Ex-archbishop feels he may have let down LGBT people
Buffeted by frequent criticism from all sides, and particularly pressured by those who like to style themselves exclusive upholders of traditional biblical faith and morality, Dr Williams told an audience in Edinburgh this week that he “regularly questioned” himself on this matter.
He was talking at the International Book Festival, in conversation with well-known rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger, who has championed the rights and dignity of LGBT people.
On the issue of his failure to support them, “I know that is what a great many of my gay and lesbian friends would say that I did,” the former archbishop declared.
“I look back and I think, ‘at what point would it have been constructive to do something different that would have made a difference and take us forward?’, and I don’t know, it’s quite soon to say,” he added.
“It’s a slow fuse. The best thing I can say is that that is a question which I ask myself really rather a lot, and I don’t quite know the answer.”
Dr Williams, a noted intellectual and theologian, retired as senior cleric in the Established Church, and head of the overwhelmingly non-Established 78 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion in December 2012. He has taken up an academic post in Cambridge.
It was probably inevitable that Dr. Rowan Williams would have been questioned about his influence on the debate in the Church of England and the world-wide Anglican Communion on the subject of Women and Gays. However, it was in the context of an open conversation with Baroness Julia Neuberger, at an international Book Festival, that he admitted he was having second thoughts about the effects of his leadership of the Communion in its dealing with sexuality and gender issues:
‘He was talking at the International Book Festival, in conversation with well-known rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger, who has championed the rights and dignity of LGBT people. On the issue of his failure to support them, “I know that is what a great many of my gay and lesbian friends would say that I did,” the former archbishop declared.’
The fact that Dr. Williams is now questioning whether he did, in fact, let down the LGBT community in his role as ‘Primus-inter-pares’ of the Anglican Communion, implies that he is now considering that stark possibility. One may well ask: did he do this out of conviction that their cause was indefensible? From a deeper examination of the facts, one might well conclude that it was pressure from active opposition from his peers in the Communion that shaped the Archbishop’s influence on the outcome that might have brought justice for Gays and Women in the Church.
One of the outstanding issues that marked his reluctance to open up the Church of England to the preferment of Gay clergy came after he had already (together with the Bishop of Oxford) approved of the election of The Revd. Jeffrey John, a self-acknowledged gay priest, to the position of suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Oxford; but was immediately subjected to the opposition of a vociferous minority of conservatives in the Church, and he then conceded to their demands by requesting the withdrawal of Jeffrey John’s candidacy.
This marked what many saw as the beginning of Rowan’s unwillingness to pursue the process of opening up the Church to the process of the advancement of Gay clergy to positions of responsibility in the Church. What had begun as outright opposition to the recognition and emancipation of Gay clergy in the Church of England under the Primacy of Archbishop George Carey (with pressure from mostly African Primates), extended – under Archbishop Williams’ influence – to the snubbing of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada in their movement towards the Blessing of Same-Sex Civil Partnerships and, in the U.S.A, the Ordination of Gay and Lesbian Bishops in the US.A.
With this reluctance on the part of Canterbury to accept the fact that LGBT people are part and parcel of the Church, and capable of holding office in the Church – a factor that already existed, but remaining unacknowledged by the Church authorities – it was no wonder that Churches of the Third World; which had been raised up under the influence of Victorian-era Missionary Societies and remained largely unaffected by modern theological understandings of gender and sexuality; should have backed up Canterbury’s reluctance to accept LGBTs and Women as fellow Children of God and legitimate sharers in the Ministry and mission of the Church.
However, because of a more recent understanding by the General Synod of the Church of England, that both Women and LGBT people have a right to share in the inheritance of the Church’s mission and ministry; with the subsequent desire to distance itself from the sins of institutional homophobia and misogyny; the mainly African Provinces formed themselves into an ‘alternative ecclesia’ called the GAFCON, based on a conservative sola-scriptura, anti-Gay agenda, with its own doctrinal basis; framed in its radically-positioned ‘Jerusalem Statement’ – claiming an ‘Orthodox Anglicanism’ all its own.
This GAFCON sodality – mostly of third World Provinces in the Anglican Communion – but including the Evangelical Diocese of Sydney Australia, under its current archbishop, Peter Jensen – is scheduled to meet in September 2013 in Kenya, under the leadership of the Kenyan Archbishop; who recently made the statement that Gays have no place in the Anglican Communion Churches.
When he wrote his seminal thesis ‘The Body’s Grace‘, affirming the authenticity of committed Same-Sex relationships; no doubt Archbishop Rowan (then the Archbishop of Wales) never imagined that his later vacillation on such relationships, while Archbishop of Canterbury, could have helped to bring about the institutional threat of division that has now presented itself through the militancy of the GAFCON Provinces. Dr. Williams cannot, however, be held solely accountable for the threat to unity that has arisen as a direct result of the intransigence of the conservative element in the Church.
The threat of division, already incipient under Dr. Carey, merely accelerated on ++Rowan’s watch.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand