Members of the Church of England’s Synod must not give in to the “fear of a slippery slope” when considering proposals for clergy to bless same-sex couples, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
The Synod – known as the church’s parliament – is considering a motion which repents the church’s failure “to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people” and the harm they have faced and still experience.
Within the proposals, the position on gay marriage will not change and same-sex couples will still be unable to marry at church.
Justin Welby, who is supporting the motion, acknowledged the “painful” disagreement within the church on the matter but said he “cannot duck the issue any more than anyone else here”.
Addressing the Synod on Wednesday afternoon after having listened to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the nearby Westminster Hall, Mr Welby said: “We are not divided, but we disagree, and that is very painful.”
He warned that members of the Synod should not vote on the motion before them in the context of what further change there might be in the future as a result.
He said: “I know there is fear of a slippery slope, of what may or may not happen at some point in the future. But let us not give in to the fear of a future which we can neither predict nor control.
“Fear leads us to do the wrong things – trying to secure the future for God tomorrow, rather than trusting the Holy Spirit today.
“I’ve just been in Westminster Hall hearing President Zelensky, who knows well what it means for the world to change overnight.”
During the debate, he added: “I am supporting these resources, not I think because I’m controlled by culture, but because of Scripture, tradition and reason evidenced in the vast work done over the last six years so ably by so many. I may be wrong. Of course I may.
“But I cannot duck the issue any more than anyone else here.
“I ask each member of Synod to vote with their spirit-inspired consciences, scripturally and spiritually-guided and not because groups or lobbies or outsiders have told you to.”
But in the wide-ranging debate, others questioned whether the motion would go some way to condoning sexual relations outside the traditional setting of marriage, which the church teaches remains an institution between a man and a woman.
Bishop Jill Duff told those gathered it would be a “seismic shift in Christian teaching”.
She said: “It would distance LGBTQI+ Christians living faithful celibate lives. It would distance mainstream Christian denominations, never mind the freedom of conscience for other faiths. It would be distancing the majority of the Anglican community who seem to be rather silent in our discernment.”
She questioned the apology from the Bishops of the Church of England who wrote a letter last month admitting LGBT+ people had been “failed” at times and adding they should be and are “welcome and valued”.
She said: “Why yet another apology? Who does it serve? It seems to me, and I’m going to be frank, that its primary purpose is to make you feel better, even if by doing so it makes those of us it’s aimed at increasingly angry.”
Ms Ozanne likened the apology to “that of an abusive partner who keeps telling the one they abuse that they love them and that they are sorry, and they will never do it again”.
Debate on the motion and a series of amendments was listed for five hours after which a vote was due to take place, but as the session ran on its chair adjourned to resume at 9.15am on Thursday.