Saturday, 9 February 2008

Saturday media on the Archbishop's lecture

Archbishop defends Sharia remarks
Williams ‘shocked’ at Sharia row
Puzzled voices among Bradford’s Muslims

Will Woodward and Riazat Butt Williams defiant over Islamic law speech
Clare Dyer Jewish Beth Din could be archbishop’s model
Riazat Butt Forget the beheadings, and think of settling marital disputes
Andrew Brown Misjudgment that made martyrs of others
Madeleine Bunting A noble, reckless rebellion
Guardian leader: The simplicity complex

Daily Telegraph
Jonathan Petre Rowan Williams faces calls to resign and Church members call on Archbishop to resign
Charles Moore Archbishop, with sharia it’s all or nothing
Simon Heffer Sharia courts? Get off your knees, archbishop

The Times
Ruth Gledhill Archbishop faces calls to quit over Sharia row
Frances Gibb Was Archbishop’s obscure phrasing and bad timing to blame for uproar? Don’t miss this one, well worth reading
Matthew Parris Williams is dangerous. He must be resisted
Times leader: A Devalued Faith

Colin Brown and Jerome Taylor Church moves to the defence of Archbishop
Deborah Orr Don’t be fooled… the archbishop wants to beat extremists at their own game
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown What he wishes on us is an abomination
Independent leader: The Archbishop has stepped into a political and intellectual minefield

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 7:58am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

Another reason is that Dr Williams, a highly erudite man, expresses his thoughts in nuanced and complex language that is not easily accessible and open to widespread misunderstanding. Many commentators are unclear exactly what he said, and even those who attended his lecture agreed that they would have to go away to digest its contents.

I personally have found that usually the top scholars in a field are also among the best communicators. It is a fallacy (but a very common fallacy) to think that difficulty in understanding is because the speaker or writer is particularly talented. It often shows in fact the second-rate nature of the thinking that it is so confusing.

What do other people think from their experience?

Posted by: MargaretG on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 9:18am GMT

It seems to have become an article of faith in Anglicanism that RW's verbal obtuseness and obscurity is directly proportional to his intelligence. As a nonconformist (yes, we still exist), might I suggest that people sometimes hide behind words and use obscurity as a defensive weapon to conceal fundamentally muddled thinking, or provide a cloak of cultural respectability for views that, if stated in clearer language, would be immediately recognized as indefensible?

Posted by: HenryW on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 10:50am GMT

Interesting pieces from Madeleine Bunting and Matthew Paris.

Andrew Brown not up to his usual form though, he (and many others!) has already convicted Williams and it shows….. “so there!”.

Bunting’s “not a political bone in his body” – so true, so true. Though my friend Keith says Rowan has “a Punk politique”. The question is, how do you deal with someone who disobeys the media conventions so completely – Andrew and others, it seems, have decided he should loose his head.

The worst journalism was, of course, the “Resign!” stuff, the usual subjects who have all issued their fatwa some time ago are trotted out again to say he should go. Its so poor.

From a partisan view I wonder if Rowan has rendered “a thing of the past” the continued “exemptions” granted to the Church from laws and regulations all the rest of Britain has to obey. Latterly he and other bishops appeared to be talking of extending the Christian ghetto, indeed they have asked for further exemptions so they can refuse to rent church property to LGCM and the like. (Amazing turn around for those who know of Rowan's long relationship with LGCM and his reaction when we were evicted from St Botolph's!)

Bizarrely Trevor Phillips was talking of British law as applying to all as if these exemptions didn’t exist, I must write to Joel Edwards asking him to remind Trevor that Britain already has “no go areas” for homosexuals and women.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 11:04am GMT

"It is a fallacy (but a very common fallacy) to think that difficulty in understanding is because the speaker or writer is particularly talented. It often shows in fact the second-rate nature of the thinking that it is so confusing."

I haven't waded thorugh all of the ABC's talk, but it occurs to me that he is unaware that any time he opens his mouth, he instantly commands a variety of audiences, whose ability to make fine distinctions and to willingly suspend disbelief also varies.

