Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, featured in a recent Guardian report (28th August), concerned that his vote against gay marriage in the Church of England could be viewed as ‘wicked, ‘akin to ‘racism and other forms of gross and atrocious injustice,’ particularly by people under 35. However, he also added that he would not change his vote. Here is why he should – because here is what happens when we sit on our happily heterosexual behinds, watching our happy heterosexual-to-be children walking the heterosexual animals into the toy Noah’s Ark, comforting ourselves that everyone’s welcome, it’s just that no one here is gay, so it’s not an issue.
Come back with me to March 2012. The vote on women bishops is on the horizon – a positive outcome is inevitable – and Rowan Williams is the Archbishop of Canterbury. I’m in church – my husband is playing quietly in the vestry with our four small children – a guest is about to ask the congregations’ prayers for ‘something important.’ It’s not very exciting. But it’s reassuring and stable and calm and predictable. It’s how I like it.
Enter the guest. A Lesley Pilkington, who had been invited – or who has asked, it’s not clear – to request the congregation’s prayers for something important. She introduces herself as a Christian psychotherapist/counsellor (slight alarm bells there, but nothing too noisy), and begins her tale.
It went like this: At a conference in London, a young man had approached her. He was gay and didn’t want to be; could she help him to change? But of course she could. A couple of ‘very successful’ sessions in, the young man told her that he was a journalist, that this was a sting and that he was reporting her to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. She had duly been struck off, had appealed, and the appeal was due to be heard the following Wednesday, hence the need for prayers.
But she didn’t stop there. No. We had to offer these prayers because we, the congregation, didn’t realize how widespread this evil is becoming, how insidious its hold, how terrible in its consequences. We have to use the power of prayer to fight for what we believe. As Christians, we have to open our eyes to what is happening in society. Satan is at work and we have to resist him. Homosexuality is not only contrary to everything we believe, it undermines everything we believe, and the consequences of sitting by and allowing it to run rampant in society are too terrible to contemplate. We are already seeing them.
Are we? I thought. I am a woman, happily married to a man, with whom I have children. We married in church, our children are all christened, I believe in God. I am also a human being. I like living on a planet with other human beings, many of whom are not the same as me. And so, with my heart pounding horribly and my breath very shallow and my head very light, I accepted that I was going to do something I have never done before. I stood up. I apologised for interrupting. I apologised for the fact that the children had been running around before my husband had taken them out. I said how much we love going to church, how much we value its place in our lives. And then – shaking and on the verge of tears – I said that I could no longer sit and hear people I love being called evil. People I respect and admire; people who are my friends. People who love my children. People whose lives – Christian or not – are happy and constructive. I said that I had no idea of the paths my children’s lives would take, and that I could not bring them into an environment where their paths – whatever they may be – would not be celebrated.
By this time the vicar was inviting me to sit down. And Lesley Pilkington – calm, beautifully coiffeured and tailored and looking so sure of herself– pointed at me with a shrug and said, ‘You see, this is how Satan works.’
I wish I could say that the service ended in uproar. I wish I could say that the congregation rose in a body and threw one or the other of us out. At least I’d know where I was. But no. I sat down. Mrs. Pilkington had the last word – that God is love, and we have to show that love – and sat down. Those would have been my last words too.
That was the last I heard from church until it came to time to do the Christmas choir (open to all comers, and the fact that there were two takers last year, both three score years and ten plus, is an accurate reflection of the size and age of the congregation). I couldn’t do it again, I told the vicar, until we’d talked. I won the battle, in that Mrs Pilkington had apparently left the church with a vow never to darken its doors again. But I lost the war. Homosexuality, I was told, is not God’s best plan. They meet in bars, you know, and they’re not really committed to each other.
Really? Really? Tell that to Yotem Ottolengi, who recently wrote a very moving article for the Guardian about his journey to fatherhood, with his male partner. To Patrick Ness, whose award-winning novels inspire countless young adult readers, just returned from his honeymoon. To a woman I count as one of my best friends, who was with her partner for twenty years before civil partnerships. To Claire Balding. To Mary Portas. To Jeanette Winterson. To millions of people, quietly living their lives (where they are allowed to) all around the world.
