Archbishop received tide of hate mail
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, received piles of venomous mail following his appointment last year, much of which was sparked by conservative Evangelical pressure groups say his staff.
According to the first biography of the cleric, Williams was accused of lacking integrity and of being a hypocrite.
A small proportion of letters were even overtly threatening. Some wished upon him ìthe fate of the Old Testament prophetsî ó an implied unpleasant death. Another postcard called directly for his demise reports the Sunday Times.
The archbishopís staff are convinced the letter writers were galvanised into action by statements from two leading evangelical groups ó Reform and the Church Society. The Church Society predicted Williams would become a focus of disunity in the church.
Reform demanded the resignation of Williams before he had even taken up his post and claimed it would be unprecedented to have an archbishop unable to be fully committed to the authority of the Bible.
Williams said he had not paid serious attention to those letters written by ìlunaticsî or from ìthose who were psychologically disturbedî. But he was upset to read such harsh accusations from fellow Christians.
He also suspects some of the letters may have been part of a co-ordinated campaign. ìI got impatient with a number of letters written to a formula. By October and November it was a burden, a real, real burden,î he said.
ìOne hostile and undermining letter outweighs the positive ones,î said Williams. ìWhat I found most wearying was every morning receiving letters which cast fundamental doubts on my honesty and my relationship with God ó it was very undermining.î
Despite the widespread public welcoming of Williamsís appointment last July, about athird of the 3,000-4,000 letters he received between then and when he took up the post in December were critical.
A proportion of these were vicious or hateful, many apparently from committed, evangelical Christians. The attacks were mostly directed at his liberal attitudes on issues such as homosexuality.
One rebuke read: ìYou are not a believing Christian.î Another said: ìYou are a false teacher.î Others criticised his objections to attacking Iraq, with one calling him a ìlily-livered pacifistî.
Williams was wounded by such letters and found the questioning of his integrity by fellow Christians deeply unpleasant. He has argued for tolerance for homosexuals but made it clear he intends to abide by the traditional teachings of the church, thus precluding the ordination of actively gay priests.
Shorttís book, published next month, portrays Williams as a theologian convinced that orthodox Christian belief can be restated in a modern way. ìHe would prefer to be called a radical traditionalist ó progressive on many social issues and glad to draw inspiration from the past,î writes Shortt.
He depicts Williams as a socialist who once said he could not be neutral ìin the face of a society based upon the ruthless pursuit of private gain and unlimited competitionî.
Shortt said: ìHis politics are a good deal blunter than his theology. He grew up in a world of heavy-duty left-wing crusades and remains old Labour in a good number of respects, but there are signs his views are shifting.î