Archbishop of Canterbury Suggests African Christians Killed Over Tolerance of Homosexuality


From the UK Tablet:

The Archbishop of Canterbury warned today of the “absolutely catastrophic” consequences for Christians in other countries if the Church of England decided to solemnise gay marriages.

Archbishop Justin Welby said that a visit to a mass grave for persecuted Christians in Nigeria in January “burnt into his soul” the effect that decisions made at Lambeth Palace could have.

The Christians were killed by their neighbours who thought that their tolerance of homosexuality would corrupt others, he explained during an LBC radio debate hosted by James O’Brien.

Meanwhile, according to the BBC:

Speaking on his first live phone-in on LBC Radio, Archbishop Welby recalled visiting a grave in South Sudan where 369 people had been buried.

He said the victims had been killed because local people believed allowing a Christian community to exist would mean “we would all be made to become homosexual”.

So was it Nigeria or South Sudan? It seems that Welby wasn’t completely clear, and some confusion has slipped in. LBC has the snippet, in which Welby explains why the Church of England cannot just agree to allow gay marriages in church:

…The impact of that on Christians in countries far from here, like South Sudan, like Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic, and we have to love them as much as we love the people who are here…  I’ve stood by graveside* in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far, far, away in America, and they were attacked by other people because of that, a lot of them had been killed. And I was in the South Sudan a few weeks ago, and the church leaders there were saying “please don’t change what you’re doing, because then we couldn’t accept your help, and we need your help desperately”.

…So a Christian on the ground in Africa could end up being on the receiving end of violence and abuse because of a decision taken at Lambeth Palace about sexual equality, about gay marriage?

Yes, precisely… I’m afraid it’s only too sadly true. What was said is “if we leave a Christian community in this area” – I’m quoting them, this not obviously something I think – “if we leave a Christian community in this area we will all be made to become homosexual, and so we’re going to kill the Christians.” The mass grave had 369 bodies in it, and I was standing with the relatives.

(*sic for lack of article, making it unclear whether he meant “a graveside” or “gravesides”)

The Archbishop does not here locate the “mass grave” specifically as being in Nigeria, but that does indeed appear to have been where he meant; Andrew Brown writes in the Guardian:

He referred to a particularly harrowing experience he had in the middle belt of Nigeria, where the ethnic cleansing of a Christian village by Muslim neighbours was supposedly justified or prompted by something gay-friendly done by the Anglican church in the US.

There’s no doubt that Welby was profoundly affected by the experience. He has talked about it to me privately – not your average cocktail party conversation – and he was clearly anguished by the memory of the mass grave and the way it smelled.

There was a similar account when Rowan Williams decided to ditch his old friend Jeffrey John in 2003: he was apparently told that, if John were consecrated as bishop of Reading, Christians in Pakistan would die in the subsequent rioting.

It would still be good to know exactly where this was and what the specific circumstances were: it seems to me that the killing is likely to have been within the context of pre-existing strife, and that this needs to be weighed against whether “gay-friendly” Anglicanism in the USA (or even the general increasing western tolerance of homosexuality) was really the true determining factor.

Welby has a long-standing interest in Nigeria, but he was not there in January. He did, though, as he mentions above, visit South Sudan at the end of that month, as part of a tour of Central Africa. On 31 January, he attended a mass grave in the town of Bor, shortly after “scores” of female church workers had been massacred at a local church by rebels; but there’s no suggestion that this particular horror had anything to do with homosexuality.

According to The Church Mouse on Twitter, Welby told him the story of the Nigerian graveside “over a year ago”.

One Response

  1. It was the save event which Andrew Brown referred to in his piece. Can’t remember the location Justin referred to.

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