CANTERBURY, England (RNS) — The prejudice felt by gay people over same-sex marriage is the new racism, according to the head of the Episcopal Church of the United States.
Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, in an interview with Religion News Service on Tuesday (Aug. 2), said that in the United States, “the issue of gay people and their rights is equivalent a struggle in our time to the one over race.” He went on to say all Christians in the United States need to stand in solidarity with gay people over same-sex marriage.
Curry was speaking in the aftermath of a key debate at the Lambeth Conference around the issue of same-sex marriage. The conference, meeting for the first time in 14 years, was supposed to be an attempt to bring the Anglican Communion together — to pray, listen and discuss issues that affect the church and the world, such as discipleship, climate change and poverty. More than 650 bishops registered to attend, including more than 100 from the Episcopal Church. They represent some 85 million Anglicans worldwide.
However, documents produced in advance of the conference, which runs through Monday, had provoked outrage among those belonging to the liberal wing of the church. Those documents included a reference to the entire Anglican Communion being wholly opposed to same-sex marriage. The protests forced Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to amend the statement to recognize that some provinces support same-sex marriage.
In response to the amendment, bishops from the Global South announced they would refuse Holy Communion from bishops with gay partners and from those who support same-sex marriage.
The point-counterpoint protests over the past week have underscored the growing divisions between the bishops in the West who support gay marriage and those in the Global South who oppose it — and the increasingly tenuous cooperation that Welby, as archbishop of Canterbury, has forged.
Welby wrote to those attending the conference in advance of Tuesday’s discussion, describing same-sex marriage as “this matter on which we are so divided.” And during the debate Tuesday — held behind closed doors, with the media banned — he recognized the predicaments faced by both sides and the intractability of an issue on which everyone views a change of heart as unthinkable, according to a transcript released by the press office. Welby acknowledged that, for many present, to alter their position would make them a victim of derision, contempt and attack in their countries.
Welby affirmed that the 1998 Lambeth Conference 1.10 resolution, which rejects homosexuality as incompatible with Scripture, had not been rescinded. Even so, he said he would not punish provinces that back same-sex marriage nor seek to discipline or exclude them from the Communion.
There was no vote on the Human Dignity document, but Welby’s address gained a standing ovation from the Communion and was hailed as drawing out some of the toxicity of the issue. According to Curry: “There was some movement on the willingness of the bishops to respect our differences but at the same time hold fast to our respective convictions. I think that is a healthy thing because for people to be able to stay in relationship with profound differences is a kind of diversity. And we think diversity is a good thing.”
Welby said during his address that those who challenged traditional teaching “have not arrived lightly at their ideas that traditional teaching needs to change. They are not careless about Scripture. They do not reject Christ. But they have come to a different view on sexuality after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature.”
It was an approach Curry welcomed while also stressing that in the United States, clergy like himself had changed their views on same-sex unions through pastoral encounters with couples who wanted God’s blessing on their relationship and their family.
After the closed-door discussion on the Human Dignity paper, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town told journalists there had been “robust discussions and long and sustained prayer.”