Iain Dale, who conducted the interview, has excerpted what Welby said about gay marriage and posted it on his Web site. I think it must be admitted that what the archbishop said was rather garbled. For example, in response to a question about how he reconciles Jesus’ message of inclusion with the church’s attitude toward gay marriage, Welby said
I think that the problem with the gay marriage proposals is that they don’t actually include people equally, it’s called equal marriage, but the proposals in the Bill don’t do that. I think that where there is … I mean I know plenty of gay couples whose relationships are an example to plenty of other people and that’s something that’s very important, I’m not saying that gay relationships are in some way … you know that the love that there is is less than the love there is between straight couples, that would be a completely absurd thing to say. And civil partnership is a pretty … I understand why people want that to be strengthened and made more dignified, somehow more honourable in a good way. It’s not the same as marriage …Of course, Welby never answered the question, though he raised others. (What is the inequality in the proposed equal marriage legislation? What does he think about civil partnerships?) Admittedly, Rowan Williams was often incomprehensible, but he did tend to talk in complete sentences.
Welby’s response to another question included this:
The historic teaching of the church around the world, and this is where I remember that I’ve got 80 million people round the world who are Anglicans, not just the one million in this country, has been that marriage in the traditional sense is between a man and woman for life.
|Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby|
A more serious mistake is his citing of the 80 million and 1 million figures. I was unable to find reliable information regarding the number of Anglicans in the world, but some number between 75 and 80 million is usually cited. (Mark Harris took a stab at unpacking the number in a 2008 post. It surely is not “correct” now and wasn’t even in 2008, but the numbers are likely in the right ballpark.) Conventionally, the number of members of the Church of England is given as 25 million. (Mark uses this figure.) Everyone knows this number is a fiction, a product of the entire population’s being counted, at least by default, as members of England’s established church. Welby’s 1 million figure is closer to the number of people attending Church of England services each Sunday. This figure comes nearer to stating the real number of Anglicans in England, though it is a bit of an under-count. The problem, of course, is that the mythical 25 million figure makes the largest contribution to the 80 million figure. In other words, if Welby thinks there are 1 million Anglicans in England, there surely are no more than 56 million Anglicans worldwide. Being generous, let’s say there are 4 million actual Anglicans in England. This would make—again, generously speaking—59 million Anglicans everywhere.
In other words, what Justin Welby had to say about marriage equity was simply an incoherent, ill-informed mess. I hope we may expect more clear thinking from him in the future.