europe, and we are grateful for it, although other faith groups and Christian denominations who’ve written to me remain very hesitant. There have been useful discussions about the position of schools with a religious character and issues of freedom of conscience. And I’ve noted the undertaking of the Noble Baroness the Minister on those subjects, and I’m grateful for what she has said. The Noble Baroness the Minister has also put forward all her views today with great courtesy and persuasive effect, and I join in the remarks of the Noble Baroness, Baroness Royall, in appreciation of that. 

>> Why is it necessary to thank the government for the ‘quadruple lock’ when there is considerable doubt about how legally robust it is and when it is a government’s primary duty to protect its citizens anyway? Why has he identified with the Labour leader Baroness Royall in commending the Minister for ‘useful discussions’ about religious schools and freedom of conscience when all attempts to obtain legal protection for teachers and conscience have been so far been blocked by the government working in tandem with the Labour Party?

And I have to say that personally I regret the necessity of having to deal with the possibility of a division at this stage, on a bill passed by a free vote in the other place.

>> Why does Welby ‘personally regret’ having to vote against a bill which undermines the Christian definition of marriage? Is it not his Christian duty (and joy) to stand up for Christian truth? And why does he need to say so?

I was particularly grateful to hear the speech of the Noble Baroness, Baroness Royall, and agreed with the proud record that was established by the last government during the years in which it held office in this area. I also, if I may, will pass on her comments with gratitude to my colleague the Most Revd Prelate the Archbishop of York. 

>> Why is it necessary for Welby to commend the previous Labour government and what does he mean by its ‘proud record’? How is this even relevant?

It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage. Although the majority of Bishops who voted during the whole passage of the Civil Partnerships Act through your Lordships' House were in favour of civil partnerships a few years ago, it is also absolutely true that the church has often not served the LGBT communities in the way it should. I must express my sadness and sorrow for that considerable failure. There have been notable exceptions, such as my predecessor Archbishop Ramsey who vigorously supported decriminalisation in the 1960s. 

>> On what basis is Welby saying that ‘faithful same sex relationships’ should ‘be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage’? What biblical or church teaching supports this view? And is he suggesting that the church should have served the LGBT community by endorsing and blessing same sex civil partnerships? This is certainly the most natural reading of his speech and yet it is not even the position of the church which he leads.

It is also necessary to express, as has been done already, total rejection of homophobic language, which is wrong – and more than that, sickening. 

>> What does the archbishop actually mean by ‘homophobic language’?  And why, if so many people have already mentioned this, does he feel it necessary to mention it again? Welby has now used 516 of his 864 words and seven of his ten paragraphs. Thus far he has commended the government, the Labour opposition and a bishop that many regard as a heretic, given his blessing to same sex partnerships and apologised both for the church’s past record and also for having to vote against the bill. Not a good start and the clock is steadily ticking.

However, I and many of my colleagues remain with considerable hesitations about this Bill. My predecessor Lord Williams of Oystermouth showed clearly last summer, in evidence during the consultation period, that it has within it a series of category errors. It confuses marriage and weddings. It assumes that the rightful desire for equality – to which I’ve referred supportively – must mean uniformity, failing to understand that two things may be equal but different. And as a result it does not do what it sets out to do, my Lords. Schedule 4 distinguishes clearly between same gender and opposite gender marriage, thus not achieving true equality. 

>> Now at last we see some arguments against the bill and it is this paragraph that has been most quoted in the media. Welby is absolutely right that the bill contains ‘category errors’, ‘confuses marriages and weddings’ and misunderstands the difference between ‘equality’ and ‘uniformity’. But why didn’t he leave himself more time to unpack these arguments and why does his opposition amount to nothing more than ‘considerable hesitations’. If he rejects the underlying principle of the bill, why does he not say so?

The result is confusion. Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated, being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the Bill is an awkward shape with same gender and different gender categories scrunched into it, neither fitting well. The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense, predating the state and as our base community of society – as we’ve already heard – is weakened. These points will be expanded on by others in the debate, I’m sure, including those from these benches.

>> Again some good strong words, but could he not have expanded on some of these points rather than confining them to two paragraphs totalling 204 words – the length of a short letter to the Times? Why has he spent  more than twice as many words already on unnecessary commendations and apologies that have actually served to undermine his position? And should he not, as Archbishop of Canterbury and Head of the Church of England, be saying something about what a distinctively Christian understanding of marriage actually is?

