Thinking Anglicans

Rowan Williams speaks

Updated Monday morning

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke at the Edinburgh international book festival today.

Charlotte Higgins has a comprehensive report in The Guardian: Rowan Williams tells ‘persecuted’ western Christians to grow up.

Christians in Britain and the US who claim that they are persecuted should “grow up” and not exaggerate what amounts to feeling “mildly uncomfortable”, according to Rowan Williams, who last year stepped down as archbishop of Canterbury after an often turbulent decade.

“When you’ve had any contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word very chastely,” he said. “Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. ‘For goodness sake, grow up,’ I want to say.” …

Asked if he had let down gay and lesbian people, he said after a pause: “I know that a very great many of my gay and lesbian friends would say that I did. The best thing I can say is that is a question that I ask myself really rather a lot and I don’t quite know the answer.” …

Other papers concentrate on just one topic each.

Hannah Furness in The Telegraph ‘Persecuted’ British Christians need to ‘grow up’, says former Archbishop Rowan Williams

Scott Roberts in Pink News Rowan Williams: My gay friends think I let them down as Archbishop of Canterbury

Ekklesia Ex-archbishop feels he may have let down LGBT people

Update 1

Catriona Webster in the Cambridge News Western Christians who feel persecuted should ‘grow up’, says former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

Update 2

Rowan Williams has clarified some of his remarks in a letter to The Guardian.

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Leonardo Ricardo
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Not to worry Dr. Williams, your Anglican Covenant campaign was soundly defeated in the dioceses of England and sidetracked-to-oblivion elsewhere…at least, we don’t have to worry about being persecuted or prosecuted (too much) at Church. Our sisters and brothers in Christ who happen to be LGBTI human beings are safe from you now.

Ease up on yourself, we don’t want you to feel ¨thick skinned¨ anymore just because you let me/we/us down.

Pluralist
Guest

He was an institution man, and not only that but justified his ‘Church first – Church always’ approach via inventive high Catholic theology that focused on bishops like himself. He asked gay people to sacrifice themselves: pray for them, he said, but pray even more for the Anglican Communion. He asks when he could have been more constructive. Well, on those terms, never. He was obsessed with the Covenant and saw to it that the propaganda was all one way, but wiser people lower down saw through it and inflicted the defeat that institution men like him need. I wrote… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

We should just “grow up.” Here are examples where our gay teens didn’t get the chance to grow up.: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/07/michele-bachmann-teen-suicide http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2096922/9-student-suicides-Michele-Bacmanns-Minnesota-linked-anti-gay-bullying.html http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/gay-bullying-statistics.html http://abcnews.go.com/US/gay-teen-suicide-sparks-debate/story?id=11788128 http://www.lambda.org/youth_suicide.htm Rowan Williams thinks teen suicide is “mild discomfort?” What an outrage against humanity that man is. The murder of gay activists in Africa, Russia, and gay people on the streets of New York is “mild discomfort?” Let alone the beatings. That isn’t persecution? As an adult, my experience has been to lose jobs despite excelling in my field. I’d be homeless, or horrifically impoverished if I didn’t have family. So for those without means, this discrimination… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Here’s good assessment of the persecution of LGBT persons in the US, many being the Western Christians that Rowan Williams characterizes as merely suffering “mild discomfort.” Scroll to the bottom to see the people killed and assaulted. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_violence_against_LGBT_people_in_the_United_States Would Mr. Williams like to talk to the families of Mark Carson, Matthew Shepherd, et al? Would he explain that their murders were “mild discomfort” because they didn’t happen in India or Uganda? I wonder how he would comfort the families of the teenagers who killed themselves because local Christians revoked anti bullying policies designed to protect LGBT teens? Would he explain… Read more »

magistra
Guest

Cynthia, I think you’ve seriously misunderstood what Williams was saying. The people he was telling to ‘grow up’ were western *Christians* who claim they are being ‘persecuted’ (including, implicitly, those who say that it’s ‘persecution’ when they get prosecuted for homphobic behaviour). He was contrasting this with places where Christians are in danger of their life because they are Christians. Williams does not say *anything* about gay people needing to grow up. He does shilly-shally about the question of whether he’s let them down, when the answer’s clearly yes, but he is not saying negative things about them in this… Read more »