If you are the ABC [or the Pope] and deliver a scholarly essay to an erudite primary audience, and you emply what I'd call 'trigger' languagw like sharia law, [whatever the Pope quoted], and expect only your primary audience of scholars to respond in nuamced tones, well, naive is a huge understatement.

The ABC may be brilliant as all get out, but he lacks mother-wit.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 11:22am GMT

Or maybe it is the best communicators who come to be considered the "top scholars," whether they truly are or not. And I'm certain that sometimes merely partial thinkers (the "one-eyed men" of J. S. Mill) are mistaken for top scholars because of the false clarity their partial vision gives their communication. Too, difficulty in understanding can be the fault of the speaker or the listener, or both.

The ABC is not a second-rate thinker.

What the Communion needs most in this time of trouble is a titular leader who is in equal measure saint and politician. But what a rare and odd creature that would be! Might as well wish for a griffin or a hippocamp. Confronted with a choice between a saint and a politician, I'd rather have the saint. Saints aren't perfect, but surely God works through them more easily than through mere politicians. And, in any case, there certainly seems to be no surfeit of politicians in the Anglican Communion these days.

All things work to good...

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 11:59am GMT

I believe he is an ivory-tower theoretician who has been thrust into reality and is now totally unable to adjust his persona and his presentation. Whatever is true in his lecture is lost by his obfuscation and worsened by his defensiveness. He should have been raised in a more down to earth manner - not impossible for anyone - of any class - but, granted, harder for the privileged.

Posted by: ettu on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 12:15pm GMT

I read the whole lecture, and digested it on the night. The preceding interview was what caused the most damage. Slightly ironic in that it was presumably designed to lessen and moderate the impact of what was to follow.
It is often easier for those outside a community to raise hot issues that the members cannot mention - even the word sharia the ABC acknowledges is shied away from by many moslem scholars and is not what people perceive it as.
A lot of the ABCs analysis is fine, but his judgment is wrong. Having read the (informed) commentary of the Indepependent leader and Matthew Parris above - I have to agree with them. The man seems to lack humility, and is possessed with a dangerous arrogance. It would really help for him (I'm being serious)literally to get done the pub sometime.

Posted by: Neil on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 12:20pm GMT

Just on common sense politics. It should be obvious when raising difficult issues that you do so by gradations, and ensure you have some allies with you along the way. There are ways the ABC could have said most of this far more clearly and less emotively...even though he is still wrong about the inevitability of (limited) sharia, and the deficiencies of a single 'one size fits all' legal system. It does, precisely because it is flexible and sensible enough ALREADY to incorporate the things the ABC desires.

Posted by: Neil on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 12:26pm GMT

Just on common sense politics. It should be obvious when raising difficult issues that you do so by gradations, and ensure you have some allies with you along the way. There are ways the ABC could have said most of this far more clearly and less emotively...even though he is still wrong about the inevitability of (limited) sharia, and the deficiencies of a single 'one size fits all' legal system. It does, precisely because it is flexible and sensible enough ALREADY to incorporate the things the ABC desires.

Posted by: Neil on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 12:27pm GMT

What a magnificent example of a wholly-unnecessary row! The chip-wrappers scent blood and the General Synod malcontents spot an opportunity. (Who is that woman who looks and sounds like Cruella de Vil's granny?) But what did the ABC actually say?

Knowing my congregation would expect answers on Sunday, I used the links here (for which much thanks, Simon) to listen to the BBC interview, and read both the paper and the clarification.

The paper required several attempts to grasp the argument - it's amazing how much clearer it was on the third read and the third whisky - but seems to me to be a useful contribution to the ongoing debate over the extent to which the concept of one law for all can acknowledge a degree of latitude to freedom of religious conscience. This is becoming one of his ongoing themes, and he appears to have wanted to use the context of an audience of those with an interest in the relationship between Islamic and British law to draw Muslim traditions, practices and beliefs into that area of latitude - he calls it "interactive pluralism."

