Archbishop says gay sex a sin. What do Chiswick vicars think?

Images above: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby; Sandi Toksvig

Sandi Toksvik’s open letter to Justin Welby reignites debate over Church of England’s stance on gay sex

‘Gay sex is a sin’, says the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

‘I’m very hurt and won’t be setting foot in a church again then’, says entertainer Sandi Toksvig.

The archbishop made his declaration at the end of the Lambeth Conference, a meeting of Anglican church leaders from around the world which takes place once a decade, reaffirming the validity of the Church’s declaration on gay sex issued in 1998. He told them:

“For many churches, to change traditional teaching challenges their very existence.”

Sandi Toksvig then published an open letter inviting him to coffee to discuss it, saying:

“Seriously, with the state the world is in, that is what you wanted to focus on?”

Sandi, who has been married to her wife Debbie for 16 years, wrote about the death threats she has received for being gay and told him the lives of LGBT+ people were at stake.

A higher percentage of young LGBT+ people contemplate suicide than their non-LGBT+ peers. “Do you know why?” she asked. “For many it’s because they don’t feel loved and love, Justin, is supposed to be at the core of what you do. It’s like top of the job description.”

Image above: Fr Kevin Morris, vicar of St Michael & All Angels Church

Fr Kevin Morris, Vicar of St Michael & All Angels

What do Chiswick’s Church of England vicars think? Usually we have five resident vicars. Michael Riley has just retired so St Paul’s Grove Park is currently vicar-less, but three out of the remaining four responded to my questions.

First up Fr Kevin Morris at St Michael & All Angels Church, who does not believe gay sex is a sin but thought the archbishop was doing his best to describe the reality of the variety of opinion within the Anglican community.

Given the church is a worldwide organisation and operates in countries where gay sex is illegal, public opinion is homophobic and gay people go in fear of their lives if they are discovered, the church was doing well to agree to there being no sanctions against people in same sex marriages, he thought. “That is a major step forward.”

Image above: Fr Simon Brandes, vicar of St Nicholas Church; photograph Frank Noon

Fr Simon Brandes, Vicar of St Nicholas

Simon Brandes, vicar of St Nicholas Church in Chiswick Mall agrees: gay sex is not a sin, but the way Justin Welby brought together more than 600 people with wildly differing views was “skilfully done.”

“On a personal level I am worried this will be meat and drink to those who want to sow hatred and division. How we welcome, include and support LGBT people will be the test.”

Acknowledging those who felt what was written in scripture should be obeyed, he told us there were as many different interpretations as there were members. He does not think there will ever be agreement on this issue but feels passionately that we must learn to live with our differences.

“There is no point grandstanding. We may not be able to agree but we can still eat together and converse together. I can still treat you as a human being. We can still say we are against persecution.

“We have to be very careful how we use words as they are taken and used to sow violence and division. This is a matter of the utmost seriousness.”

Image above: Rev Martine Oborne, vicar of St Michael’s Church, Elmwood Rd

Rev Martine Oborne, Vicar of St Michael’s Church, Elmwood Rd

Martine Oborne, vicar of St Michael’s Church Elwood Rd, also had sympathy for the archbishop “as he is trying to hold together a worldwide group of churches with opposing theologies on homosexuality.”

She does not think gay sex is sinful either.

“I would say that promiscuity, exploitation and abuse are sins and sadly we find this being practised by people of all sexualities and these are the things we need to be challenging.

“Kind, loving, equal relationships between all couples should be respected and honoured.”

A safe space

Church of England vicars are not allowed to marry gay couples in church. That was written into law at the Church’s request. They are able to give a blessing somehwere else, if someone else is acting as registrar. That he cannot marry gay couples in church is a matter of regret for Kevin, who has given blessings to civil partnerships.

“I can marry divorcees and anyone else, whether they believe in the Church’s teachings or not, but I cannot marry devout Christians who are gay.

“Most of us would rather it had been left as a matter of individual conscience” he told The Chiswick Calendar.

He describes St Michael & All Angels as being “affirming and inclusive.” Gay people are “Not just accepted” he told us, “but very much part of our life.

“Our curate Graham is gay. He has been with his partner for fifty years and everyone was very generous and kind to him when his partner died.

Contrary to the beliefs of the conservative, evangelical church, he believes being able to express oneself sexually “makes people freer, more themselves. We don’t find love so often in this life that we should turn it down when we find it.”

Fr Kevin recently went to a gay Eucharist given by a gay female bishop in Wales and he would be happy to conduct one in Chiswick.

Fr Simon also wants St Nicholas Church to be known as a safe space where people can express themselves. He is gay himself and quite open about it. He has been with his partner for 35 years and been vicar at St Nicholas Parish Church for 15.

“I make no apology for who I am. My partner and I have felt nothing but welcome, affirmation and love in the time we’ve been here.”

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