God’s best plan? Who knows a thing about God’s best plan? Isn’t that just to love our neighbours as ourselves? To judge not, lest we be judged? If we do anything other than that, we are buying into the very discrimination and bigotry we claim to abhor. Help me out here, Justin Welby. I want to go to church. To your church. I want to run my choir, and sing, and let my son have a go on the organ after the service. I can’t enjoy the peace and community I used to love, because I can no longer ignore the ugly morass that was revealed when the charming façade was peeled away. I could stick it back down. Except I can’t. I’ve stood up now. Thank God.
And so I offer this. By excluding couples who love each other, who elect to make an exclusive commitment to each other in church, the Church of England is signing up to every argument that has ever been made in favour of apartheid. They’re not like us. They’re different, their relationships aren’t as valid, God forbid we should allow them to breed. They can come in, but they can’t join in.
Listen to me, Justin Welby. I’m your everywoman. Women bishops, please, and gay marriage. It’s time. Truly, and with great respect, it’s time.
David Ian Smith says
The thing to remember is about is Biblical truth. God is love and this is embodied in the person of Jesus. This is clearly shown by ‘The woman accused of adultery’, a women is brought before Jesus found to have committed adultery and Jesus was asked what should we do? Jesus said “he who has no sin, cast the first stone”. this is the basis behind your thinking that people should be able to live how they choose. But people forget the next part, “Go, leave your life is sin”, Jesus didn’t say that anything is OK, he is saying that there is sin, but He will forgive us, if we ask. It does appear that this hasn’t been articulated to you, but this is what Jesus says. You may say that the Biblical law about homosexuality is harsh, but God knows what’s best for us and He says that homosexuality is not what’s in our best interest. If we don’t trust Him with this we are not in the right relationship with Him, this is sin. If we are not in the right relationship with, then he can’t let us into heaven, so the result is death. But as God loves us and doesn’t want to die, so He died on the cross, so if we ask Him, He will forgive us.
What is is my best interest is to love others as He has loved me. Vengeance is His, not mine, and if I am wrong I will of course pay the consequences. By their fruits I have come to know them – and among these ‘others’ I have found true, kind and loving people. I will not judge.
“Biblical truth” is whatever a particular reader of the Bible says it is (in their interpretation), whether that reader is you, me, Billy Graham or the Pope.
“You may say that the Biblical law about homosexuality is harsh”. No, YOU, David Ian Smith, may say the Biblical law about homosexuality is harsh. *I* say, from my reading of the Bible, that there is no “Biblical law about homosexuality” whatsoever (“homosexuality”—homosexual orientation—being a concept w/ which the writers of the Bible are completely unfamiliar).
Most importantly, the only Real TRUTH is Jesus himself. Model his self-sacrificial Love, and let God take care of the rest…
Ian Paul says
‘“Biblical truth” is whatever a particular reader of the Bible says it is’. Only if you are a complete relativist—which most Christians aren’t. And the main reason for this is that Jesus clearly wasn’t!
As you will have gathered, your post has gone “viral” around the world! It’s because of people like you standing up for what’s right that progress is being made. I’m a woman married to another woman, and our marriage was blessed with love and joy in an Episcopal Cathedral in California. This would not have happened without the vocal witness of straight allies. There are welcoming communities everywhere–some places just more abundant than others.
Congratulations! Has California descended into a pit of iniquity as a result, or is it all chugging along pretty much as it was before?
🙂 The sun rises every day and the weather is lovely. My nearly 5-years of marriage does not seem to have caused a decline in the rate of straight couples bearing children, nor a wave of straight divorces. And contra what was forecast, there has been no sign of marauding gays taking to the streets in their wedding finery to “deprive children of a mother and a father”. Pretty much all is as it was….except a few gay families can live a little more securely, and equally.
Amen to that.
