Thinking Anglicans

Rowan Williams and identity politics

The Telegraph published a news report by John Bingham headlined Rowan Williams: fixation with gay rights, race and feminism threatens society. A fixation with gay rights, feminism and separate racial identities is threatening to “fragment” British society, the Archbishop of Canterbury has claimed.

Subsequently, Comment is free published Is Rowan Williams right to warn about excessive identity politics? with contributions from Reni Eddo-Lodge, Sunny Hundal and Peter Tatchell.

Lambeth Palace has transcribed the comment that these articles refer to, from the audio recording, all available here.

Identity is a very slippery word, as everybody has brought out. I heard some voices raised, I think very importantly, against what people now often call ‘identity politics’: this is who I am, these are my rights, I demand that you recognise me.

Identity politics, whether it’s the politics of feminism, whether it’s the politics of ethnic minorities, or the politics of sexual minorities, has been a very important part of the last ten or twenty years. Because, before that, I think there was a sense that diversity was not really welcome. And so minorities of various kinds and – not that it’s a minority – particularly a group of women, began to say ‘well, actually we need to say who we are in our terms, not yours’. And that led to identity politics of a very strong kind and the legislation that followed it.

We’re now, I think, beginning to see the pendulum swinging back, and saying: well, identity politics is all very well but we’ve got to have some way of putting all that together again, and discovering what’s good for all of us, and, as I said at the beginning, sharing something of who we are with one another so as to discover more about who we are.

That’s just one point that struck me in listening to this excellent conversation – identity isn’t just something sealed off and finished with. Identity is something we bring to the task of building up a fuller identity all the time. It’s always a work in progress, always a project, never something done with. Once we start saying ‘This is my identity and that’s it,’ then I think we’re in danger of really fragmenting the society we belong to.

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Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

I’m always a little suspicious when a white straight man tells me that obsession with race, gender and homosexuality threatens society.

Get those issues sorted, start treating everyone as equal, and then we can turn to all those important issues together.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“I heard some voices raised, I think very importantly, against what people now often call ‘identity politics’: this is who I am, these are my rights, I demand that you recognise me.”

Life in Lambeth Palace would have been so much easier if only those confounded women and gays had contented themselves with being priests.

Leonardo Ricardo
Guest

It is Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who not only threatens the Anglican Communion/beyond (and the Church of England) with a failed ¨covenant decoy¨ fragmentation but also offers nothing, not even a timid ¨I´m sorry¨ in return. What a mess he has made throughout the Anglican Communion. Oh, well, off he goes now to a round of going away parties and more opportunities to observe more ¨fragmentation¨ and general cultural wreckage and speak about what ought be or what should have been (maybe)…equality is a very tricky thing. No sense actually *doing* something for equality like honoring ALL Anglicans as… Read more »

Lois Keen
Guest
Lois Keen

What Erika wrote. I’m suspicious when people rejoice in the pendulum swinging back. That way lies renewed oppression. And with no apologies, straight white men are not oppressed, notwithstanding the TV comedies and the adverts that picture them as oppressed by women. They still hold the upper hand. Let go of a little of the power, please.

Spirit of Vatican II
Guest
Spirit of Vatican II

Peter Tatchell was the kindest commentator — probably because Rowan listened to him the day he burst into an assembly of bishops — which goes to show the healing and calming effects of dialogue.

Craig Nelson
Guest
Craig Nelson

The gay identity is created and sustained by a legacy of discrimination which, for the most part has only recently passed or is in the process of passing, the Church, or the most part (a few very honourable exeptions aside) has a large part in. Without current discriminations (may one speak here of Jeffrey John, of the furore after the consecration of Gene Robinson, the refusal to allow Civil Partnerships (or even the consideration of Civil Partnerships) in Church, the furore over even civil marriage, let alone the possibility of religious marriage or may one speak of the role of… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

As usual Peter Tatchell has most closely read his man. People from inside a religion have the deepest insights into the worse aspects of identity politics – we can speak from the most bitter of experiences. The long and bitter civil war in Ireland just a bloody recent experience …. When my Scots Roman Catholic father met my Welsh Calvinist mother with the news her fiancé (and his best buddy) was KIA two mighty worlds collided. My father had been baptised Catholic gone to RC school and social clubs, played only with Catholics, shopped only in Catholic shops and only… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

If only the Church would recognise that we are all human beings – each one of us made in the Image and Likeness of a Loving Creator God, there would be little need for what the archbishop deems to call ‘identity politics’. We would all all be respected for who we actually are – without having to apologise to anyone for the reality of our own racial, gender or sexual-identity. The Church has so often been the arbiter of just who is permitted to be accepted as ‘normal’ – forgetting that God is the Creator and not the Church. What… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