For these and many other reasons, those of us in the churches and faith groups who are extremely hesitant about the Bill in many cases hold that view because we think that traditional marriage is a corner stone of society, and rather than adding a new and valued institution alongside it for same gender relationships, which I would personally strongly support to strengthen us all, this Bill weakens what exists and replaces it with a less good option that is neither equal nor effective. This is not a faith issue, although we are grateful for the attention that government and the other place have paid to issues of religious freedom – deeply grateful. But it is not, at heart, a faith issue; it is about the general social good. And so with much regret but entire conviction, I cannot support the Bill as it stands.

>> If there are ‘many other reasons’ why has he not outlined what some of them are in his first seven paragraphs? Why, as head of the Church of England, does Welby see legal same sex homoerotic partnerships as a ‘valued institution alongside (marriage)’ which he ‘would personally strongly support to strengthen us all’? How does he believe that legalising same sex partnerships ‘strengthens us all’? And why is this ‘not at heart a faith issue’ when the teaching of both the Bible and the church on the matter is so clear and when our current law on marriage was historically based on this biblical definition? Why does he say that he cannot support the bill ‘as it stands’? Does he not oppose its underlying principle? Or is he saying that he would actually support it with various amendments?

It is notable that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech does not mention God, Jesus Christ, the Bible or even the historic position on the Church of England. Nor does it explain how the Christian concept of complimentary heterosexual marriage is a creation ordinance for all mankind supposed to mirror Christ’s own relationship with his bride the church.

You might argue that parliament would not have been convinced by such arguments. Quite probably not.  But the Archbishop of Canterbury has a responsibility to bear witness to Christian truth in the public square.  He should also not be granting needless and unbiblical concessions. He is after all the Archbishop of Canterbury.  

Welby’s speech was a wonderful opportunity to speak for Christ and Christians and to explain why Christians believe that marriage is so precious and should not be redefined.

Sadly, for both church and society, it was an opportunity he largely missed and some of the concessions he has made are very worrying indeed.  


  1. Disappointing, but hardly surprising. It was inevitable that any bishop who commanded the support of Anglican liberals was never going to strongly espouse biblical principles. The time is long past for the faithful in the Anglican community to leave this apostate, so-called church. As Paul says "Come out from them and be separate,says the Lord"

  2. Fortunately, not every local Anglican Church is completely rotten. And while I share Peter's disappointment that Archbishop Justin did not speak uo more strongly for Biblical marriage, this does not mean we should give up on the CofE. It's position in society may not be what it was, but it still has tremendous opportunities for mission in this country and elsewhere. I joined my local parish Church when I moved to my current home because it was the local, Biblical, welcoming vibrant coomunity of disciples of Jesus. It was not the denomination of my previous Church, or of my Cchristian upbringing.
    If we all leave all the Churches where one of the leaders doesn't express the truth the way we would like, we will soon have multiple Churches with one member each.

    1. I agree entirely. I am not suggesting people leave the Church of England. Better to pray and work for its renewal. What we also need to do is to encourage its leaders - the Archbishop included - to lead better by speaking out for truth more effectively in parliament, in the pulpit and everywhere else as well.

    2. If the church is truly apostate and its leadership is clearly not following the truth then isn't a case using Jesus' words - "if a blind man leads a blind man both will fall into a pit. It is clear from your statements Peter that the leadership of the Church of England are indeed, blind guides. If we wish to be followers of Christ as I did when The then Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, denied the resurrection of Christ, I decided then and there that I could no longer associate myself with the CofE and have now joined a church which is preaching the gospel and is striving to live it as well in their daily lives.

    3. I think John's point is that there are many individual Anglican churches which are preaching and living the Gospel. I accept that and don't think Christians should leave those churches.

      What I have difficulty in understanding is why they don't seem to feel it necessary to hold their wider leadership - including the archbishop - to account. They are tolerating people who teach heresy and have allowed them to get into positions of leadership. That, I see, is the main problem with the Church of England.

    4. THis is exactly what they need to do, showing true leadership. Rom 1:24-32 doesn't just challenge the perpetrator but also those who accept the perpetrator's actions and in effect - do nothing. They need to have conviction and show themeselves as men of principle. I think the biggest problem with the CofE is that it is state - led and not God-led. I believe the first step must be that the church needs to become disestablished. When this happens, then these Godly men who want to preach the gospel as written in the Word of God, can do so more freely and can then call these bishops (these heretics) to account and get them excommunicated if they will not repent.

    5. THe bible in Rev 21:8 warns us: "but the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” If these men are cowards and say nothing then they are giving in to the unrighteousness of their leaders. This divided Israel, it needed to, in the Old Testament so that God could distinguish the godly from the ungodly. THis needs to happen and needs to happen sooner rather than later.

