Friday, July 19, 2013

Archbishop of Canterbury Admits Churches' Defeat in Culture War v. Gays: My Response

In his first address to the General Synod of the Anglican church, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby notes the "absurdity and impossibility" of the continued attempt of some sectors of the Christian churches to pretend that "overwhelming" changes in cultural attitudes about homosexuality have not taken place. He states, "We may or may not like it but we must accept that there is a revolution in the area of sexuality."*

The Archbishop of Canterbury also noted that the Church of England has experienced resounding defeat in the marriage equality debate in the British government, and that the opposition of its leaders and the leaders of some other churches (I'd certainly include my Catholic church here) to marriage equality has elicited "noticeable hostility to the view of the churches." Archbishop Welby also admits that the way in which the churches have talked about homosexuality and homosexual people may well contribute to the suicide of young gay people.

I've been revisiting these recent observations of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the past day or so as I read about the legalization of marriage equality in England and Wales this week. I hear the observations as a declaration of détente in a culture-war battle that it's clear the Christian churches have now lost. And as I listen to the declaration of détente, I wonder if Archbishop Welby and other Christian leaders who have insisted on fighting this particular culture war to the bitter end, even as evidence has mounted that the war was a losing one for their side, understand precisely why that "noticeable hostility to the view of the churches" has been in more and more evidence in one country after another.

If I were ever in a position to have a conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury or the top leaders of my own Catholic church, I'd like to ask them if they can truly have been unaware all along that there has been a horrendous human price to the culture war they've chosen to fight to prevent or delay the full acceptance and inclusion of LGBT people in church and society. That war has been fought quite specifically across the prone, helpless bodies of gay and gender-questioning young people--just as Archbishop Welby admits.

Why, I wonder, has it taken the churches' conspicuous defeat in a heated culture-war battle the churches have chosen to fight solely around the lives of LGBT human beings, as they ignore the widespread acceptance of divorce and use of contraception in heterosexual lives, before the churches begin to count the human cost of their ugly attacks on gay and lesbian human beings lo these many years now? Aren't men of God supposed to be known for their egregious moral sensitivity? Doesn't their claim to be moral arbiters and moral leaders for the rest of us sit quite specifically and firmly on that claim of moral sensitivity that transcends the moral sensitivity of the common lot of humanity?

The lives thrown away, the money wasted, the heartbreaking anguish for LGBT human beings who counted on our faith communities to be home and family to us, but who have ended up asking where God can possibly be in a world so full of venom for us solely because of how God has made our human nature, and because of the hostility of our faith communities . . . .

It now seems--it has seemed to me for a long time--that the moral sensitivity of many "ordinary" churchgoing people and of "ordinary" citizens is light years more developed than that of the leaders of many Christian churches, when it comes to the issue of LGBT human lives. It has long seemed to me that the taught have quite a bit to teach the teachers in this area--if the teachers were only willing to learn.

And what this says about the moral claims and credibility of the Christian churches today, and the quality of those elevated to positions of leadership in many churches now (with notable exceptions--and here): well, I'll sum up only by saying it seems to me a fairly serious indictment of the churches and their leaders. Who haven't been leaders in the least in this significant human conversation . . . . 

* I'm grateful to Terry Weldon for linking several days ago at his Queering the Church blog to John Bingham's report in The Telegraph on Archbishop Welby's address.

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