Whether or not you agree with his thesis, it scarcely justifies the hullabaloo. That seems to have come solely from his mention of the pavlovian trigger-word "sharia" in the interview. In the paper he acknowledges that the word is tainted in the public mind by its association with "judicial primitivists" (a nicely-academic insult) but by then the interview was out and the reflexive outrage - some of it even genuine - was in full spate.

After 5 years, we all know that, whatever charisms the ABC has (and they are many) he has a tin ear for newsbites. What on earth is his press office up to? Who had the bright idea of an interview before the paper was delivered, thus ensuring that unscripted remarks would be heard before the reasoned argument? Why were his inter-faith advisers not warning that this is an area where people on all sides feel deeply threatened and simply are not rational? It seems to me he is being prodigiously ill-advised, and not just on this occasion - a clear-out of the Lambeth Palace curia appears overdue.

A last thought. What chance is there that the concept of "interactive pluralism" might be applied to the [adjectives deleted] covenant, rather than "to insist that conscientious objection always be overruled by a monopolistic understanding of jurisdiction"? Well, he said it.

Posted by: David Bayne on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 12:51pm GMT

The most remarkable thing about the sensationalist media coverage is the accuracy of the headlines. This is because what the archbishop is saying is indeed sensational. His Lenten Lecture was a radical defence of clericalism against the universality of secular law: he is advocating partial theocracy within a pluralistic legal system. Having successfully secured exemptions from gay rights legislation for the Church of England, he wants to extend such opt-outs to Muslim communities.

To understand the context of what the archbishop proposes, liberal columnists of the secular press would do well to digest the theocratic principles underpinning the Windsor Report, the Dromantine and Dar es Salaam Communiques, the Advent Letter and the drafts of the Anglican Covenant: these are what have dominated his time for the last five years. They should also pay close attention to GAFCON. There won't be a resolution on "human sexuality" at the Lambeth Conference because GAFCON will have already supplied one. Lambeth will merely provide the means with which to enforce it, with the consent of General Synod which will approve the draft Covenant this coming week.

Post Lambeth 1:10 gay Anglican martyrs, John Reaney, Jeffery John and Gene Robinson will be joined by many more. If in doubt, read Giles Fraser's piece:

Posted by: Hugh of Lincoln on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 1:07pm GMT

margaret seems to have it right. he's a second rate mind who has managed to pull the wool over people's eyes.

andrew brown also hits the target. i've been with people now for two decades who have been telling rowan williams that he's wonderful, and he has been willing to believe it. it was an odd move to go to monmouth after years as an academic. then he turned down southwark, bcause he didn't want to be involved in the politics, but, surprise, surprise, was willing to take canterbury (no politics, i suppose). the church of england always seems to fall for the oh, so humble act from ferociously ambitious men. i think andrew is right - he is arrogant. his refusal to listen to gays and women has been a sign of his arrogance. and andrew is right, too, that he is happy to martyr others in his cause. my real fear is that if he does stand down (as he should) we would be visited with someone worse, like sentamu or nazir ali. the job should have gone to richard harries, who could have sluiced out the homophobes and misogynists and handed over a c of e ready for the 21st century.

Posted by: poppy tupper on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 1:11pm GMT

Somebody at long last might propose a serious review of the chaplains and advisors in Lambeth Palace. The Archbishop's interesting paper is surely not the problem, but the timing in a period of fear certainly is. The Archbishop's staff have singularly failed. For the time being, they have compromised the authority of the Archbishop with what seems to be a strange void of realistic advice. They have brought confusion to the work of many faithful Anglicans working in Muslim countries (not least here in Turkey), as well as to all decent Muslims for whom the word Sharia is a terrifying symbol.

Posted by: Canon Ian Sherwood on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 1:27pm GMT

One of my first reactions to the Williams/sharia business was to wonder how the Nigerian Church would respond, given that it already claims that its ability to compete with Islam is seriously compromised by the pro-gay rights stance of certain western Anglican churches. Anglican Mainstream has posted the transcript of a BBC interview with Archbishop Quashi of Jos. My money's on certain GAFCON organizers - no need to name names, is there? - using this as a wedge issue in their emerging communion-splitting tactics.

