The Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments linking progress toward LGBT equality in American churches to the massacre of Christians in Africa continue to reverberate.
The New York Times has filed a story that begins:
The archbishop of Canterbury, under fire for appearing to link expanded gay rights in the United States to violence against Christians in Africa, said on Thursday that he is advocating for a slow and deliberative response to same-sex marriage, mindful of the global implications.
“I think we need to be aware of the realities on the ground, in our own countries and around the world, and to take those into account when we’re moving forward,” the archbishop, Justin Welby, told reporters in Oklahoma City, where he was meeting with the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and attending a conference on violence.
Episcopal News Service covered Welby’s speech at the conference called Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace and the subsequent press conference. Its story includes the following:
Earlier in the day when the archbishop spoke to the entire gathering, he said he and his wife Caroline stood alongside a mass grave in Bor, South Sudan, where the bodies of clergy and lay South Sudanese people were buried in what he has described as a massacre influenced by western acceptance for same-sex marriage.
“I think we need to be aware of the realities on the ground in our own countries and around the world and to take those into account when we are moving forward,” Welby said during the news conference.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean you do something other than you feel is the right thing to do but you are aware of the need perhaps to do it in a different way,” he continued. “It means particularly in these conversations that we have to make sure that we hear the voice of the LGBT community, which themselves in many parts of the world, including in our own countries suffer a great deal, and we also need to hear very carefully the voices of other members of the church, of other faiths, of ecumenical partners, so that it is a genuine process of listening and in listening to each to listening to the voice of God.”
The grave in Bor does not seem to be the mass grave that the archbishop was referring to in the radio broadcast in the United Kingdom last week when he initially stated that the victims had been murdered due to events “far, far away in America.” Indeed, the ENS story carries a “correction” that reads: “a correction was made to this article to remove reference to the location of the mass grave where Welby said he had been told Christians were murdered out fear that they might become homosexual because of Western influence.”
Welby had previously said that he would not reveal the site of the mass grave he spoke of on the radio to protect the community. His refusal to give further details on the massacre also means that his claims cannot be independently evaluated, and that his analysis of why the massacre in question occurred cannot be challenged.
Meanwhile, The Church Times has published a story in which it says that Sudanese bishops “confirmed … that Christians in their country face a violent reaction if the Church of England permits same-sex marriage and blessings.”
However, one of the three Sudanese bishops interviewed disputes this assertion and the quotation used in the headline of the story is not spoken by any of the bishops whom the Church Times interviewed.
Additionally, one of the bishops is said to have “verified” Welby’s experience at a mass grave that Welby has not said was in Sudan, and which at least one British religion reporter has placed in Nigeria.
One can appreciate Welby’s concern for the safety of Christians in Africa, and some readers may even be persuaded that it is necessary to discriminate against LGBT people in the West to save lives in Africa, but Welby cannot be given a pass for introducing 12-15 year -old right wing talking point into the debate over LGBT equality as though it were a proven fact, and then refusing to provide the details that would allow for a critical examination of his claim. (Secular human rights groups have documented many massacres in Sudan and Nigeria, and attributed none to the actions of gay-friendly churches.)
In his radio interview last week, the archbishop said: “It’s about the fact that I’ve stood by a graveside in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far, far away in America.”
Nothing he has said since then indicates that he doesn’t believe this to be the case. But everything he has said indicates he is unwilling to actually defend this assertion. That’s dirty pool.