Archbishop Welby's Holocaust Memorial Day statement, the effect of prayer, and the Primates' attitude to LGBTI people

Meditating this morning, and before reading Archbishop Justin Welby’s statement on Holocaust Memorial Day which warns of the dangers of caricature and prejudice, I was wondering about the intention and effectiveness of the prayers which supported the recent Primates’ meeting.

The Archbishop wrote on his blog that it was “without doubt one of the most extraordinary weeks I have ever experienced.” He said that “the week was completely rooted in prayer. [T]housands – perhaps millions – of Anglicans and others in the Christian family around the world prayed in churches and posted prayers on social media.”

In conclusion, he said he “wanted to share these initial reflections with you, and ask for you to keep praying for our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. If Christ’s flock can more or less stay together, it's hope for a world that tears itself apart.

There’s an unexamined assumption that the simple fact that thousands or millions of Anglicans were praying was in itself a good thing. And of course, I believe prayer is a good thing, and I have dedicated myself to a contemplative prayer life for four decades. But I know the question ‘What am I praying for?’ always lurks, with the implication that I can mislead myself into praying for less than the inflowing of God’s unconditional, infinite love. Prayer intent can be selfish, unseeing, unreflective, lost in my unconscious desires and wandering thoughts.

The warning in today’s statement by the Archbishop is being taken as an attack on Islamophobia. As I read it, with growing astonishment, I wondered how the Archbishop could make such a statement with integrity. LGBTI Christians and especially those who are members of the Church of England and member churches of the Anglican Communion will judge him by his own words to have failed to articulate an equally strong commitment about the dangers of caricature and prejudice about LGBTI people when he met with the Primates in Canterbury. Gay men were incarcerated in the Nazi concentration camps.

In the Holocaust Memorial Day statement, the Archbishop said caricature and prejudice can "lead to violent persecution and genocide". He added, “Simplistic criticism and ridicule … leads inexorably to the dehumanising and degrading treatment of others."

He is self-aware and intelligent. He must know at some level that his comments about caricature and prejudice, the simplistic criticism and ridicule that leads inexorably to the dehumanising and degrading treatment of others, are directly applicable to the way LGBTI people are falsely represented in many parts of the Anglican Communion. The teaching against LGBTI identity and intimacy is predicated on the authority of Scripture and tradition. Whenever Scripture and tradition are used to justify dehumanising prejudice, Scripture and tradition are wrongly interpreted and used.

The Archbishop urged followers to "take responsibility ourselves", particularly in speaking out "against those who would diminish others through caricature and cheap political point scoring". He urged followers "not just to remember but to act" and said the memorial day was "a searing indictment of our collusion in the evil of others through our silence".

It’s difficult to know how he can reconcile making these assertions when he allows Anglicans to continue to dehumanize LGBTI people. In parts of the Communion, Anglicans tolerate at best and actively support at worst legislation that demonizes and imprisons LGBTI people. They fail to challenge the violence and abuse perpetrated against LGBTI people.

He wrote that: "In the world we inhabit, the searchlight of an active media illuminates the dark recesses of the caricature," without apparent irony, failing to recognise that these words can be directed against him as the media this day question why the Church continues to caricature LGBTI lives. He knows this can lead to violent persecution and genocide.

He says: "But we're not called to be passive observers and silent accomplices to discrimination. We can take responsibility ourselves." Taking responsibility, of course, is exactly what many people, straight and LGBTI, in every Province of the Anglican Communion are doing – and others, claiming to be orthodox, traditional Christians, vilify them for doing so, labelling them ‘revisionists’.

The Archbishop directed his strongest exhortations to those with influence. He said: "We all need to show true leadership and integrity when given the power to shape the opinions of others. It's incumbent upon those … who have influence … to speak up for the defenceless and the marginalised, and not to pander to popular prejudice."

He continued: "[W]e need to admit our own culpability in not standing up for others. [L]et's confess our own unwillingness to say and do what is right because we are fearful of what others might think of us." "In our homes and in our schools, we must encourage young people to stand up and to speak out against the everyday abuses of prejudice and discrimination in the street and the playground.”

He concluded: "Don't stand by. Speak up, speak out and let us not bear false witness through our silence and inaction."

Yes, yes, and yes again!

What were the millions of Anglicans praying for during the Primates’ meeting? Were they neutrally praying supportively for the well-being of those present? Were they praying for unity above all things? Were they praying for the Primates to be infused with the love of Jesus the Christ? Were they praying for an in-breaking of the Holy Spirit? Were they praying for a radical comment to love, truth and justice? Were they praying for an end to the caricature and prejudice that can lead to violent persecution and genocide and the cessation of simplistic criticism and ridicule by the Primates that leads inexorably to the dehumanising and degrading treatment of others?