Archbishop of Canterbury fails to bridge gay row gap

By staff writers
26 Sep 2010

In an extensive newspaper interview, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, says there is "no problem" with gay clergy and bishops.

But he adds that because of the controversy in the Church and the lack of consensus for change on the basis of inherited teaching and conservative interpretation of the Bible, non-celibate homosexual clergy cannot be endorsed.

The comments have already produced an angry reaction from both sides in the argument between those who wish to exclude LGBT people from the church's ministry, and those who argue that the central dynamics of the Christian Gospel points towards inclusion and embrace.

Dr Williams' lengthy interview with The Times newspaper on Saturday 25 September 2010 is not freely available on the internet, because of proprietor Rupert Murdoch's imposition of a 'pay wall', but it has been picked up through excerpts in the wider media.

Conducted by Ginny Dougary, prior to Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to Britain, the exchange is a wide ranging discussion of many of the current controversies surrounding Dr Williams' time as Archbishop of Canterbury.

It includes an account of Dr Williams' sense of personal failure in failing to support Dr Jeffrey Johns' election to a bishopric, his opposition to creationism, his reflection on Professor Stephen Hawking's category mistake in writing of the non-necessity of God, his experience of 9/11 (the Archbishop was in Manhattan at the time), relations with the Roman Catholic Church, the case for women bishops, and the "materially heretical" idea that making money is doing God's work.

It is Dr Williams' comments on gay clergy and bishops which have drawn instant attention from reporters and commentators, however.

He declared: "There’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop... It’s about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe. So there’s always a question about the personal life of the clergy.”

Asked what is wrong with a gay bishop having a partner, the Archbishop replies: “I think because the scriptural and traditional approach to this doesn’t give much ground for being positive about it. The Church at the moment doesn’t quite know what to make of it...”

In the past, before assuming his key role within the Established Church, Dr Williams, as a pastor and acdemic, had affirmed gay relationships both pastorally and academically.

But he sees his priority now as holding the Church of England and the Anglican Communion - with its warring factions - together.

Responding to his latest remarks, gay human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell accused him of being inconsistent and hypocritical, while the hardline group Anglican Mainstream strongly objected to any gay bishops.

In its own leading article, The Times newspaper challenges the idea that the church has no room for reform or change on traditional, scriptural grounds - which has been the basis of the argument for welcoming gay people advanced by a growing number of evangelicals in recent years.

The paper declared: "In seeking a settlement within Anglicanism, Dr Williams risks diminishing its prophetic voice. If he were to worry less about politics, he might find the resources to strengthen Anglicanism and find spiritual fulfilment of his own. For with his profound theological insight, Dr Williams is better placed than anyone to, in the words of Matthew’s Gospel, discern the signs of the times.

"Secular culture acknowledges the injustice of discrimination against homosexuals. The treatment of Canon Jeffrey John, a chaste homosexual twice rejected as a bishop, offends against a widely held sense of natural justice. In electing homosexual bishops, Anglicanism might suffer defections; but it would affirm its soul.

"This is not a call to choose modern mores over biblical authority, for Anglicans have long understood that the interpretation of Scripture lies in the hands of the Church. The Apostle Peter enjoined: 'Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.'

"Interpretation belongs to the tradition... in which Dr Williams takes an historic role. He should affirm as a Christian leader and a theologian that discrimination against homosexuals is wrong. In the Church, as in the nation, let justice be done — and the heavens will not fall," said the Times.

[Ekk/3]

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