|Source: Wikimedia Commons
Gay marriage became legal in England and Wales on 29 March this year. Personally, I think this is great news. The Church of England disagrees, and their response was remarkable. It is not plain and simple ignorant bigotry, but the rarefied stupidity of highly trained theologians.
The law has been changed to permit civil weddings for gay couples:
The law prohibits the Church of England from performing same-sex weddings, and allows other religious organisations to refuse to perform them.
The most senior member of the C of E's clergy is Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. Welby discussed the issue in a radio phone-in on 4 April.
Source: The Guardian
He started off as one might expect. He opposes homophobia, but doesn't think gay marriage has any place in the C of E. If he left it there, the rest of us would shrug our shoulders and move on.
Instead, Welby felt the need to share this:
"I have stood by gravesides in Africa of a group of Christians who had been attacked because of something that had happened in America. We have to listen to that. We have to be aware of the fact," Welby said. If the Church of England celebrated gay marriages, he added, "the impact of that on Christians far from here, in South Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic. Everything we say here goes round the world."
Welby is concerned that if the C of E endorses gay marriage, it will have a negative impact on Christians in other parts of the world.
The Most Reverend And Right Honourable The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (to give him his full official title), educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge, must imagine this sort of dialogue will take place:
EXT. WAR ZONE IN AFRICA
FIRST KILLER: Let's go and massacre those Christians! They want everyone to be gay!
SECOND KILLER: No, we shouldn't. Their big boss in England tolerates gay people, but won't have gay wedding ceremonies.
FIRST: Isn't tolerating gay people a reason for us to kill them?
SECOND: No, it has to be marriage.
FIRST: Can we kill them because we want their land?
SECOND: No, no. It's very simple. We can only commit mass murder if the Church of England supports gay marriage.
FIRST: We're not in England.
SECOND: That's not the point. Anything the white man says goes around the world, and the English aren't being gay enough to justify a massacre.
FIRST: Oh, all right. That village is lucky the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn't hold with gay marriage.
SECOND: Yeah, it is. Let's go get a beer instead.
Welby's education has failed him. His statement is one of the most ridiculous and naive things I have ever heard from a public figure.
Not only that, it is more than a little racist. It is unclear which specific massacre Welby is talking about; it may be the 2009 Boko Haram killings in Nigeria. The Wikipedia page on massacres in Nigeria makes instructive if depressing reading. Christian-Muslim violence has been taking place there for years. The Miss World beauty contest was used as an excuse for riots which killed over 200 people in 2002.
Does Welby imagine he has a meaningful effect on this situation? Does he suppose Africans are simpletons who will be provoked into murderous rage by a gay wedding in England, when they would otherwise be calm and peaceful?
If criminals and fanatics want an excuse to kill people, they will find one.
Conversely, why is a mass murder relevant to the nuances of doctrine on gay marriage?
Imagine the Christian God decided to get tough. Anyone who tries to kill a Christian is instantly struck down by a bolt of lightning. Welby is free to say whatever he likes. He could express his real, genuine opinion on gay marriage, which must be one of the following:
- He believes it is wrong. In that case, he could have simply said so, without mentioning any massacres. However, saying it so bluntly would anger his more liberal clergy, and he doesn't want that inconvenience, so he pretends the threat of massacres has forced him to reject gay marriage.
- He believes it is right. He would like to say so, but is afraid to for the reasons I have discussed.
- He doesn't know what he believes, but thinks talking about massacres will distract everyone.
In the second case, Welby is a pathetic fool. In the first and third cases, he is a cynical villain who does not care if he looks like a pathetic fool. This much is certain: Welby is a coward, and he is using the horrific murders of 330 men, women, and children in Nigeria to obfuscate his real beliefs on gay marriage.
By way of contrast, consider Archbishop Desmond Tutu's courageous stand against apartheid in South Africa. Many white racists responded with greater fear, hatred, and violence towards black people. Welby's words will have little or no impact on people's safety; this was not so for Tutu.
Tutu knew this, and he stood up for what was right. Something which is right does not become wrong because people hate you for it. Anyone who calls himself a Christian should be capable of understanding that.
Welby should be ashamed of himself. The Church of England is swiftly declining into irrelevance, and with leadership like this it deserves to.
Part 2: Some more personal thoughts on gay marriage.