The media’s test question gets flunked again

So after Tim Farron and Jacob Rees-Mogg, it was Justin Welby’s turn.  Alistair Campbell asked him if he thought gay sex was a sin for an interview with GQ magazine.

Welby responds

“I don’t do blanket condemnation and I haven’t got a good answer to the question. I’ll be really honest about that. I know I haven’t got a good answer to the question. Inherently, within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability of relationships and loving relationships.”

His reason for his struggle is:

“I am having to struggle to be faithful to the tradition, faithful to the scripture, to understand what the call and will of God is in the 21st century and to respond appropriately with an answer for all people – not condemning them, whether I agree with them or not – that covers both sides of the argument. And I haven’t got a good answer, and I am not doing that bit of work as well as I would like.”

Campbell suggests that he is basically struggling with the politics of it all.

Mind you, when Welby is asked about homophobia he is much more in-equivocal. “Is Homophobic hatred sinful?” asks Campbell?

“Yes. Because you are hating individuals. I don’t think it is sinful to say that you disagree with gay sex. But to express that by way of hatred for people is absolutely wrong in the same way as misogyny or racism is wrong.”

Now first of all, as the Archbishop Cranmer blog has argued, here, Welby’s inability to give a clear answer on this should not be used to call into question his assurance of eternal life.  Indeed, on one level there is something movingly humble about his honest struggle with an issue.

However, at the same time, we can’t let him off the hook on this. Yes there are politics involved. Yes, he is a public figure but he is a  public figure as a pastor and that question is one that pastors need to be able to answer because it is one we are going to get asked. We will get asked it by people looking to stir up trouble and cause an argument, we will be asked it by people who are struggling in their minds with what the world around them says and what they hear the church say as they consider faith and it will be asked by people who are struggling in their hearts as they wrestle with what responding to God may mean for their own life decisions.

So, here’s my tip. Put aside the politics, put aside debates over tradition and churchmanship and answer the question as pastors and to do that you need to answer it from what the Bible says.

So this means

  1. We would need to talk about what sin is and isn’t -including the difference between struggling with temptation and sinning.
  2. We would need to talk about what God’s purpose for sex and relationship is
  3. We would need to talk about what the Gospel is all about.

This means that we keep coming back to

  1. God ordained marriage as being between 1 man and 1 woman -intentionally he identifies man’s helper as someone who is like him but also different to him.  Marriage is not just about private intimacy but something given publically in the context of creation’s purposes.
  2. Sex is clearly given to be enjoyed within the context of marriage.
  3. This means that all sexual relationships outside of marriage are sinful because they are rooted in our decision to choose our own way rather than obey God.  Once we are clear that some things are commanded by God and other things forbidden then we have also to be clear that disobedience is sin.
  4. All of that pastorally has to be put in the context that homophobic hatred is wrong too and that we want to love and care for people who have been bullied and hurt.  That people are likely to experience an ongoing struggle with temptation and we will want to carefully distinguish between orientation and practice.  Most of all that we need to talk about all sin in the context of the Gospel, that we are all sinners but God chooses to love, forgive and save us in Christ.

See also our paper on same-sex marriage available from our publications page.

Now, answering the question pastorally may lead to political trouble but as we’ve seen answering it politically has also led to political trouble. So, we do better to answer questions as they are meant to be answered.