Fr John E. Harris-White
Guest
Fr John E. Harris-White

I was fortunate to be present at the Edinburgh Festival, and heard both from Rowan and Julia Neuberger who were excellent, and honest with each other. First I would reiterate what Julia said. it was much easier for the Liberal Reformed Jews to come to an inclusive decision on Same sex marriage. As an aside she said many of the Rabbis were Gay anyway. For Rowan he had the Anglican Communion, and the Lambeth Civil Service. But this does not let him off the hook. He looked very sad, and I believe it is hurt he will live with for… Read more »

David
Guest
David

Cynthia
Our former Archbishop may have all the failings you list. But he was plainly not intending the challenge to ‘grow up’ to be addressed to the vulnerable community you speak for and belong to. Quite the reverse. He is saying to people being mildly inconvenienced ‘there are people out there who are being seriously persecuted’.

But – ‘What an outrage against humanity that man is.’ Please. This honours no one.

Craig Nelson
Guest
Craig Nelson

I just guess with Rowan it was not given to him to play a heroic role in such matters but simply to hold together an Anglican Communion disintegrating in his hands. He did this with moderate success but was aware (probably) he wouldn’t get many thanks from history. Sometimes we are so overloaded with great men and women of history, the people who just hold things together tend not to get much praise.

Laurence
Guest
Laurence

It’s easy to get the wrong end of the stick when emotionally involved and hurting as Lgbti Anglcians are and do. Yes, my reading is that Williams is speaking out about those Christians – a handful of anti-gay MPs, a few peers like lords Dear & Singh; former archbishops of Canterbury, and of Rochester, and those bodies (‘Christian Institute’et al), which love to go to Court,claiming their Victim Status. (“If we cannot use the law to oppress lgbt it leaves feeling marginalised, and indeed victimised.”) So “grow-up !” is indeed a good retort to them. I have to say, I… Read more »

Leonardo Ricardo
Guest

Thanks for ¨interpreting¨ for us the words of Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and what they may have meant. It seems few are able to understand him, now as before. We *western* hemisphere types are trying as hard as we can to stop the abuse, the discrimination, the marginalizing, the outcasting and the real bodily ongoing danger to LGBT people in Uganda, Nigeria and England, in and outside of Church, and beyond Church. Perhaps Dr. Williams would like to join in this active/real mission of equality questing? Admitting ones errors to God and other human beings would certainly be… Read more »

Christopher
Guest
Christopher

While I too think Cynthia misunderstood, her central point stands. Rowan Williams let down lgbt persons because he never saw us Church, and therefore, as often prosecuted and persecuted members of Christ’s own Body, prosecution and persecution often done by fellow Christians, including by Anglican bishops. In his tenure as ABC he spoke more than once publicly of our need for conversion but he never countenanced that it might be the rest of the Body that needed an attitude adjustment toward those who are lgbt members. He had an opportunity to humanize us, and he chose the institutions of Church… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

David, I got it first from the Guardian, which for better or worse, does look like he’s addressing the vulnerable. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Guardian misrepresented him. Regardless, I’m afraid that the context is Rowan tried to leverage TEC into excluding me and my LGBT brothers and sisters. And to do so to be in unity with human rights abusers in Africa, where LGBT people are being killed and facing real persecution. The abuse has been noted and condemned by the UN and Amnesty International. It hurt then, and it hurts now. I can answer his question. Yes,… Read more »

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Given that Lord Williams is one of the smartest, most intellectual, and most spiritual men to occupy the See of Canterbury in memory, perhaps one might take another look at the strategy of the failed Covenant. Could it be that it was his attempt to placate the troubled fringe, knowing that ultimately the CofE would turn it down? I have always said that he would never allow the Episcopal Church, first daughter of Anglicanism, to be expelled. He left us with our membership and status intact. The Communion was still more or less in one piece when he moved to… Read more »

