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Justin Welby and Homophobia

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Justin Welby gets real on homophobia

Welby knows that young people detest anti-gay prejudice, and is telling his church. It’s more than Rowan Williams did

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

Justin Welby thinks that it is a huge problem for the church in this country that it is defined by what it’s against. “Young people say ‘I don’t want to hear about a faith that is homophobic’,” he told a gathering of leaders from the Evangelical Alliance on Wednesday, many of whom have campaigned hard against gay marriage. So I asked him if he regretted that he’d voted against it.

“No,” he said. “I am happy that I voted against it. It seemed to me that the bill was rewriting the nature of marriage in a way that [conflicted] with the Christian tradition, with scripture, and with understanding.”

But once he’d said that he went on to say quite a lot more which showed that his thought has in fact moved on from the simplicities of the spring. First, he admitted that the church was “deeply and profoundly divided” over the issue. This is not at all what he said in the House of Lords at the time, when he claimed that all the major denominations opposed the bill. Yet there is very clear polling evidence from the Westminster Faith debates, to show that Christians, even evangelical Christians, are very conflicted about this, and the opinions of the lay members of the church much more resemble the opinions of unbelievers than they do their own leadership.

Second, he used the term “homophobia” in an honest way. There are still some evangelicals who claim it is a made-up term that refers to nothing in particular. Not so Welby. Gay marriage was, he said, an attempt to deal with issues of homophobia. “The church has not been good at dealing with it. We have implicitly and even explicitly supported [homophobia] and that demands repentance.”

This is, I think, something that he sees as a command from God, rather than an adjustment to the world. That in itself is an important shift, since the only way that conservative religious attitudes will change is if they stop looking to religious conservatives like surrender.

More to the point, he now understands just how dreadful conservative Christian attitudes seem to anyone under 35. “The vast majority of people under 35 think [the church’s resistance to gay marriage] is not just incomprehensible but plain wrong and wicked, and they assimilate it to racism and other horrors.”

He made clear later that this attitude was found among young evangelicals as well as ordinary people, and that it was reflected in his experience as well as in public opinion polls.

Of course, this isn’t really news. It is a recognition of reality much clearer and more forceful than Rowan Williams could have allowed himself, but the only possible audience for his remarks was sitting in front of him. No one outside the church cares in the slightest what its leaders say about sex. Very few people inside care either: according to the YouGov Westminster Faith Debate polls, only 2% of Anglicans take into account the views of religious leaders when making moral decisions.

Some of his evangelical audience will have heard only what he said about voting against the bill. Others will have understood what he also said about how catastrophic this attitude has become for the credibility of Christianity as a moral force in this country. But I think there is an irreversible shift of attitude under way here.

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Allegiance to God

Girl Guides ‘should not be allowed to use church premises’

Girl Guide groups who do not pledge allegiance to God should be turfed out of the church halls they meet in, religious leaders and Christian groups have warned.

The wording of the Brownies and Girl Guide promise are to be changed Photo: ALAMY

By Victoria Ward  –   23 Aug 2013

It would be “hypocritical” of the 103-year-old movement to expect to use church premises after abandoning its core beliefs, Rev Paul Williamson of St George’s Church in Feltham, Middlesex, said.

“If the Guide promise does not mention God, I cannot see why they should be on Church premises,” he added.

“The Girl Guide Association does not realise what it’s done. It has not thought through the consequences and has made itself look ridiculous.”

The organisation has been plunged into an atheist row after announcing that it is to scrap the traditional oath, replacing references to “God” and “country” with a pledge to “be true to myself” and serve the “community”.

A group in Harrogate this week became the first to openly defy the movement by vowing that it would be “sticking with the previous Promise”.

Rev Brian Hunt, minister of the church where Harrogate Guides have met for around 50 years, supported their stance, indicating that the unit could not possibly expect to use the facilities otherwise.

“My church allows the Guides to use my premises for free,” he said.

“And we do that because they’ve always tried to look after the whole person – body, mind and soul – and we encourage that. I don’t think, in fairness, that Girl Guides can expect churches to provide premises for free when they don’t believe in God.”

The Harrogate leaders risk being expelled from the movement if they don’t comply with the new rules, due to come into force on September 1, but have insisted they will encourage all girls and leaders in their groups to continue to use the original promise.

Hundreds of Girl Guide groups up and down the country meet in church halls or on church premises, which they are often allowed to use for free or for a token amount. In return, some groups are asked to get involved with church life and take part in occasional church parades.

Rev Williamson, a former Scout leader, warned that most Guide groups did not have the funds or the ability to run their own buildings and that local schools or councils would charge far more for the hire of their facilities.

“It seems to me the Girl Guides are being doctrinaire, feminist and anti-church,” he said. “How can they expect, as a reputable charity organisation, to go on using church premises whilst telling young girls that that cannot promise their duty to God?”

A spokesman for Christian Concern said the removal of any reference to God from the oath was a “slap in the face” to the churches that provide premises as well as the movement’s many Christian members and leaders.

“It’s understandable that some church leaders won’t be happy providing premises if the Guides are so insistent on keeping God out of the movement,” he said.

“It puts the movement at odds with Christian belief as well as its original Christian ethos.”

The Evangelical Alliance agreed, suggesting that the decision to remove the reference to God could backfire.

“Many churches must now be reconsidering whether they want to give their resources, free time and free use of their buildings to an organisation that wants to cleanse itself of God, especially when there is an alternative in the Girls Brigade that is rooted in the Christian faith,” a spokesman said.

A Girlguiding spokeswoman insisted that the decision to change the oath was based on research that found it should “unify all girls of all backgrounds and all circumstances”.

She said: “Updating the Promise does not alter our continuing commitment to offer all girls a safe space where they can explore and develop their beliefs.

“We remain hugely appreciative of all the support churches give to guiding and hope they will continue to do so. If they do not feel able to we will work with local volunteers to ensure a suitable alternative venue is found.”

Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society, said: “There is something deeply unpleasant and unchristian about the threat to deny girl guides access to church buildings, particularly when the new promise is as inclusive of Christians as it is of those of those of other faiths or none”.

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2013




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