Suzanne Wade says
Got a great chuckle out of your reply to IT. I live in Massachusetts, the first state in the U.S. to make marriage equality the law of the land, and where the Bishop of the Diocese of (eastern) Massachusetts has authorized clergy to perform same-sex weddings. If anywhere should have “descended into a pit of iniquity” it would be good old Massachusetts. But we have one of the lowest divorce rates in the country, and the Diocese of Mass. is one of a relatively few U.S. dioceses that recorded numeric growth last year. A generation ago, we in the U.S. were quite clear that women couldn’t be priests, because they couldn’t possibly incarnate the male Christ. And then we started to ordain women, and learned otherwise. We thought same-sex relationships couldn’t be faithful and blessed, and then we tried blessing them — and we learned otherwise. Sometimes we have to learn how to live into the Truth revealed by Scripture and the Spirit, not just pontificate about it. Rev. Suzanne Wade, Westford, MA.
Thank you so much.
Eric Bonetti says
Greetings and kudos from northern Virginia, USA!
Why thank you, and hello!
What a wonderful article. I’m in awe of your courage.
I am not gay. I am, however, asexual and identify as non-gendered, and (perhaps as a result of this) I have quite a lot of trans friends. I decided some time ago that I would not want to go to any church where I couldn’t bring someone who was trans. This isn’t easy, unfortunately. I went to a church in my area which advertised itself as universally accepting, and it was; there was no doubt at all about that. However, it didn’t take me very long to discover that they thought the Resurrection was a metaphor. I don’t have a great long list of theological tickboxes that have to be satisfied, but I do expect a church to be able to say the Apostle’s Creed (or equivalent) and mean it.
So… at the moment, I’m still kind of floating. Going to try the Accepting Evangelicals, though!
A metaphor? Goodness. I do hope you float to a place you feel comfortable, and thank you for posting.
Another Gay Christian says
Thank you so much, Antonia. I am a Christian and I also happen to be gay. I can’t tell you how much it means to be that you did what you did, and that you have written about it. I really long for the day when my partner and I can go to church without feel like we are doing something wrong.
Thank you so much for reading, and taking the time to respond. I hope that day comes too.
Colin Cass says
I am a gay man & feel SO betrayed by the Church.It is they who are UNchristian.Christian of course means a follower of Christ & i still follow him by trying to live a life of being caring & helping where i can as we were taught. However i cannot be part of Religion anymore,it is Made by Man for his Own controling ends,Whereas We are All made by GOD.Man & All those Nasty minded Religions will have to answer for thier Evil ways to the true Great Power that is God ,who’s teachings the church are twisting to benefit thier power on earth.I cannot accept that God hates gay people ,We are the way God made us & to the Church i would say Judge not lest thou be judged.You Antonia are a True Christian & it took great courage to stand up like that & perhaps it was God himself who inspired you , I am sure that it was. May God bless you.
Thank you. God bless.
Duncan Taylor says
I am in tears right now, after reading such beautiful words of true Christian love. Thank you so much for having stood up and made your point, and for holding the hands of all those in the World who are different and who are only looking for acceptance of our love. I always felt that Christianity was about acceptance, care, compassion, understanding, support and love; particularly for those shunned, mistreated or misunderstood by society. You have expressed all that perfectly in your words and actions; it’s such a relief to hear it from a Christian, rather than the dreadful, hateful words that have been said recently.
Thank you.I understand there’s a debate – but not the vitriol that seems to come with it from some people.
Thank you Antonia. I cannot tell you how liberating it feels to read stories of others who have had similar experiences with their churches. I attend a fairly conservative evangelical C of E church and have recently felt the need to become quite vocal about my position on this issue. It must be said that whilst most people have disagreed with my position, they have largely been supportive of me and my ministry, including my vicar, who advised me that whilst I should not teach a line contrary to that of the church when specifically teaching at church, I should maintain my integrity by always being honest about my position.
Also, have you come across Accepting Evangelicals? I’m not sure what sort of tradition you would identify with, if at all, but these people are a positive indicator I think.
I hadn’t heard of Accepting Evangelicals but thank you for the link. I’m a traditionalist – I like the old hymns, and the Book of Common Prayer, and I say ‘trespass’ instead of ‘sin’ in the Lord’s Prayer and would stick to the King James Bible if I could. Maybe a bit odd coming from someone who is so eager for the church to move on… Thank you again.
Interesting and encouraging blog post Antonia.
In regard to Lesley Pilkington, she mentions in an article that she has a gay son here:
…and I wonder if this article could have been written by him? (If indeed they are related)…
…because if it is, it tells of an appalling experience!
Thank you for sharing those links. I can only imagine the pain on both sides of the relationships described in these pieces.
Have you come across Inclusive Church? A network of churches (mostly Church of England, but not all), where you and all who believe in inclusivity will find a welcome. Many other churches are moving in that direction too – in the congregations of which I am vicar, most are very accepting, but for some it will take a little longer.
No, I wasn’t aware of that. Thank you, and for the link too, which I hope will also be of service to some of the people who have posted here.
K Breen says
Thank you for your courage Antonia.
Shan Overton says
Thanks for this, Ms. Honeywell. I will be sharing it with my class of graduate students in theology!
I haven’t been called Ms. Honeywell since my own teaching days (B.C. – Before Children). Thank you for this. So good to see the discussion develop…
I am a married straight guy from California who belongs to a church which has blessed same-sex unions for more than twenty years. I am so tired of seeing words such as incest, bestiality, devil and revisionist still being used to denigrate LGBT people. Has the church changed its position on slavery, leprosy, epilepsy, and heliocentrism? The male authors of Leviticus had as much authority to pontificate on the science of human sexuality as James Inhofe has to speak on the science of climate change. Capitalizing the word Scripture does not change these facts. The church needs to condemn bibliolatry, homophobia and bigotry, understand scripture in the context in which it was written, acknowledge the reality of medical science and, if all else fails, simply listen to the witness of LGBT persons of faith.
Brava to you Antonia, for speaking out.
Thank you, Harold. I love that -‘listen to the witness of LGBT persons of faith.’
rob newton says
it is a good piece of writing and I do admire your stance in church. I did a similar action when the preacher tried to imply that God takes a holiday!!
What I would ask is whether you condone the sting? or is there something inherently wrong in trying to help someone in need? ever?
I can appreciate your stance during the appeal for prayer but I do think the therapist was severely wronged by the journalist and their Association!
It’s a good point, well worth making. The sting bothers me, yes. I prefer transparency. However, the transcript of the session said that the therapist had told the young man that his homosexuality was due to some abuse in childhood, and when he denied having been abused, she said the abuse would be ‘there somewhere.’ It comes down to whether you consider homosexuality a disease that can be cured through treatment, or not. As homosexuality is not a disease, then I think we have to ask what is genuinely helpful to a young man seeking to change his sexual orientation. Surely we have to accept him as he is in order to know whether it’s his orientation or the discrimination that is the problem.
rob newton says
Having not read the “transcript of the session”, nor wanting to really, the whole episode demonstrates is a disturbing side of our society. The rise of ‘disorders’ also worries me and that any bad behaviour is now given a name as an excuse.
There are definitely people who are naturally drawn to relationships the with people of the same gender, as there are people draw to those in uniform, who are much older or younger, those who prefer multiple partners or no human partner at all. Over the time mankind has existed so has a diversity of relationships.
The point, and the only point, Justin Welby was making was that; for the benefit of creating and nurturing children, a traditional marriage of a woman and a man has been demonstrated to be the best. There will, of course, be exceptions but by and large society is better with traditional marriage. This is not a homophobic response it’s a pro-children and families response.
I do see that – but I’ve not yet seen a child damaged by being raised by two loving parents.
rob newton says
I’ve not yet seen a child damaged by being raised by two loving parents . .
Professor Robert Oscar Lopez was raised by 2 mothers and his case highlights that although his ‘parents’ were loving he feels desperately that he should have had a father. Moreover he has contacted many other same sex parented children who also feel the same. He has been a staunch campaigner against same sex marriage.
It would have been better for politicians to have thought through the ramifications before forcing the bill through not because of the effect on gay couples but because of the effect on those already married. I want to be a husband, a spouse and a father and I DON’T want to be equal to my spouse, wife and mother of my children. I want a consummated, loving, sexual and faithful relationship with my wife till death us do part. Two different people living as God intended as one. This has now changed.