Nathaniel Brown
Guest
Nathaniel Brown

I thank Cynthia for posting examples of the persecution of LGBTI persons. But I believe Dr. Williams was referring more to the cries of “persecution” we hear from right-wing christianists who are thwarted when they try to persecute others, or enact into law their own fears and prejudices. A good example will be Brian Brown, of NOM, now weeping publicly because the California courts have yet again upheld the right to marry; or Mr. Lively, who has for years traveled around the world (Uganda, Russia) promoting hatred and anti-LGBT legislation – and who now may be subject to a legal… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

One cannot but think that ++Rowan was inordinately influenced by conservative elements in the Church of England – and those now known as the GAFCON Primates – to back down on his own conscientious beliefs about gender and sexuality. The evidence of his seminal publication ‘The Body’s Grace’, written before his election to Canterbury, had given the LGBT community hope for enlightenment on the contentious issues that had dogged the Communion from the time of George Carey’s acceptance of the demands of certain African Primates for a Gay-Free Communion. Being a person who had regard for what he may have… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Andrew, Rowan took Americans off of committees as retaliation for our inclusion. He treated both +Gene and ++Kathrine quite shabbily for the same reasons. He applied all the pressure he had available to get the Western Churches to exclude LGBT persons in order to be in “unity” with human rights abusers in Uganda. It is most sobering to have a religious leader on the wrong side of Amnesty International and UN Human Rights. I don’t believe that Williams held the communion together, I think he fractured it further and did the Communion no favors by coddling Uganda. I suspect that… Read more »

Neil
Guest
Neil

‘The risk of being reduced to an NGO, another woolly, well-meaning liberal thinktank or ambulance service – that’s not a fate I would relish for my church, he said’

Is this a mild warning to Justin Welby about becoming do-gooders re Pay Day Loaners or a warning about the dangers of being sidetracked from the Church’s central mission? Or is he saying something else? I wondered at first if it was a gentle swat towards Justin but am now not sure.

Craig Nelson
Guest
Craig Nelson

One can feel a bit sorry for Rowan. Had Pope Francis used the phrase “my gay friends” the media would have been all over him (in a positive way). Rowan utters the phrase and it serves as a further reminder of the years he was the ABC. I think history will prove a kinder judge. I think he still has a role to play (if he wants to) in helping his successor adapt to the revolution he has identified. The CofE is in a delicate position and there’s a sort of make or break moment in coming to terms with… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“There is therefore still ample opportunity to either thrill or disappoint.”

Of course there is! We’re Christians. We live in hope. Reconciliation and Redemption Are Us (an American reference).

No matter how hurt and angry I get, or anyone else gets, we live in that hope. Even I believe there’s hope for Rowan, he needs to get out more, and listen rather than talk. Perhaps that is the story of our common journey, listening to each other’s stories is where the action is. Stories are the stuff of the Holy Spirit and of Revelation, and ultimately, compassion.

Spirit of Vatican II
Guest
Spirit of Vatican II

He did keep the Anglican communion together, and in that sense could have been the best person at the tiller during those troubled years. Yes, there were some moments when one’s heart sank: Tanzania; Bp Robinson at Lambeth.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

