Newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, says he will re-examine his thoughts on gay marriage ‘carefully and prayerfully’.
Speaking at a press conference today (9 November), the former Bishop of Durham said that while he supports the Church’s opposition to gay marriage he was ready to ‘listen’ to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
‘I support the House of Bishop’s statement in the summer in answer to the government’s consultation on same-sex marriage,’ he said.
‘I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully.’
The 56-year-old also denounced homophobia and confirmed he would vote in favor of women bishops – issues which divided the Church during incumbent Rowan Williams’ time in power.
‘It is absolutely right for the state to define the rights and status of people cohabiting in different forms of relationships, including civil partnerships,’ he said.
‘We must have no truck with any form of homophobia in any part of the Church. The Church of England is part of the worldwide Church and has responsibilities that come from those links.’
Welby added: ‘I am always averse to the language of exclusion, when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us. Above all in the church we need to create safe spaces for these issues to be discussed honestly and in love.’
Reverand Sharon Ferguson, the chair of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, welcomed the Archbishop’s statement calling the news ‘encouraging’.
‘He has certainly come across as somebody who has always been open minded and willing to engage in dialogue,’ she told Gay Star News.
‘Though he has spoken out against gay marriage in the past, obviously what somebody does when in a position of bishop and what they do when they take on the role of Archbishop are two different things.
‘Therefore, in his new role it may well be that he will be prepared to look and think again.
‘All we ask is for people to be open to dialogue and to look at how we can move forward.’
Justin Welby is part of the evangelical strand of the Church, which is considered conservative.
However, the one-time favourite for the top position, Archbishop of York, the Right Reverend John Sentamu, has been far more biting in his criticism to gay marriage.
UK gay rights charity Stonewall hope today’s optimism over Welby’s apparent open-mindedness is not misplaced.
Ruth Hunt, director of public affairs at Stonewall, said: ‘Whilst the majority of people of faith in Britain support gay equality and same-sex marriage, the record of previous Archbishops indicates that faith leaders often don’t listen attentively to their parishioners.
‘We hope the next Archbishop will do as he has promised – examine his own thinking carefully and prayerfully and demonstrate leadership to the Church of England on this issue.’
Justin Welby will take on the Church of England’s most senior post at a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March 2013.