Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Archbishop: Human Rights and Religious Faith

The Archbishop of Canterbury delivered a lecture yesterday at the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Centre in Geneva.

WCC news announcement.

The full text of the lecture is here.

The Lambeth Palace press release is also accompanied by the full text of the lecture (scroll down).

This has led to a number of media reports:

ENI via ACNS Archbishop of Canterbury links human rights to faith

Reuters Archbishop of Canterbury steps into U.N. gays row

Daily Mail Why it would be wrong to legalise gay marriage, by the Archbishop of Canterbury

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 at 9:00am GMT | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation

Admirable stuff. The Archbishop is arguing for negative rights as opposed to positive 'entitlement' rights which can drive a culture before it is ready to change.

I broadly agree with that. Where I disagree is in the tendency to make everything about human rights and to deny the 'political'. Hence in the B&B case people talk about it as a human rights case which it largely isn't (i.e. as a case of competing human rights which is where we get the obsession with trumping).

The 'political' is the barrometer by which one can measure whether a culture is changing or not and laws passed (whilst they must be compliant with human rights) exist in their own sphere.

In political action the group aggrieved takes its opinions to opinion formers and parties to get legislative action as opposed to taking them to judges to get a human rights ruling.

Apart from this caveat I found the speech very thought provoking (++Rowan's style is of course well known).

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 at 11:30am GMT

Bishops speak with forked tongues.

Posted by: Counterlight on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 at 11:54am GMT

Rowan Williams is saying the opposite of what he proclaimed for years.

I personally heard him say the very opposite-- that is, be very supportive of gay couples in a talk he gave to gay ministers of the Church of England at the Royal Foundation of St Katherine.

I challenge him to explain himself to us all - we have a right to know why he has chopped and changed, don't we ?

Or let him denounce me and what I have said.

I have about a hundred witnesses !

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 at 4:00pm GMT

And I thought it was about shopping and consuming:

Posted by: Pluralist on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 at 4:21pm GMT

"If it is said, for example, that a failure to legalise ... same-sex marriage ... perpetuates stigma or marginalisation for some people, the reply must be, I believe, that issues like stigma and marginalisation have to be addressed at the level of culture rather than law, the gradual evolving of fresh attitudes in a spirit of what has been called 'strategic patience' by some legal thinkers."

From an American legal point of view, this statement is pure, unadulterated rubbish. In the late 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court found the bar on marriages between members of different races to be unconsitutional at time that American public opinion and culture overwhelmingly disapproved of such marriages. But that's one of the key things that the law does -- protect minority groups from the oppression of the majority.

The inter-racial couple involved in that case had been arrested and criminally prosecuted. So were they supposed to passively rot in jail with "strategic patience" until "the gradual evolving of fresh attitudes" sprung them out?

And what about the Gospel? Should that follow culture as well?

Williams also puts himself into an untenable position. What happens when the culture changes? If the majority of people believe that same-sex couples should marry, does that mean the law has the right to provide for it? If the U.K. isn't there yet (and that's debatable), it's certainly going to be there in 5-10 years. What is Williams going to say then?

Posted by: dr.primrose on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 at 7:16pm GMT

Well, now.

The ABC says, on the one hand, "The existence of laws discriminating against sexual minorities as such can have no justification in societies that are serious about law itself."

The ABC says, on the other hand, "The law has no right to legalise same-sex marriage."

The ABC speaks with forked tongue. Either laws prohibiting marriage between loving, committed same-sex couples "have no justification in societies that are serious about law itself," or they do.

I gather that the ABC thinks England is not serious about law. And he supports that, so long as the act of blatant hypocrisy is about gay folks.

This ABC will be remembered as a man of charm, learning, and rhetorical sophistication, and as a man without the courage of his own convictions.

But we knew that, didn't we, after the multiple debacles with Jeffrey John.

Posted by: jnwall on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 at 7:26pm GMT

From the Daily Mail article:
"Dr Williams’s statement means the Prime Minister now knows he will face opposition from the liberal-minded leadership of the Church of England – as well as its determined traditionalists"

Ain’t it grand when conservatives and liberals can come together in unity and fellowship?
At the UN, we've also seen heart-warming moments of traditionalist Christians, fundamentalist Muslims, and orthodox Jews having marshmallow-toasting-by-the-campfire-singing-Kumbaya moments.
It would make one think there was hope for humanity ...
Except the unifying moments come at the expense of GLBT folks. Or women.
But, that’s a minor detail, right?
Tom Lehrer, writer of the song "National Brotherhood Week", would have understood.
Archbishop Williams:
Civil marriage for same-sex couples does not compel any religious authority to do anything. But, if you see animosity towards GLBT English couples seeking a church wedding as a way of keeping conservative and liberal CofE folk in the same church, I feel sorry for you.