For a very polite Canadian view, check this out.Rave reviews all around.It simply gushes.However, if you would like to comment, best do it on this site, The Anglican Journal has become very careful to screen its comments these days … mustn’t be impolite you know, we’re Canadians.
http://www.anglicanjournal.com/nc/other/news-items/c/sliders/article/williams-brought-his-heart-soul-and-intellect-to-the-job-hiltz-10642//abp/141.html

jnwall
Guest
jnwall

The goal of Christian social engagement is justice. Justice is not served when the dignity of every human being is not respected by the society at large. Justice is not served when the dominant voices in society decide to treat specific persons or groups differently because the dominant voices decide they need, for whatever reason, to differentiate themselves from those groups or individuals. The ABC is a smart man. Why does he not recognize how the tyranny of the majority works to deny common decency and respect for some people’s right to dignity because they belong to a group that… Read more »

Gerry Lynch
Guest

The communities that bleat most loudly about their need for special treatment in the UK today are the faith communities. And boy are they good at arguing for special treatment for those who hold a particular narrow identity rather than just obeying laws that are otherwise held to be “good for all of us”. Nobody else gets an exemption from the laws preventing discrimination of the grounds of gender and sexual orientation, for example.

If the Archbishop wants to open this particular debate, I for one would welcome that.

Roger
Guest
Roger

Rowan uses this canard of identity politics to avoid dealing with very real divisions within the Anglican communion on very major issues. He wishes to gloss it all over by painting it with the broad brush insult of identity politics, thereby avoiding dealing with these real issues, issues much bigger than the idea of identity politics in the first place. He is either clueless or disingenuous. Either way, he is soon gone.

karen macqueen+_
Guest

I find it very strange that Rowan Williams comments on identity politics having served its purpose and that “we” have to put it all together again. It seems that he comments from a vantage point above the fray, with a stake only in some version of unity. This point of view seems characteristic of Williams’ tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury. At Dromantine, when Rowan was a Primate, several Primates representing Churches in developing nations (GAFCON) joined together to demand the exclusion of the Episcopal Church (USA) from the Communion because TEC and other Churches were moving towards full inclusion of… Read more »

David Ross Lyon
Guest
David Ross Lyon

” A fixation with gay rights, feminism and separate racial identities is threatening to “fragment” British society ” ?? Is it not fragmented above and beyond…already ? Thats right , blame it on the Gays…

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

I think karen macqueen+ might look at the so called Dromantine Anathema as Rowan’s part of the push-me pull-you game that encompassed these two events. Though I think Rowan had decided before the Dromantine that he could not hold out for the gays and fracture the communion ….. they were small enough to be sacrificed (for NOW – in his mind I’m sure). Let’s look at the section in point: “we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people. The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people… Read more »

Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
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Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

The formative years of the members of the bench of bishops date to a period when gays were, if one was charitably inclined, “more to be pitied than scorned”. This shows, and how it shows. Last week Bishop Alan Wilson observed all too accurately that “the Church in its own bubble has become, at best the guardian of the value system of the nation’s grandparents, and at worst a den of religious anoraks defined by defensiveness, esoteric logic and discrimination”.

David Shepherd
Guest

I’m especially suspicious of whites who think that their identification with another minority exempts them from suspicion. After centuries of slavery, after decades of covert white solidarity that, across the political divide, lacks the backbone to stand up to their own enough to overturn the segregation of racial opportunity (whether housing, jobs, educational), while demanding equality elsewhere, I remain suspicious. After years of an advocacy that tries to manage our disenfranchisement from above, rather than forming an enduring brotherly alliance of service, I can echo Karen McQueen’s statement: ‘trust is earned, not blithely given’. Perhaps, when I, once again, see… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

It is not surprising that the issue of identity rapidly leads to political reflection. However, there is a strand of theological understanding of identity as gift in baptism which gets rapidly left behind in such conversations. What does it mean to receive and cherish such a gift?

And another question, posed by Jesus this Holy Week, is what and who our identity is principally for, and the extent to which it is proper for us to see our identity formed “against another”.

rjb
Guest
rjb

As usual, I largely agree with Peter Tatchell (who would have thought that the man who once odiously ‘outed’ Anglican priests would become a considered and moderate voice on sexuality and religion?). I generally agree with RW too, though an Anglican archbishop is not necessarily the best person to critique ‘identity politics’. In his defence, I think the archbishop is pretty critical of religiously-motivated identity-politics of the George Carey kind, too. I’m a bit disconcerted by his remarks on welfare, though – again, not so much by what he says (which is largely true), but by the fact that he… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

I agree with Craig. I never had a gay identity until the church told me there was so much I couldn’t do or be because of it.

