Church Leaders Can Learn Much from Apology of Jesuit Refugee Service UK Head

Sarah Teather

A former Catholic member of the United Kingdom’s Parliament, who now heads the Jesuit Refugee Service there, has apologized for voting against marriage equality in the past.

Sarah Teather tweeted her apology on the eighth anniversary of equal marriage becoming legal in the U.K. She explained of her vote against the bill, which passed overwhelmingly:

“In 2013, I tied myself up in ridiculous intellectual knots trying to find a way to navigate Catholic teaching on marriage & my liberal instincts & campaigning history on gay rights. In the end, I voted against the bill. . .

“Wise friends said to me then it didn’t fit with what they knew of me and I would regret it. They were right. In the years since as friends & acquaintances have got engaged & married I have inwardly cheered and thanked God that I was then in an irrelevant minority. . .

“I think this anniversary is a good time to say more publicly that I was wrong then and I am delighted now that gay people have the right to be married. And I am sorry that I got it so wrong.”

At the time of the vote, Teather, who held several leadership positions in the Liberal Democrats during her time in Parliament, said the decision of whether to support marriage equality or not was “one of the most difficult decisions I have ever taken.” Her record to that point was quite LGBTQ-positive, including support for civil unions as early as 2004. But in a 2013 blog post, she then expressed concerns that by “moving to a definition of marriage that no longer requires sexual difference, we will, over time, ultimately decouple the definition of marriage from family life altogether.”

Teather’s apology was largely well-received on Twitter, reported PinkNews. Several people commented about how difficult it is to acknowledge one’s mistakes and change of position, especially as a public figure. Others suggested it was too late because she had failed when it mattered most.

But even now, her apology does matter. In both 2013 and 2021, it seems clear that Teather is serious about her faith and the responsibility that comes with being a Catholic in public life. That is why her apology is so meaningful for Catholics, especially those faithful who have or continue to oppose marriage equality and other LGBTQ rights. She models how it is possible to grow in one’s views and, in doing so, recognize the harm one has done and make amends for it.

Her phrase “ridiculous intellectual knots” aptly describes the arguments against LGBTQ equality that some church leaders have used in their push to stymie civil rights initiatives. Someday, hopefully, they will join Sarah Teather with clearer minds to acknowledge where they erred and to apologize for getting it wrong.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 20, 2021

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