Posted by: peterpi - Peter Gross on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 at 7:48pm GMT

For a few years now, I have been working on the understanding that +Rowan Williams is or has become homophobic in his actions and his failures to act. We are all too familiar with +RW's very poor leadership which has had the effect of throwing the equality of LGBT persons in the Church and in civil society, along with our very lives and safety, "under the bus" in a vain and feckless attempt to "hold together" the Anglican Communion and move it towards being recognized as an international Church.

Today, the weakness and prevarication of +RW's leadership has passed a point of no return. Finally, +RW has found his strength. As Archbishop of Canterbury, +RW strongly opposes marriage equality in England and he has the temerity to say that same sex marriages will "never" be celebrated in Anglican Churches. With the grandiosity that barely cloaks his abysmal failure of moral leadership on the matter of the lives, safety, and human rights of his LGBT sisters and brothers, +RW postures as some kind of "Anglican pope" who imagines that his words trump future Synods of the CofE, future Lambeth Conferences, and future Archbishops.

Please, let us hear no more special pleading for +RW, who was once a trendy liberal don. Under his once liberal veneer, there is nothing that would be of value to any LGBT person in the Church and much that continues to threaten us now. The wind has now picked up speed and it is blowing in a different direction. +RW is no longer a friend to LGBT persons, if ever he was one. He and his ministry preside in weakness over bullying, and exclusion of LGBT persons from the Sacraments of the Chruch. +RW is only strong when he stands against LGBT persons now.

If I were a member of the the LGBT communities in England (I am such in the US) and a priest in the CofE, I would speak clearly now about this betrayal of many of his people by +RW and call for his resignation. I hope that Cameron's government recognizes what they are facing in the coming months from +RW's grand stand against equality and that they move to do the same thing. Let this be RW's swan-song. What a legacy from such a tragically flawed person - from an elite educator to a bully.

Posted by: karen macqueen+ on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 at 8:45pm GMT

The ABC is quite right in much of what he says about the importance of human rights. Paradoxically, he is the main proponent of the so called Anglican Covenant which would give constitutional legitimacy to a bias against full inclusion of GLBT persons in The Communion.

Reminds one of a previous Pope (John Paul) who voiced support for human rights,while engaging in special pleading for his denomination on "theological grounds".

One wonders if anyone is listening when leaders of religious institutions lecture others about human rights while eloquently excusing them in their own venue.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 3:11am GMT

With Archbishop Rowan 'Stepping into' the UN row about Gays; one wonders whether he is issuing an Invitation to a 'Hoe-Down - with the Gay Gordons".

His lecture in Geneva to the WCC is another landmark sign of the ABC's willingness to enter into the landscape of Human Rights in the light of Faith.

This all sounds a bit more like the Rowan we once knew - boding well for his instinctive leadership on matters where recognition of Human Dignity is one of the hallmarks of religious identity.

Let's hope that Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda, and other GAFCON Churches take not of his comments.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 3:42am GMT

Having just praised Archbishop Rowan Williams for his speeches to the U.N. and the W.C.C. on Human Rights and Faith, I have since read another link on this thread re the Archbishop's statement about Gay Marriage:

"Dr Williams’s statement means the Prime Minister now knows he will face opposition from the liberal-minded leadership of the Church of England – as well as its determined traditionalists – if he continues on the track towards legalised gay marriage." - article -

I'm not so sure that the ABC's statement here does actually represent the 'liberal-minded' leadership of the Church of England - not if we consider the latest opinion of the Bishop of Salisbury. Bishop Nick Holtam is prepared to challenge the ABC on this issue, and why should he not?

The Marriage of Same-Sex Partners would have no deleterious effect on the marriage of heterosexual partners. In fact, it may, on the other hand, become a model of faithful monogamous partnership - as opposed to the current do-si-do, change partners, ethos of conventional Marriage.