I’d absolutely love it if we didn’t have to play identity games any longer.

Tim
Guest

I’m sure it would be nice to say we’ve all worked out who we are and what labels we bring to the party, now let’s get on with it – but we’re far from having achieved the first half of it yet.

Rosemary Hannah
Guest
Rosemary Hannah

The point is, can one possibly imagine Jesus asking people to put their vocations on hold, or abandoning them because they upset others? Did he do this when Mary sat at his feet?http://rosemaryhannah.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/group-identity-should-never-involve-the-sacrifice-of-the-individuals-truth/

Counterlight
Guest

“I agree with Craig. I never had a gay identity until the church told me there was so much I couldn’t do or be because of it.” I would never have had one either. I was assigned one. I wonder if people who remain convinced that homosexuality is a choice really do believe that people would actually choose a life of marginalization and disadvantage under the constant threat of violence? Minorities are the creations of majorities. The word “homosexual” was the creation of German psychologists in the 19th century as part of an effort to single out, marginalize, and criminalize… Read more »

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

How is what is being called ‘identity’ related to the core Christian claims that:

‘my life is hid with God in Christ’

‘we are a new creation, the old has passed away’

‘your life is not your own, you were bought with a price’

‘put on Christ and make no provision for the flesh’

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

In the end, when the dust has settled and Rowan is comfortably in his new teaching position, I wonder if we will see a great deal of “Revisionism” on Rowan’s part? Will he attack or defend his previous positions? He has to “own” his words and actions so we will see just how sincere and honest he deals with his very divisive tenure as ABC. Many people are deeply disappointed that he chose the exclusionary route for the glbt communities and for women.

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

As c.r.seitz so succinctly puts it.

Why? Oh, why are so many Christians arguing for a different faith where we are excluded?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Good quotes, Dr Seitz.
Those who insist on discriminating against particular groups of people based on their perceived different identity would do well to read them carefully.

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

Gerry Lynch says: “The communities that bleat most loudly about their need for special treatment in the UK today are the faith communities.”

Quite right Gerry, but I had assumed this fact had not passed Rowan’s notice – and that they were strongly in his mind!

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

I am no longer remotely interested in the opinions of Rowan Williams, past, present or to come. They are unreliable. That is, he is not to be trusted.

His behaviour has been reprehensible and his arrogance suffocating. He has far surpassed George Carey.

But is his behaviour and arrogance, any worse than that of the callous Church of England hierarchy itself ? It is hard to see how this denomination can preach Christ, when its leadership abuse their power as they do.

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

I asked a very genuine question about central NT texts. I am curious what these texts mean. For me they mean, who I am in essential ‘identity’ is part of handing myself over to Christ and allowing him to dictate the terms of my identity in Him. It means in Baptism I ceased having an identity of the old Adam, who I am in the flesh, and became a new creation. The new Adam is building me into his new creation. This is the message of Colossians, but also of so much of the NT witness. I simply wonder what… Read more »

rjb
Guest
rjb

I concur, cr seitz, but I think I’d want to add that we should always have enough faith and charity willingly to perceive – however dimly – that transformation and that new identity in our fellow Christians too. Something that I for one often fail to do. Kyrie eleison! Surely Paul’s final word on what we call ‘identity’ is Gal 3:28. Of course it still matters to slaves that they’re not free or to women that they lack the freedoms of men – difference does not immediately disappear. But Paul has an urgent sense that such differences are not of… Read more »

John Roch
Guest
John Roch

“The formative years of the members of the bench of bishops date to a period . . . “ When is that period supposed to have ended? Or, rather, how recently did it end? Or, perhaps, after what date would someone have had to have been born in order NOT to have had formative years in that period? What ages bound the “formative years” for this purpose? My own guess would be early twenties, giving all the bishops formative years no earlier than 1962 Year of birth – Diocesan (inc Europe & Sodor & Man) 1942-45 7 1946-50 17 1951-55… Read more »

Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
Guest
Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

“At 67.” You and me both, John. Appreciate your pulling together those statistics to prove the point. What about Alan Wilson’s comment don’t you get?