In his Guardian piece, Andrew Brown writes "There are people at Lambeth Palace who could have told Williams what the headlines were going to say this morning. My understanding is that some of them did, but he thought he knew better." Words fail!

Posted by: Lapinbizarre on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 1:39pm GMT

The comment above: "The paper required several attempts to grasp the argument - it's amazing how much clearer it was on the third read and the third whisky ...." really says it all. Unfortunately - and to his discredit - +++Rowan was clueless on this and failed to carry his point in the debate.

Posted by: ettu on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 2:18pm GMT

Of all of them, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's article shows what is wrong with the Archbishop's view. He wants limited-scope but highly personal laws for groups, but groups can be oppressive. He then wants opt outs for individuals, but of course they would have to effectively run away.

The State is the only body that has complete compulsion over us, and its laws set standards for liberty and for relationship to itself. One state means one law. Anything else becomes only a suggestion to the Law. Yes, I know European Law takes precedence, but the State permits this regarding sovereignty (until Europe becomes the State).

In my view, the time that the Archbishop should consider his position is after Lambeth 2008. It is true that this speech is having negative ramifications around the world in some parts of the (largely disloyal) Anglican Communion, but his central policy is this Covenant and it is its failure or otherwise that should bring forward any resignation.

It won't stop some nostrils smelling the coffee.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 3:36pm GMT

Martin, I agree, though I am more sympathetic to Andrew Brown -- he has built up enough cred over the years to earn the benefit of the doubt -- I also like Charles Moore's piece very much.

Saying that one can allow certain bits of Sharia but not the nasty bits rally ignores the core of what Islam & Sharia are about.

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 3:56pm GMT

My mother always said facetiousness would be the end of me. The whisky jibe obscured my main point, that the ABC's thoughtful (if wordy) observations in his paper had been drowned in the welter of hostility towards what people thought he had said in an unscripted interview. I still think that could and should have been avoided. Much, much more worrying is Andrew Brown's assertion (which I've only just seen) that the Archbishop ignored advice to ca' canny in such a sensitive area.

Posted by: David Bayne on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 4:41pm GMT

In this context, it may be helpful to read an Anglican theology of inter faith relations, launched publicly at 4.00pm last Thursday.

The launch was, ironically, between the BBC World at One interview and the Royal Courts of Justice lecture.

It includes a foreword by Rowan Williams and is a report from the Anglican Communion Network for Inter Faith Concerns.

'Generous Love: the truth of the Gospel and the call to dialogue'

Posted by: Graham Kings on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 5:32pm GMT

Some interesting comments (apart from the “resign” and 2nd class brain dross) – huge respect to Ian Sherwood who has a great deal to offer our deliberations here on TA especially at this sensitive time when Turkey is re-engaging with issues like the veil etc, I am all ears for him. Ian also has a DPhil in Totally Insensitive Bishops with Monstrous Egos so he does know his stuff.

I was sickened when I read the drooling of a Lambeth lackey to Andrew Brown – such disloyalty and lack of professionalism! I have had the same character moan about Rowan to me in the past ….. if these people really think their man Rowan is putting himself out on a limb then they should be working 20 times harder at their job to defend his back. Scurvy knaves the lot of them!!

Might we prevail on Ian to say more?

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 5:54pm GMT

Since Islamic law is not unanimous Wahabbi Islam, but varied, and even more varied if one looks to real world historical eras and examples, the correct temporary answer to RW's remarks might be - well it all depends, Lord Archbishop.

I am quite uneasy with RW's repeated attempts to dismiss prejudice, discrimination, and violence in pat finished phrases - mainly to the effect that, of course none of us believes in that unfair or violent sort of thing, or none of us ever get anywhere near to doing that sort of unfair or violent sort of thing - all subtly and not so subtly encouraged (even demanded if you go back far enough in church history?) by our real religious legacy.