What is needed is overt encouragement for both straight and same-sex couples to bear witness to constant faithfulness that a Christian Marriage ought to afford in a monogamous relationship.

The Apostle Paul once said: "It is Better to marry than burn!" This may be equally applicable to Gays as well as Straight relationships. The loving, faithful commitment is all.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 4:10am GMT

I didn't like the RW speech at all. It seems to me that a church leader can argue like this within a church context but should not do so within the public sphere. There's far too little acknowledgement of the vital importance of the separation of church and state. Sacks is far more principled on this, devoted as he is to the C of E as an established church.

On the specific issue of 'attitudes' vs law, dr. primrose is absolutely right, and the same has been true in the UK. Since RW must know this, there is a serious question about his 'bona fides' here.

Posted by: John on Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 1:18pm GMT

This speech is consistent with the one given about Sharia Law. It is that on a universal level, there is no case for discrimination in law, but that people live in cultures and religions (in particular) make claims for universal ethics, and feed these into culture. Therefore the actual making of equality depends upon culture, and of course by saying this he is reserving a right and place for religion but in a plural setting.

Individuals are not to be trapped by religious authorities. It *is* enough to say that we all suffer pain, pleasure and have self-cosciousness, enjoy the social and cultural, and so there are grounds for universality in the human experience. That's the basis for equal coupling law.

Religions only provide customs and taboos; he is using the postmodern form of pluralism to allow in premodern forms of compulsion in custom.

Posted by: Pluralist on Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 4:14pm GMT

I believe Archbishop Williams has many fine qualities as a human being and yet he fails so dramatically when it comes to his support of a Covenant and the ridiculous and double sided statements on same-sex marriage. I believe he is much too afraid of the far right voices in the CofE. Very sad that he sends double messages because many of us find it difficult to respect his positions in light of what it does to the glbt community. He could be blamed for trying to disenfranchise the progressive voices in the CofE while bending over backwards to accommodate the opinions of the Right.

Posted by: Chris Smith on Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 4:24pm GMT

The good archbishop reminds me somewhat of the Head master (sic)in the film

P'tang, Yang, Kipperbang,

who opines to a lad that he "doesnt believe in corporal punishment" as he canes him with vigour !

Whether it's guile, loss of selfhood's agency or whatever, I have no idea. Needs to go into analysis at the least.

But meantime I have lost all interest in the sayings of Rowan Williams.(A condition reached by a painful, involuntary route, not of my choosing).

I have found so many liberal Christians in positions of leadership have acted similarly over the years -- i.e. supportive in theory, but turn-coat and run (or worse) when the proverbial hits the fan. Words alone are so cheap.

I see from photographs that he has recently started to wear purple, rather than the black he used to wear. I think this is a sign of something in him having hardened.

Meanwhile, the Church of England has lost all credibility for me, and with me.

Posted by: Mary Marriott on Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 4:28pm GMT

I do here disagree with negative reactions to this surely seminal speech/lecture.

I don't read it as an attack on marriage equality at all - if anything he lays out the philosophical foundations for it (he may or may not be aware of this).

His elucidation of an opposition to criminalisation and discrimination are very forthright and equally helpful.

I admit that the prose is "dense". You have to read this over several times to penetrate the text, and having done so I have points of quibble and critique - I think the speech calls for dialogue, engagement and critique.

By way of critique I think dr. primrose gets to the nub of things as regards marriage equality.

I think that this speech is actually very important though, in a very deep manner.

I have read it twice and find it more positive on the second reading. If you can't bear to read it (I wouldn't blame you) I think the Reuters is the closest to represent its meaning in my view.

Bearing in mind this speech is given to the WCC helps to underscore its ground breaking importance. In the UK and US we are largely thinking about marriage equality whereas in Jamaica, Uganda, Nigeria and India the debate is precisely about decriminalisation, persecution and protection from discrimination at a more basic level (as addressed in this speech).

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 9:46pm GMT

Of course, if you never used laws to "force unwanted change on the rest of the nation," Africans would still be slaves, Roman Catholics could neither vote nor hold office, Manchester would have no representation in Parliament, and you couldn't marry your deceased wife's sister.
On the other hand, you'd still be defending your loyal colonists here in America from the French, which would serve you right.

