Rowan Williams and human liberation


Some people in the past have defended Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, by suggesting that on the subject of sexuality he is caught between the disparate factions of the church, and that his response to the Episcopal Church's moves towards greater equality for gays and lesbians is nothing more than the actions of an impartial referee who is trying to keep the church from falling apart.

Pronouncements that Williams has made make it clear that nothing could be farther from the truth. Far from being an impartial referee, Williams has revealed an underlying allegiance with the conservatives. Among other things, Williams stated regarding same-sex marriage that

a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires. (emphasis added).
His reference to "their chosen lifestyle" is telling.

It is also interesting to see what Williams's view on the role of the church with respect to human liberation and social progress is:
if the Church has echoed the harshness of the law and of popular bigotry – as it so often has done – and justified itself by pointing to what society took for granted, it has been wrong to do so. But on the same basis, if society changes its attitudes, that change does not of itself count as a reason for the Church to change its discipline.
In other words, according to Williams, if society is more progressive than the church, if society develops a liberating impulse ahead of the church, if the church lags behind society, then that is not the church's problem! I have a very different idea; I think that religious faith should be at the forefront of human liberation and social progress. I am reminded of John Woolman, the eighteenth century American Quaker who, inspired by his religious faith, fought a lifelong struggle to oppose slavery. Woolman understood what Williams does not, that faith can and should be a driving impulse to support justice and inclusion. Williams places institutional inertia over these most important of human values. I want no part of Rowan Williams's religion.


Ray K said...

The Quakers in the UK seem to have the right idea. This is an editorial from The Guardian newspaper after their recent Yearly Meeting -

The decision yesterday by the Quakers to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples was welcomed by campaigners such as Peter Tatchell as a trailblazing. But it is not the first time that the Religious Society of Friends has gone out in front. The Quakers not only began the British campaign against the slave trade but they could also lay claim to have invented modern campaigning, with the publication of a diagram showing the cross section of a ship in which slaves lay shoulder to shoulder. So too did they pick up the cudgels of prison reform and the treatment of the mentally ill. Banned by law from politics and the universities, many Quakers went into commerce and industry, where philanthropists such as Joseph Rowntree provided his workers with modern benefits such as free education, medical care and a pension fund. If Quakers make woolly believers (a majority believe in God but all refuse a creed to which they must subscribe), they are crystal clear on behaviour. They value the experience of inspiration and share it in largely silent worship. The Quaker church will now ask the government to change the law to allow its officers to register same-sex partnerships as marriages. But legal recognition is secondary. The exploration of radical concepts is more important, as is the belief that there is good in everyone. As George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement wrote, from prison of course: “Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

Mystical Seeker said...

Ray, that is a great quote from the Guardian. Thanks for posting that.

Cynthia said...

When I read in the Century of Williams' call to the Episcopal Church to "avoid taking actions likely to sharpen divisions within the Anglican Communion on homosexual issues", that being neither hot nor cold, he was standing on the conservative side.

Mad Priest must have a field day over this.

Mystical Seeker said...

Cynthia, I bet you are right. I haven't checked Mad Priest's blog in a while. Maybe I should take a look.