He simply cannot speak seriously about the tangled ways in which a traditional religious rhetoric or legacy feeds injustice, prejudices of all sorts which are toxic to modern global citizenships of all sorts, and like matters.

He encourages us not to quickly foreclose on difficult matters, then goes right ahead to tell us that oh by the way, the examination of unfairness or fear or prejudice is closed in regard to our legacy of negative beliefs about queer folks or some other hot button controversy.

He shows little or no understanding of just how much the church traditional is simply becoming a No Go Area for queer folks, diverse Anglican thinking or discernment, and other people associated with hot button differences.

As ABC RW could have given great light in sustenance of Anglican breadth and comprehension and dispersed church life authority. No doubt he would also have gotten great heat.

Instead he gives cover to failing flat earth beliefs about incompetent queer folks.

He smiles while allowing the government to seek just the sort of pluralistic fairness that he cannot abide in church life with queer folks.

Such thinking barely grasps the ways it can be bullied, or that others can be bullied by weaponizing our doctrines. Those who ride powerful campaign tigers may sometimes be eaten alive?

If RW really took Anglican narrowness or unfairness seriously, he could not so blithely (as Giles Fraser notes) have simply given in to the loud people for whom New Hampshire's up close and personal calling of VGR is reduced to invisible-sleazy modern political correctness and/or high offense against them and their flat earth yet very conscientious views of what happened.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 6:10pm GMT

David Bayne asks about "Cruella de Vil's granny". It seems she is Alison Ruoff, a London member of General Synod, and a serial objector. She has stirred up the poo about, inter alia, Charles and Camilla, the Bishop of Salisbury's son's wedding, and Gene Robinson's visit to London in 2005. She is apparently (and unsurprisingly) a member of Reform, as is Col Armitstead.

In other words, it's the usual rent-a-quote lot who are stirring the pot in church circles, with their Sydney-inspired agenda.

Posted by: cryptogram on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 6:34pm GMT

People have been saying such things about the ABCs staff for years. Me included. Which is why, if Andrew Brown is right, and Rowan ignored it and arrogantly went ahead, he is culpable of serious misjudgment. I think he actually is, but its hardly a matter for resigning. We all have weaknesses, and he has rare qualities and strengths in mitigation. He should not need to be told about caution in merely uttering the word sharia. Lambeth needs a clear out of staff, and what Rowan seems not to know, is that the very brightest and best have always been willing and wanting to work there if he asks them.

Posted by: Neil on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 8:10pm GMT

One insight that struck me overnight is the interest in who is upset by Rowan's contemplations.

I'm not surprised to see that the advocates for the unifying covenant to be ratified at the next Lambeth are amongst the most concerned.

You see, what Rowan is obviously playing with in his mind, is the ability to co-operatively juggle multiple governing systems in a cohesive manner.

He is contemplating how secular society manages to juggle Sharia and Jewish orthodox courts amidst a unifying Secular State system.

This parallels what has been happening in Anglicanism.

Rowan's contemplations cover the boundaries of which system should be in governance in which areas and when should a system be imposed upon another and when would that imposition be taken too far or too leniently applied.

This proposed covenant with its ability to gag and then openly attack the "unrepentant" is starting to look more and more like the ring from Lord of the Rings. May we have the wisdom to throw it into the fire before it is fully manifest so that the power brokers do not go more insane with power lust and turn things into an even bigger abomination.

Good on Rowan for looking beyond the surface of things. There is much wisdom to be learnt from this fracas.