I think there the difference between us lies. You DON’T want to be equal to your spouse, wife and mother of your children. But gay marriage isn’t forcing your relationship to be anything other than what the two of you would like to be, between yourselves. I think the government has a responsibility to enshrine equality in law. I too enjoy a traditional marriage. But I don’t want the great happiness that has been vouchsafed to me to be denied to others. The blessing is in the love, and I’ve been lucky to find that love in a place that society celebrates. You have too. I wish you continued joy in your marriage, and the strength to realise that no government – or church – ruling on allowing that joy to others can threaten yours.
Ian Paul says
Antonia, I don’t think that is truly actually. The change the Government has proposed will change the definition of marriage for ALL people, regardless, but removing all mention of husband/wife and all mention of procreation. It is reckoned that more than 3,000 other pieces of legislation will need rewording as well. It will also mean that lack consummation can be grounds for divorce, as is currently the case, and (rather amazingly) because same-sex sex acts cannot be defined in the same way that heterosexual intercourse can, all reference to this will also be removed. So we will end up with a genderless, sexless and childless definition of marriage—for ALL people.
The world has changed so much, and moved so fast. I’m not threatened by the prospect you describe.e An equal definition of marriage by the state does not prevent me from loving my husband, honouring him and finding my rock and refuge in him. At the moment we have a gendered, sexual and child-orientated definition of marriage which excludes the infertile, the asexual and the homosexual.You think this is right; I don’t.
Ian Paul says
Yes, we have different perspectives–but I was replying to your point that the change won’t affect people already married. It will–and studies show clearly that those countries that made a similar change saw an immediate and dramatic decline in all forms of marriage and commitment—which then financially penalises women (who are almost always worse off when relationships break down) and damages children.
Well let’s hope the legislation really does embrace equality. I can’t see that women have been greatly protected from unjust settlements by the current system. I do appreciate your taking the time to respond, and to explain your views so fully.
They are protected much more by being marriage than if they have just lived with someone. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such legal thing as ‘common law marriage’
Oh, and as for Professor Robert Oscar Lopez, I am sorry he has suffered. But as a teacher, I have been involved in the lives of so many families built in countless different ways. I could show you gloriously happy children with same sex parents – miserable, mistreated ones with traditionally married parents – it would be wonderful if a single formula guaranteed happy, well-adjusted, loving children. We could trade case studies in the way others in this thread are trading quotations from the Bible, but I’m not sure how helpful it would be. Let’s try equality and see how it works, so that we have a body of evidence for both sides. Thank you so much for taking the time to post your thoughts.
As a single person I look to certain couples for inspiration and hope that one day when I find ‘the One’ we can live like them – long and happy lives together.
Two of the three couples I look to are same-sex relationships and between the two couples have been together almost 60 years. I long for the day when they can legally celebrate their lives together under the banner of ‘marriage’ not ‘civil partnership’, of which one to me celebrates Love, the other just sounds like a business arrangement….Those two gay couples celebrate how relationships should be, compared to the mess of my close families idea of relationships with violence and lies, My own parents split after 13 years of marriage both went on to remarry – relationships that lasted shorter each time. Before they died, my mother had been married 3 times and my father 5.
I left the Anglican Church when it became apparent that they wouldn’t allow gay bishops never mind women bishops and haven’t been back since being part of a loving all-embracing independant church. I know the Church is a hallowed institution but she needs kicking and screaming if necessary into the 21st Century,where love of what ever colour is worth celebrating and is valued not just in church but in society as a whole.
Thank you so much for sharing that. I’m so glad you found a church to call home. The world is becoming an increasingly tolerant and loving place, and the Church of England must catch up.
John Clark says
Wow. By the time I had finished this I was cheering and if I had been present on that day I would have been on my feet cheering you on. My wife and I went to a civil partnership recently of two friends who have been together for years. It was a great ceremony but I kept thinking this should be a wedding. Anyway we were all calling it just that. I hope Justin Welby reads this wonderful piece. As a Lay Minister I have worked with three gay priests recently. All have a ‘lodger’.. Their congregations are well aware of the partner and in the main supportive. But why should they have to keep some one they love hidden away?
Bless you – I wish you’d been there! I do think the time has come to resolve this issue. Congratulations to your friends.