    6. The biblical challenge to the assumption that it's right to 'come out from among them' is the fact that this is never suggested to any actual group of Christians in the New Testament. The quote is, of course, from Revelation, and is unique. When we are members of a local church, that reality has a far greater significance than modern day individualists allow for; the justification for leaving our existing fellowship must be EXTREMELY strong - this isn't it. Having said that, you need to be confident that you ARE in a church where you are growing spiritually. But if you are, then you should be encouraging your church leaders to challenge their leaders, not just walking out on them.

    7. John, I would be very interested in hearing what would be a strong reason. If the fact that so called Men of God are causing let's face it, embarrassment to the faith and causing many secularists to rub their hands in glee!! because we're too weak to stand - yes God is not mocked but they are mocking the church and I believe, I hate to say it, justifiably so. We must make a stand and if not now then when. We are called to be Christ's representatives (2 Cor 5:20), but are example up to now has been a sham.

  3. Dear Mr. Cameron,

    Sorry to be such a nuisance, but I'm afraid we don't completely like your same sex marriage bill. It's not that we don't like gay people, it's just that we're a bit old fashioned.

    Thanks awfully for not dragging us into court and suing us for discrimination, or disestablishing us, or anything like that. Look, one of our own bishops thinks we're very wrong and compared us to a bunch of slave owners, so we can't be too bad, then, can we?

    We're going to vote for the bill now anyway so that in the future you will remember how nice we were about it and not be too cross with us.

    Yours sincerely,

    The Church of England

  4. Peter. Your response to the Apb's speech, and related matters C of E is clinically incisive, robust and fair comment.
    Of course we do not know what conversations have taken place between the Anglican leadership and the government. I strongly suspect that the EU dimension and SSM may have had a decisive part to play, and that the Apb and episcopal bench may have been persuaded to throw in the white towel. There seems to be something else at work here, apart from their lamentable lack of biblical conviction on the nature of marriage.
    We do know that EU "equality" laws either strongly influence, or actually direct, our domestic law, and SSM may be no exception. The following comment appears to back this up:

    ""After David Cameron unexpectedly introduced a same sex marriage Bill in the Commons, the Church of England Bishops in the House of Lords suddenly changed within two days, from opposing the Bill to withdrawing opposition with the Bishop of Leicester declaring in a Statement, “If this Bill becomes law, it is crucial that marriage as newly defined is equipped to carry within it as many as possible of the virtues of the understanding of marriage it will replace”.
    "Why has the Church not sustained its opposition to the view of marriage as traditionally understood according to scripture and the Church’s own teaching?

    In 2010 the European Parliament voted on a report. The purpose of the report was to compel each member state of the European Union to both initially recognise and legally uphold the effects of civil status documents of another EU State

    Paragraph 40 of the report implied recognition of same sex marriage through a back door with the EU requiring all member states to grant all social benefits and other legal effects.

    This meant that member states could be forced to indirectly recognise same sex unions as equal to marriage even if such recognition did not exist in the respective country’s legal system.
    There was an obvious risk to undermine the sovereignty of the member states in family law and specifically the definition of marriage in their own country by shifting a definition of marriage from family law, which is an exclusive competence of member states to procedural law (mutual recognition of civil law documents). This meant a de facto establishment of an EU wide right to same sex marriage
    "Here again we see the EU, assisted by the Council of Europe, interfering with national Parliaments leading to David Cameron’s readiness and willingness to be compliant for fear of legal consequences and the Church of England withdrawing opposition instead of firmly standing its ground."

    However, the Apb and bishops should know that Biblical authority, on this as for any other issue upon which it speaks, is a HIGHER authority than that of parliaments or the European Union.

  5. Continuing the comment on Apb Welby's Lords speech. In my view your most telling criticism is:

    "On what basis is Welby saying that ‘faithful same sex relationships’ should ‘be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage’? What biblical or church teaching supports this view?"

    This is precisely the question to ask Welby, for it is a contradiction in terms to conflate "faithful" same sex relationships as being worthy of "recognition and support".
    In all of the Apbs' speech, and that of other bishops in the H of L, I failed to hear a clear condemnation of SSM being completely wrong in principle, and in fact sinful, and incompatible with biblical teaching on marriage and relationships. I did not hear every Bishop in the debate and therefore stand to be corrected if there was an exception.

    The Apb's speech in particular failed to convince that he has a principled stand against SSM and gives the impression that like the curate's egg, it is "good in parts".

    Overall his comments are muted, uncertain, and compromised - " For if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?

