ROME, March 21, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On the day of his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has sent an “olive branch” message to one of the UK’s leading homosexual campaigners, Peter Tatchell, inviting him to discuss “gay marriage.” Welby is said to be still “thinking through” his position on the government’s proposed redefinition of marriage. While they supported homosexual civil unions, the Church of England has formally opposed the government’s plans to rewrite the marriage law, though the position of many of its bishops and clergy remains ambivalent.
Welby’s invitation to Tatchell comes in response to an open letter from the gay campaigner in which he accused Welby of “homophobia” for his opposition to changing the law.
“You claim that you are not homophobic but a person who opposes legal equality for LGBT people is homophobic – in the same way that a person who opposes equal rights for black people is racist,” Tatchell wrote. Welby sent Tatchell an email thanking him for the “very thoughtful” letter, saying he would like to discuss it “without the mediation of the press”.
Meanwhile, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, one of the Church of England’s leading conservative voices, has told LifeSiteNews.com in a video interview that formal disestablishment could be coming should the state begin to tell the Church “what to believe, or how to worship, or what is right and wrong.”
“I have always upheld Establishment on the basis that if the state wants to hear the voice of the Church and its counsels, why should the Church refuse? But of course that has to be without compromise, and it has to be with integrity,” Nazir-Ali told LifeSiteNews.com.
“If the state tried to tell the church what to believe, or how to worship, or what is right and wrong, then of course that would be too high a price to pay for Establishment,” Nazir-Ali continued.
Legal experts have given extensive testimony to the government that it will be nearly impossible, under current Equality laws, for clergy and Churches to avoid legal actions if they refuse to participate in “gay marriages,” should the bill pass. The coalition government’s “equal marriage” bill has already passed the House of Commons and is now in committee.
Welby will be enthroned in a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral today by Rev. Sheila Watson, Archdeacon of Canterbury. Welby told The Sunday Times this weekend that he is “uncomfortable” discussing “gay marriage” and is “still thinking my way through” the issue. He called the attempt to redefine marriage a “weakening of the glue that holds society together” and the government’s bill a “bad piece of legislation.” The government has “created a new institution that they label as marriage, and then say that it's equal, only it’s not.”
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“This is a radical change to one of the most fundamental building blocks of society, and that is hugely important. A law that changes marriage from being about covenant to being about contract is a weakening of the glue that holds society together,” he said.
Nevertheless, Welby told homosexual journalist Iain Dale that he is “open to discussions.” He said he has friends in same-sex relationships that are of “stunning” quality, and is “deeply challenged” by this.
Nazir-Ali, a member of the Evangelical wing of the Church of England and a leader in the attempt to re-establish biblical norms, has been a strong defender of the traditional definition of marriage, as well as for the continued Establishment of the Church of England.
This is the constitutional precept that makes the reigning Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and makes Anglican Christianity the state religion.
While many of the leadership of the Church of England would regard disestablishment as a disaster, Nazir-Ali told LifeSiteNews that the true mission of the Church would continue, no matter what. “Even if the Church [of England] were to be disestablished, it would still remain the national Church of the land, in the sense that people would still come to it for ‘hatching, matching, dispatching,’ the great watersheds of life and indeed of death. And so the national mission of the Church would remain, very much.”
“I think Establishment is only desirable and only possible as long as it does not compromise the Gospel that the Church has to preach and to live,” he said.
He warned that the biggest obstacles do not necessarily come from the government to the “reawakening” the Christian spirit of the nation “which is lying dormant.”
“The first is secularization,” he said, “not just of the mind, but of the heart. So that people gradually become numb to the spiritual dimension of their own lives and of the world.”
“But also there is the spirit of consumerism, literally shop-til-you-drop. But then you don’t ask what will happen after you drop. There is widespread addiction, not only to alcohol and to drugs but to all sorts of other things. To entertainment, to mask a very deep anxiety that people have about their life and the meaning of their life. There is loneliness, high levels of depression,” he said. “All of these things have to be addressed by the Gospel. And obstacles can also be turned into opportunity.”
He pointed to the reforming movements like the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) and the effort to re-organize biblical Anglicans into border-crossing, global dioceses like Southern Cone. Nazir-Ali said that these movements give him hope for “Biblical Anglicans coming together to renew the Anglican Communion.”
“GAFCON, the global Anglican fellowship, is one such body. It is not breaking off from anything anywhere. It is a movement, a biblical movement, an apostolic movement I believe, to renew the Anglican Church, to bring it back to its vision of living the Apostolic teaching.”