Exclusive: Archbishop of Canterbury: It’s ‘great’ that equal marriage is the law of the land

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In an exclusive interview with PinkNews, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said it’s “great” that gay couples in England and Wales can now marry and that it’s “right and proper, it’s the law of the land.”

Justin Welby has become the first ever primate of the Anglican Church to conduct an interview with a gay media publication, telling PinkNews that he “got a fair amount of flak” from within parts of the Church for his shifting stance.

He also said Jesus “loved” him “unconditionally” despite his “failures” and that homophobic language expressed by the Church “deeply depresses” him.

In March, Archbishop Welby signalled the end of Church lobbying against the same-sex marriage act for England and Wales, but stressed that the Church’s opposition to the principle of equal marriage had not changed and that it would not be marrying same-sex couples.

When asked if he had a ‘message’ for Britain’s LGBT community, Archbishop Welby told PinkNews.co.uk: “As you know I have said, and got a fair amount of flak for it within parts of the Church, we have to accept, and quite rightly, that the same-sex marriage act is law, and that it’s right and proper, it’s the law of the land, and that’s great.

“What’s my message to the gay community?” the Archbishop said before pausing for several seconds.

“We are struggling with the issues across the Church globally. It’s complicated with ramifications that are very difficult to deal with in many parts of the world.”

The Archbishop then touched upon his own faith. Before becoming ordained he spent 11 years in the oil industry as a specialist in West African and North Sea projects. The death of his seven-month-old daughter, Johanna, in a car crash was a moment that brought him and his wife, Caroline, closer to God. He retired from the oil sector in 1989 and said that he sensed a calling from God to be ordained.

“I started with coming to faith many years ago by the understanding that Jesus loved me unconditionally despite my failures” Archbishop Welby told PinkNews.co.uk. “That I know is true, and I want a Church that expresses that.”

The Archbishop was quick to clarify that he did not mean gay people were “failures”, adding, “No I’m not saying that at all, but all people are failures in many different ways. There is no one who is a complete success in their life in which everything is right. Therefore the love of Christ is universal for all people irrespective of who they are and the Church has to find a way of expressing that.”

Archbishop Welby refused to be drawn on the issue of gay clergy marrying their partners, except to say that it was “a really difficult” situation.

Days after the same-sex marriage law came into force a gay Anglican chaplain from Nottinghamshire married his partner in April.

The head of Christian Concern, Andrea Williams, a member of the General Synod, demanded that the Church should take action in order to protect “traditional” teachings.

However, Archbishop Welby refused to be drawn further in his interview with PinkNews.co.uk.

“I have commented very extensively on that and I’m not going to add to what I have said already because we are in the middle of a … we have just started a really complex series of discussions about that and I don’t want to pre-empt that.”

Asked if he ‘understood’ how gay clergy might feel about the Church’s current opposition to them marrying, Archbishop Welby told PinkNews.co.uk: “I do understand. It’s a really difficult and troubling situation.”

Asked if he was ‘shocked’ by the anti-gay rhetoric of senior Anglicans in Africa, Archbishop Welby replied: “I want to be very careful about just picking on Africa. It’s not just there, all that language shocks me and appals me and deeply depresses me when homophobic language is used by the Church in any part of the world.”

He added: “I’ve said before that the Church has to learn from its past and to turn away from often using [homophobic] language in ways of expressing itself, which in the past have clearly put itself in that frame. I don’t think we can deny that, history is too clear.”

Speaking of his recent visit to a south London Church of England school, he said: “But if you listened to those young people you heard a diversity of views … and I think what struck me was that they were listening to each other very carefully, there was a sense of engagement which is so much better than simply hurling brickbats at each other from opposing trenches. I was really quite moved by that and it’s what I want to see in the Church.”

Asked if it was a confusing ‘conflict’ for students to hear a message of gay tolerance from the Church alongside its continued opposition to same-sex marriage, Archbishop Welby told PinkNews.co.uk: “Well they are in conflict the Church is deeply divided over this issue both nationally and globally, as is society, and the Church is simply made up of people within society, that’s the reality, and we have to learn ways of expressing ourselves, of expressing that disagreement, of discerning in Christian terms what it means to be a faithful Christian [but] does not diminish or marginalise people or any group within the Church.”

Archbishop Welby went on to say that the use of “marginalising” language must be excluded from the debate, but he added, “that’s a really tough call because you are dealing with massive cultural heritage, massive cultural issues. We operate in over 160 countries. It’s not a simple process.”

PinkNews.co.uk publisher Benjamin Cohen, who conducted the interview said: “I am delighted that Archbishop Welby chose PinkNews to be the first gay media publication for an Archbishop of Canterbury to speak to.

“It was an important step in his and the Church’s journey on acceptance and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. He faces many challenges, not least how it is possible to teach, children, as he urged to us, that discriminating against their classmates for being gay is wrong, when his Church itself does exactly that to its gay congregants and clergy.

“The Archbishop is clearly walking a delicate tightrope but it is one that we hope and trust will result in better treatment of LGBT people by the Church in Britain and across the world.”