  6. Replies
    1. Which Rome? The one that forced King John to submit to the Pope as feudal overlord? The one that launched that instructed Catholics to disregard their oaths of loyalty to Queen Elizabeth and the launched the Spanish Armada against us? The one that encouraged the Jacobite rebellions in the 18th century? The one that burnt William Tyndale for translating the bible into English - only to adopt English as the language of the mass after 400 years of saying no? The one that's lost control of its nuns in America? The one which most Brazilians have abandoned for Protestant churches? Or the one that's abandoned all its bad habits - thus rendering its present judgements totally provisional and as well founded as the claims of most Protestant churches?

      At its best Rome has done a lot of good - but it's by no means perfect, and its schismatic insistence on belief in the Assumption of the BVM is totally unhelpful, and renders it impossible as a home IMHO.

    2. Oh dear, the same old tired Anti-Catholic claptrap, John...

      I don't know where to start because your post is shot through with nonsense.

      "schismatic insistence on belief in the Assumption of the BVM is totally unhelpful"
      Go and read about the real history of the Church, not the white-washed rubbish from the Anglican government department.

      If you really were devoted to Christ, you would also be devoted to his Mother.

      Shall we talk about the CofE then?
      An organisation founded on heresy, murder, property theft, immorality and royal corruption? Say no more really. Heard all the usual lies about the Catholic Church before and your post is nothing new under the sun.

    3. No church is perfect, whether it's Rome or our present C of E.
      Nowhere in the Gospels did Jesus venerate His mother and neither should we.
      'Woman, what have I to do with you'.
      'Blessed is the woman whose paps you sucked' - in response Jesus declared 'Rather blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it!'
      On the cross He declared to Mary, before St John the Evangelist: 'Woman behold your son'.

  7. The one that despite its sins,which normally have been vastly exaggerated and taken out of context by hostile propaganda, remained and remains faithful to its Founder. The one that in fact declared which books were inspired. In other words the one on whose authority we know which books make up the Bible. At least ponder why it is that the Catholic Church is so clear on all these issues - homosexualty, euthanasia, embrionic stem cell research, divorce, abortion, contraception,the family..... could it just be there is something there? An institution should be judged by looking at those who have lived up to its ideals. Agreed, this is no time to argue amongst ourselves but do consider how Rome gives sound and clear doctrine.

    1. Where did you conclude that euthanasia is wrong using the bible?

      Samson and Jesus both committed suicide (Jesus at the hands of the state).

    2. Make that Jesus *with the assistance of the state*

    3. Winston, suicide is where one intentionally kills oneself. Murder is where one is intentionally killed by someone else. It's an important moral distinction.

    4. Winston, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but scholars have been discussing the definition of suicide, including the examples you just gave, for centuries. I'm afraid your arguments are neither clever nor original.

    5. Samson laid down his life on behalf of the Israelites: Jesus laid down His life for both the children of Israel and for us Gentiles. He received His life back again. No suicide.

  8. Yes AoCs speech was disheartening, even demoralising to listento. Clearly someone or something (political correctness?) was pulling his strings. It affirms that the future of Christianity in this country cannot be entrusted to the bishops. Most are simply too worldly, too secularised to provide real spiritual leadership. These men are mostly career clergy and tend to be followers not leaders

  9. What an excuse for a spiritual leader .

  10. Surely he should not have used the Homophobic word .This word was brought into being by Active Homosexuals for Active Homosexuals . A word that is in the vocabulary of a person like Tatchell who hates Christianity and all it stands for . This was a chance for A.O Canterbury to tell the truth tell it as it is that Active Homosexuality is both morally and humanly wrong .That to bring it in to a marriage is an Abomination- that our culture is falling apart with disease spread through Active Homosexuality -.But know first of all he had to butter up the politicians and tell them how bad we have been to even question same sex partnerships .Now they can go after the kids ,just watch the garbage that will filter through in the name of sex education . Hang your head in shame Sir.

  11. As an Anglican I am also very disappointed in the Archbishop's comments. It is very worrying that he seems to support the legitimacy of same sex relationships, just doesn't want them to be put on the same footing as heterosexual marriage. What concerns me more is the intention of some in the Church of England to conduct same sex marriages, should this bill become law. If this took place that would be the "line in the sand" that would cause me to leave the Church of England.

  12. Stop arguing and start praying.
    It's God's Church. It's God's world. It's God's Word.
    His Kingdom is bigger than the issue of marriage, important though this issue is.
    Should marriage be re-defined in the UK, tragedy though this would be, this will not stop his Kingdom coming!
    Stand up for marriage by getting down on your knees in prayer!


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