At least, former archbishop Rowan Williams is not afraid to admit his mistakes. We’ve never heard a word of regret for his mistakes from the architect of the current mess in the Communion – Lord Carey! One feels that Rowan was dragged unwillingly into the fray, whereas his predecessor was a willing co-author of the disaster – from which GAFCON was raised up on wings of misplaced enthusiasm for division that need not have occurred. Rowan deserves credit for his personal integrity against overwhelming odds. He never actually repented of “The Body’s Grace”, and he is now probably regretful that… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“He did keep the Anglican communion together.” That remains to be seen. I would say that he raised false expectations among conservatives. And we do not yet know how that mistake will play out. Now that UK law is becoming more liberal on LGBT issues, the CofE is choosing between its culture and its communion. It will of course choose its own culture–as it should. Then the question is how will the Global South react. It would have been one thing if Williams had been forthright, from the day he was installed, about how little power he has over other… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“He did keep the Anglican communion together” Really??? Proof please??? It didn’t look that way from over here (the States). And if African human rights abusers were kept in at the expense of our LGBT people, then that’s a pretty gross injustice. We have 1500 hate crimes per year and too much LGBT teen suicide (exacerbated by “Christians”). Did Rowan keep it together over the bodies of our dead teens? That’s exactly what it looks like. Because all of the perpetrators feel affirmed in their hate by the church, and the likes of Rowan Williams fed their affirmation. If marginalization… Read more »

Dennis (formerly in Chicago)
Guest
Dennis (formerly in Chicago)

Father Ron Smith wrote, “He never actually repented of “The Body’s Grace”…” Well, actually, in that infamous August 2006 interview with Dutch evangelical newspaper Nederlands Dagblad, he was asked why his writings in The Body’s Grace seemed so different than his recent actions. He said, “Twenty years ago I wrote an essay in which I advocated a different direction. That was when I was still a professor, to stimulate debate. It did not generate much support and a lot of criticism — quite fairly on a number of points. What I am saying now is: let us talk this through.… Read more »

Andrew T
Guest
Andrew T

I fear some of us are missing Cynthia’s point. Williams rightly tells spoilt rightwingers to stop whinging about their persecution simply because they are being challenged, but he is apparently blind to the manner in which his leadership was complicit in the real persecution of LGBTI people worldwide. His “gay friends” are the tip of an iceberg that seems only now to be coming into his line of sight.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

RDW held a view that same-sex relationships had a certain potential for good, Christianly speaking. At the time this was regarded as radical, as the quote above indicates. I suspect he thought he was being sympathetic with a new development in the church’s life. But was he ever in favour of something now called ‘marriage equality’? The answer is a clear No. Not then, and not now. Where he may have miscalculated–he could certainly be asked–is that what he regarded as a generous and well thought-out position would in time come to be regarded as offensive, patronising, and ‘not nearly… Read more »

Laurence
Guest
Laurence

Williams’s opinions no longer matter. And as for our varying variations on them ….

Helen
Guest
Helen

Thinking Anglicans? Perhaps Reading Anglicans would have understood Rowan Williams rather better: the Cambridge News makes it absolutely clear who he was talking about. I can’t think why he felt the need to apologise. But he is in fact quite a humble and self critical man; despite all his errors ( and who’s free from them?) I know no one who’s met him who hasn’t liked him. He’s not upper middle class oriented, Cynthia; he’s Welsh lower middle and we’re not classy in Wales. While I share many of the criticisms made of Rowan as ABC I’m really appalled by… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

I would like to be more charitable. But the problem is that Rowan didn’t listen to us and our problems. Without listening or meaningful dialogue, he prioritized human rights abusers above our well being. His proclamations seem utterly disconnected to reality, including the reality of suffering. How does one get through to someone this dense, this sure that his privileged bubble is the story? He needs to see the suffering. It isn’t that hard to walk in his shoes. I have a number of leadership roles, clearly in more humble circumstances. But some of my roles involve children. And there… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

For the record, the gay Americans I’ve talked to took Rowan’s comments the same way I did. It’s inevitable in the context of how we were treated. Also, sometimes there are big differences between British and American English. We each think something is clear to any English speaker, but it isn’t always the case. But interestingly, his letter to the Guardian is a nice gesture, but he still doesn’t get it – “I realise in retrospect how offensive the words might sound to those who suffer bullying for their convictions or whose faith presents them with real and painful dilemmas… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Thank you Helen. Your challenge is absolutely right. Reading Andrew Goddard’s acclaimed biography ‘Rowan Williams: his legacy’ reveals just what an extraordinarily wide ranging and costly job RW undertook on behalf of the church as ABC and the personal faith of transparent depth that somehow sustained him through this largely thankless task. Flawed? Who isn’t? But the measure of his legacy is not for reducing to a single issue – however much we hoped and (still) need something different here.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

RDW in the Guardian is *again* not talking about SS related matters. He is talking about those who are or feel persecuted for being Christian.