David Shepherd
Guest

The parable of the Good Samaritan probably exposes the hypocrisy of identity politics more than any other biblical illustration. We hear ourselves echoing the lawyer’s question, ‘And who is my neighbour?’, anxious as we are for affirmation and exoneration. Against the common foe of barbaric imperialist Rome and the dangerous impact of hellenism on cultural and religious thought throughout Asia Minor, some Jews might have considered themselves to be exemplary moral guardians: a bulwark shoring up resistance against a full-scale descent into idolatrous syncretism. Although the Samaritan was already considered to have compromised his God-given identity, by extending immediate, practical,… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

Interesting observation “Identity politics, whether it’s the politics of feminism, whether it’s the politics of ethnic minorities, or the politics of sexual minorities, has been a very important part of the last ten or twenty years….”

One might also add to the list, the politics of well educated upper class bishops, no?

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Nice quotes, Mr. Seitz.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Dr Seitz,
I would say that while people clearly have identities – gender, nationality, race, sexuality, their work, their identity as husbands or wives, as parents etc…

these identities must not become a defining characteristic of their lives. That would be to turn the focus of our lives onto ourselves rather than on Christ.

It follows that we must not define others on the basis or one or several of their identities either, far less restrict them on that basis.

David Shepherd
Guest

My last comment lost to junk folder, or was it despatched elsewhere?

ED: Found, along with one of 2 days ago on another thread, also now published.

Rosemary Hannah
Guest
Rosemary Hannah

Yes, the question is:’Well we let the fact our fellow Christians just happen to be gay/slaves/women/whatever stand in the way of their fulfilling the Christ-given call to them to be priests/Bishops/full members of the laity, or will we accept that in the Christ who calls them these differences matter not a jot?’ Remove the obstacles, and you remove (as so many above have said) the tendency to ‘identity politics’ but leave the injustice and you create the need to work for justice.

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

The bishop of Liverpool made an interesting foray into this area this morning on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day. This time it was class ………

MarkBrunson
Guest

“Identity politics” is the new buzz-word to make it sound as if there were a legitimate argument behind sheer prejudice. Yeah, not a technocrat at ALL, that Rowan Williams!

What did The Hives sing?

“I do believe I told you so . . .

And it’s all out that you knew!”

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

I believe my last comment was “Nice quotes, Ms. Seitz.” Perhaps it was edited?

My point being, of course, that identity doesn’t matter until someone gets it wrong.

I guess my point has already been proven!

ED: Sorry I did edit that, having failed to get the intended joke 🙁

Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
Guest
Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer

Is being allowed to address most fellow posters familiarly, but being expected to address some by their academic titles, a form of identity politics?

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

rjb — frankly I would have thought the late modern application of Gal 3:28 would take the form of ‘in Christ neither Gay nor Straight’ but a new creation. That is, whoever we judge ourselves to be according to the flesh/Old Adam, we are no longer in Christ.
Mr Mortimer. My request was obvious I thought. I do not sign my first name and do not call people I do not know by theirs. If you wish to call me by my professional title, that is up to you!

Bill Dilworth
Guest

“The goal of Christian social engagement is justice.”

I hope I’m not nitpicking, but surely the goal of Christian social engagement – like that of Christian *anything* – is to bring people to Christ, and Christ to people. The idea that “justice” is at the heart of Christian action disheartens me. Christ certainly doesn’t seem to base his actions on justice, but on love. Mere justice is such a narrow little field of action, probably necessary in the short run but not what we’re ultimately all about. Thank God.

Counterlight
Guest
Counterlight

When I hear talk of subsuming our selves in Christ’s New Creation, I hear the sound of brooms frantically sweeping things under rugs.

I wonder if “… according to the flesh/Old Adam” includes male Christian hierarchs, and the very idea of hierarchy.

Pluralist
Guest

I don’t hand myself over to Christ and allow him to dictate the terms of my identity in Him. What’s that about? My identity is as it has grown. As for my deep forebears, it isn’t in any Adam, whenever he was distinct from his ancestor, but in the slime from which we all come. There is no old or new creation, only how we have evolved. What matters, ethically, is what comes about when a strong recognition of consciousness joins the ability to use precision language.

Bill Dilworth
Guest

“It means in Baptism I ceased having an identity of the old Adam, who I am in the flesh, and became a new creation.”

Except that’s not how it works. Ever. You *are* still male, aren’t you, Dr. Seitz?

c.r.seitz
Guest
c.r.seitz

The force of Paul’s comment is that ‘maleness’ is no longer the chief index of my identity, and neither ‘femaleness’ for females, but a new primary identity in Christ. In its wake, this changes what it means to be ‘male’ and ‘female’ and differentiates Christian life from the non-Christian. Paul certainly means minimally that. The question that one would need to ask is whether ‘Gay’ is analogous to ‘male’ in this context. I do not think so. But if it should be argued that it is analagous, the force of Paul’s comment would remain: in Christ, it has now a… Read more »