Posted by: Steve Lusk on Thursday, 1 March 2012 at 11:48pm GMT

>> Dr Williams said in his speech that same-sex marriage law was wrong because it tried to impose cultural change.

LOL. And what is his opinion on the 16th laws that formed the Church of England by banning any other religious practice hah! too funny.

Posted by: Randal Oulton on Friday, 2 March 2012 at 2:03am GMT

Mr. Williams fails the so-what test. Why should anyone care about the gap between civil law and religion? If the discourse of universal human rights is to be applied equally to all similar situations, then it ought not have any relation to any particular religion. He seems to want to have his cake and eat it too. This is the same person who wants to say he is a universalist but justifies sharia law.

Let Parliament and not the C of E legislate on assisted suicide and civil marriage equality.

"And so we face the worrying prospect of a gap opening up between a discourse of rights increasingly conceived as a universal legal ‘code’ and the specific moral and religious intuitions of actual diverse communities."

Gary Paul Gilbert

Posted by: Gary Paul Gilbert on Friday, 2 March 2012 at 5:08am GMT

Yes, Rowan seems to have tied TA commentators in knots!

Time to go back to the text, and to the WCC context, I think.

At this time The RC Church (still only collaborating with the WCC) and the Orthodox Community along with fundamentalist and evangelical churches throughout the world are fighting (successfully in many places - Hungary recently) to have gay marriage constitutionally outlawed. In Russia the Church is collaborating with regional governments to pass legislation (St Petersburg) that UK readers might understand as a thermo-nuclear version of Clause 28. In many places churches are at the forefront of a national outpouring of homophobia.

So I would argue there was hardly a sympathetic face in the audience.

As to the text ..... nuance rules as ever in a Rowan Williams piece - as is clear from the differing headlines.The actual delivery would have added even further nuance to the piece we see in print.

I can see why everyone might argue what they have said above, though some might have been more moderate had further consideration been given to the make-up of the gathering.

One complaint is the claim he makes that the Communion has a good track record on defending people against criminalisation. It is just not true. Apart from the usual suspects of Uganda and Nigeria, the church in Singapore was calling for the criminalisation of lesbianism shortly after agreeing to the Dromantine Anathema.

A recent conversation with Gregory Cameron reminded me of how blind these guys are to information that doesn't help their case. He showed genuine amazement that his friend John Chew should have been party to this - yet several years ago I drafted the letters to the ACO and Lambeth giving the detailed information on this outrage.

Still, it makes a nonsense of the claim Rowan is making and while there has been some attempt to support decriminalisation in places like the West Indies - even then it is lacking in enthusiasm and often contradicted by individual bishops and priests.

As to gay marriage, I think we will see a lot less nuanced but angst ridden piece soon.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 2 March 2012 at 9:01am GMT

'A sophisticated rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity'

Posted by: toby forward on Friday, 2 March 2012 at 10:19am GMT

The Archbishop is actually examining the tendency to confound individual liberty rights with claim rights upon others.

He uses the word 'recognition' to define liberty rights by which the State protects expressions of individuality from the tyranny of unfair opposition: 'From one point of view, therefore, human rights has to do with the individual person, establishing the status of the person as something independent of any society'
However, he contrasts these rights with claim rights: 'The fundamental point is not so much that every person has a specific set of positive claims to be enforced'. His point about the mistake in treating the ‘right’ to work (Article 23 of the Universal Declaration) as part of a universally enforceable claim on society is well made.

The Archbishop is correct to highlight the fact if a claim on society is established by legislative fiat without reciprocal conditions; such a claim may inadvertently sacrifice the protection of others.

The State already imposes reciprocal conditions upon those who want to terminate a pregnancy legally. It also establishes age, plurality, kinship and consummation conditions for participants to a valid marriage.

Claim rights, such as the ‘right’ to marry, ‘right’ to die, or ‘right’ to terminate a pregnancy are claims made on the rest of society for validity, communal support and endorsement. They must have reciprocal conditions.

The Archbishop makes a strong case that claims on society should be conditioned by reciprocal claims on those who demand them.

Posted by: David Shepherd on Saturday, 3 March 2012 at 6:41pm GMT


Not sure why my last post to this thread was not published. Perhaps, an overzealous SPAM filter.

ED: retrieved from Junk along with several earlier ones from you...

Posted by: David Shepherd on Monday, 5 March 2012 at 9:16am GMT
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