John
Guest
John

I think it was always obvious who RW was criticising, and his comments may have some impact on the silly people who allege ‘persecution’ by the liberal state. Indeed, his comments could include those silly people who claim that equal marriage is an assault upon marriage.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“RDW in the Guardian is *again* not talking about SS related matters. He is talking about those who are or feel persecuted for being Christian.”

Only that in Britain the only time Christians scream loudly that they are being persecuted is when they are prohibited from discriminating against gay people.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“I’m really appalled by the tone of some of the contributions above.” For years I was appalled by Dr. Williams’s lack of leadership, his own willingness to discriminate (Jeffrey John, Gene Robinson), and his eagerness to sacrifice the diversity of the Anglican communion on a supposed altar of institutional monolithicity. None of that worked. Much of it was a disaster for the Church of England and for the Communion. And now, ironically enough, Pope Francis is asking “Who am I to judge?” Which suggests that the whole Williams maintain-the-Communion project was built on a wrong premise: that Rome would never… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Further to Jeremy’s comment I’d like to point out that it may be possible to agree that a group of people has to be treated as second class and that their physical abuse in many countries has to be accepted as part of a major Christian unity project. But it is a little much to expect those so treated to see it like that too. Those without a stake in the game may take a longer and more moderate view. Those of us directly and personally affected by the church’s appalling treatment of gay people have the right to be… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Exactly, Jeremy. And Erika, Rowan makes it clear that he was including US and UK Christians. And he has yet to make it clear that he understands that LGBT’s are a vulnerable population and that he made our lot worse.

Rowan was the discriminator in chief of the Anglican Communion. And for those who blow it off as saying he was merely imperfect on one issue, the issue was human rights. It’s pretty bad to be on the wrong side of human rights. It’s pretty bad to contribute to a narrative of suffering.

Clare
Guest
Clare

I have to say that I find Cynthia’s comments about Rowan Williams deeply deeply offensive – and (in my view) deliberately completely misunderstanding what he was seeking to say. I am also appalled by the tone of some of the comments above – I had previously assumed that Thinking Anglicans was a website which encouraged a civilised and moderated discussion of difference – but it would seem it has now changed. I too could tell my story of being treated in a dehumanising and demonic way by a church related organisation (Church Mission Society – which treated me as a… Read more »

Helen
Guest
Helen

This rushing to judgement by some contributors does nothing to enlighten anyone about what Rowan actually did. Cynthia, have you actually read what Rowan said- outside the pages of the Guardian I mean? You still don’t seem to understand who he was talking about. And no, you have not walked in his shoes until you make some effort to understand the choices he faced- which you may well disagree with but which you, even in your pain, ought to consider. Yes Rowan wanted to keep the Communion together. Has it occurred to some of you that he would have no… Read more »

Helen
Guest
Helen

As a postscript to my comment above, contributors convinced of the wickedness of Rowan Williams might care to check out the website below, where Rowan urges sanctuary for gay asylum seekers. He has also condemned the anti-gay rhetoric (and worse) of some African bishops, but I can’t lay hands on the exact quote.
http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/jan/28/archbishop-gay-asylum-seekers

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Sorry you’re offended, Clare. But a number of gay Americans did take offense, and his clarification did not acknowledge the suffering of LGBT people. (I don’t think Rowan was clear enough, and I do think that occasionally there are problems of American and British English not lining up as we expect). Human Rights have never been achieved without people speaking out about the harm that abuse causes. Can you think of one? Domestic violence? Apartheid? Civil Rights? I’m offended that Christians interfered with school anti-bullying policies. A practice that lead to epidemics of teen suicides. And the Church, including the… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Yes, