Ahead of the current Primates’ meeting in Canterbury, Archbishop Justin Welby was interviewed by GQ magazine, and admitted to “copping out” of a clear answer on whether gay sex is, in his eyes, a sin. He was, however, direct in his judgement that the views of conservatives and liberals on this issue are “irreconcilable.”
Alastair Campbell [interviewer]: Is gay sex sinful?
Justin Welby: Do you know, we have done religion, we have done politics, why am I surprised we are on to gay sex? …
You know very well that is a question I can’t give a straight answer to. Sorry, badly phrased there. I should have thought that one through. [Pause, mildly embarrassed.]
Why can’t you?
Because I don’t do blanket condemnation and I haven’t got a good answer to the question. I’ll be really honest about that. I know I haven’t got a good answer to the question. Inherently, within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability of relationships and loving relationships.
But that could be a man and a man or a woman and a woman?
I know it could be. I am also aware – a view deeply held by tradition since long before Christianity, within the Jewish tradition – that marriage is understood invariably as being between a man and a woman. Or, in various times, a man and several women, if you go back to the Old Testament. I know that the Church around the world is deeply divided on this in some places, including the Anglicans and other Churches, not just us, and we are – the vast majority of the Church is – deeply against gay sex.
So this is where you are having to be a politician.
Yes. I am having to struggle to be faithful to the tradition, faithful to the scripture, to understand what the call and will of God is in the 21st century and to respond appropriately with an answer for all people – not condemning them, whether I agree with them or not – that covers both sides of the argument. And I haven’t got a good answer, and I am not doing that bit of work as well as I would like.
But is that because the politics are so hard, you have these Ugandan bishops and the liberals who believe something very different and you have to try to reconcile them?
It is irreconcilable.
So is homophobic hatred sinful?
Yes. Because you are hating individuals. I don’t think it is sinful to say that you disagree with gay sex. But to express that by way of hatred for people is absolutely wrong in the same way as misogyny or racism is wrong.
Is that not morally a cop out?
Yes. I am copping out because I am struggling with the issue.
The Primates of the Anglican Communion are currently meeting in England.