matters of faith

Archbishop Williams Wants a Compromise Over Gays + the Church. What If He Can’t Do It?

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, finds himself in a worse spot than he did back in 2008, when he attempted to keep the Anglican Church of England together by coming out against gay sex. Now he’s followed it up with a statement about how the Church should be “tolerant” about the gays (and women priests). None of this is helping keep together the fractious and opposing sides.

Addressing the General Synod in London this week, Williams says it’s harmful for conservative and liberal factions of the Church to war with each other; in the end, gays end up demonized, and nobody ends up happy. Rather, Williams wants everyone to hold hands and get along, which as anyone familiar with religion knows, is virtually impossible inside any faith institution.

Moreover, while it’s a great message, it’s already falling short, some say — and not helping things is Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of the Church of Uganda, releasing a well-timed statement endorsing Anglican homophobia, particularly his support of the Kill The Gays bill.

To be sure, Williams has denounced Orombi’s remarks. But to many gays and lesbians inside the Church, he hasn’t gone far enough.

Williams, who described such legislation as infamous and repugnant, insisted in his address to the Church of England’s General Synod, meeting in London: “Our job is not to secure purity but to find ways of deciding such contested issues that do not simply write off the others in the debate as negligible, morally or spiritually unserious or without moral claims.”

But the archbishop stoutly defended the recent opposition of bishops in the Lords to the government’s equality legislation, seeking to define how far the church could discriminate, particularly against gay people, in making secular appointments.

“Very few Christians were contesting the civil liberties of gay and lesbian people in general; nor should they have been. What they were contesting was a relatively small but extremely significant point of detail … whether government had the right to tell religious bodies which of the tasks for which they might employ people required and which did not require some level of compliance with the public teaching of the church about behaviour.”

He’s in a difficult spot. He’s also in a position of power to remind the Church’s followers, and its leaders, that Jesus is about openness and love, not castigating an entire class of people. But Williams also has another, perhaps paramount goal: Making sure the Church doesn’t crumble over this debate, with parishes splintering off over gays and female clergy. And it’s this very compromise that he’s willing to entertain that may be his undoing. Or the Church’s.

EARLIER: Will the Anglicans Go For This ‘Give the Gays Their Pension Benefits’ Thing?