Ian Paul says
Er, perhaps because that is what they committed to when they were ordained? I have a number of friends who would like to be in same sex relations, but out of integrity they feel that they must honour their ordination vows.
Andrew Ryan says
Scripture also discusses stoning unruly children, and tells slaves to respect their masters. You can’t cherry pick which parts you won’t to claim are still relevant today.
Thank you, Andrew.
Ian Paul says
Yes, you can—in fact we must, if believe that God speaks through Scripture but that different parts of Scripture have different historical, social and literary contexts. Otherwise we would take no notice of the teaching of Jesus on the same grounds.
Ian Paul says
Btw, when mentioning ordination vows, I was not here saying anything about the Bible. Quite apart from that, when ordained one publicly vows obedience to the teaching of the bishops. That is why Richard Coles, for example, would like to be in a same-sex relation, but remains celibate as a matter of integrity.
Andrew Ryan says
I think what people tend to do is consider what they believe to be right (or simply proceed with their gut instinct), and then justify that through scripture. US Christians 200 years ago found it very easy to find the Scripture to justify keeping slaves, and people today with a knee-jerk reaction against gays find it just as easy to justify their own views. Interpretation of scripture tends to follow the zeitgeist rather than the other way round.
“‘The world of the Bible knew nothing of stable, loving, same-sex relations.’ (Not true; in the ancient world there was a similar variety of relationships that we find today, and a similar diversity of responses to them”
I think that’s a bit of a stretch. I believe there was a period in Ancient Greece when older men would take younger male partners in a relationship that was part sexual/part mentoring, but I don’t think it was ever seen as being equivalent to a married partnership. And I’m sure in the time and area of the bible’s writing your average person on the street would be friends with couples living openly as a gay. I doubt there was a ‘gay culture’ that straight people could observe. I also doubt that homosexuality would be seen by a decent proportion of the population as being equivalent to heterosexuality, in the way that today many, if not MOST, young people will say that a gay couple’s relationship isn’t any different to a straight couple’s.
Remember, it was only 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Devastating to realise that there are still people who would rescind that…
Ian Paul says
Actually I think there was, and a number of scholars have documented it.
Andrew Ryan says
“And I’m sure in the time and area of the bible’s writing your average person on the street would be friends with couples living openly as a gay.”
That should read “And I’m NOT sure…. etc”
Richard Thornburgh says
As a C of E vicar, I applaud your stand. Injustice always needs the courageous to challenge it, even if those who do so do not do it with any sense of being courageous at the time.
Paul Waddell says
Thankyou for this piece. I couldn’t agree more. I have homosexual friends, and some homosexual christian friends, and I don’t feel I can keep quiet and hope the issue goes away. I really appreciate your articulating your feelings and opinions this way, it’s a real encouragement to me, even if I’m not the intended audience!
I think it’s ok to NOT be Justin Welby! Thank you so much for reading, and for your comment.
revcarolineCaroline Nancarroe says
This is a marvellous piece, well done, you. I loved it. I do so hope you have sent it direct to ++Justin, not just left it open in the hope someone will draw it to his attention. It came to me from a priest colleague in Australia, Melbourne Diocese, and it is soon to leave my desktop on the way to many of my friends and colleagues here in England. Thank you very much. Keep at it…..and know you are NOT alone! Peace and love, etc., Caroline Nancarrow
Thank you, Caroline. i did tweet the link to Justin Welby’s account, so maybe he has seen it. I’m finding the degree of response quite incredible and so positive. Things are moving forward. They must.
Trevor Thurston-Smith says
A moving and powerful piece. Well said. I believe – and those closer to him confirm – that Justin Welby is currently very conflicted over this issue. He is clearly on a journey and whilst not as far along that journey as some of us would like, he has nevertheless spoken on this subject with an honesty and courage that his predecessor lacked completely. He needs to read what you have written, and if you haven’t already done so I would urge you to send it to him.
I did send the link to Justin Welby’s Twitter account but have no idea whether he has seen it. I was moved to finally write this piece by his evident conflict over his fears about what young people must be thinking about the CofE’s stand on this. I wanted him to know what the natural result of demonising homosexuality must be. I do appreciate how hard it must be – I’m ashamed to say it took this incident to completely clarify my own thoughts.