Trust God and have faith that Jesus' sacrifice was not for nothing.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 10:22pm GMT

The English Church can rejoice in its episcopate through the ages - numbering as it does so many saints and scholars, prophets and reformers. Today increasing powers are being served up to the episcopate. General Synod is now far from a representative body of the English Church. With increased powers many bishops have become insensitive and unable to relate to the realities in which their clergy and people live. The faithful discover that bishops can be more elephants in a china shop than pastors and leaders in the house of God. Much of this insensitivity lies in the lack of proper counsel or sometimes in deafness to counsel. Increasingly supporting diocesan staff simply promote a bishop's wishes and extravagances - no matter how untimely or even misguided these might be. If Lambeth Palace does not have chaplains and advisors who are realistically experienced and vibrantly connected to the realities outside its walls then this and future archbishops will have ever-deepening problems. The press reports encapsulate a deep and saddening development of remoteness, a development all too familiar in the Roman and Eastern traditions. Naivety about Islam has always been a weakness in the academic west. This is not the season for any bishop to be ill-advised or distant from critical advice. It is Lent when we can reasonably pray that bishops will fast and look to Jesus and call him more closely into our midst to help us live more deeply in love with the fulfilment of the Law and with an extension to the Law.

Posted by: Canon Ian Sherwood on Sunday, 10 February 2008 at 7:39am GMT

Martin, I'm sorry you didn't like my piece. The start, which originally contained a vulgar but illuminating joke, was cut in the interests of taste. Apart from that, I didn't see a great deal new to say.

I do want to defend the people at Lambeth who talked to me. They were extremely anxious not to say that their advice had been over-ruled. They are honourable people. But they are not nuts. The reaction to his interview, and perhaps to his speech as well was completely obvious and wholly predictable. As Vallely has just said on the radio, there are words that work like flashcards, sharia among them. The press secretary who fails to see this should -- I'm afraid -- be sacked.

But the more I look at this row, the worse it reflects on Rowan. Sorry. I know that in this shitstorm his friends will rally round him, because he has been unjustly pilloried. But politics is a rough trade and he brought it on himself. And, yes, it was political to suggest changes to the law.

Posted by: acb on Sunday, 10 February 2008 at 7:53am GMT

You are right Andrew, in that the more time there is to reflect it gets no better for the ABC. However it is not a resigning matter. I would prefer to see some acknowledgement from Rowan that his serious and sensible critics (who outweigh the barmy Sun bash the bishop crowd) have gunned his ideas down comprehensively. It is called humility. And hopefully the more disturbing issues concerning the hysteria regarding the concept of sharia might then be looked at.

Posted by: Neil on Sunday, 10 February 2008 at 10:23am GMT

My comment above should end: "It is Lent when we can reasonably pray that bishops will fast and look to Jesus and call him more closely into our midst to help us live more deeply in love with the fulfilment of the Law and NOT with an extension to the Law."

Posted by: Canon Ian Sherwood on Sunday, 10 February 2008 at 12:52pm GMT

" us live more deeply in love with the fulfilment of the Law and NOT with an extension to the Law"


Let's apply that same principle to the ridiculous new covenant some are proposing.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Sunday, 10 February 2008 at 7:31pm GMT

The Jupiter weighs in with great pomposity, megaphoning the patricidal wishes of AofC wannabes! The storm will soon subside, since it does not bear on any issue of importance to church life.

It is a pity that Britain lacks the European tradition of Separation of Church and State, so that instead of arguing on those premises people reach back to atavistic attitudes to Islam (or to Romanism).

It seems to me that the only guarantee of religious and ethical freedom churches and religions should ask is that of conscientious objection -- a purely negative refraining from acts the conscience deems immoral (along with the usual guarantees against coercion in religious matters or undue restrictions on religious practice and mission). I think the Roman and Anglican churches should not be seeking any more substantial political power or independence.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Monday, 11 February 2008 at 6:08am GMT

The Church Times article linked to by Hugh of Lincoln (and in the post above this) by Giles Fraser closes: “Some will rub their hands together in angst, and bleat about how terribly difficult the whole thing is. Actually, no, it is not difficult. When Jesus says that he seeks to draw all people to himself, all means all.”

But not to late modern anti Modern Bible translators.

They claim that Aramaic does not have a word “all”, but instead use the word “many” for “all”. So they translate the words of Institution “for many”; not “for all”. Excluding the riff-raff.

Only, the words of Institution are Greek…

Just one of those things that happen in anti Modern Academia.

;= O

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 13 February 2008 at 8:18am GMT
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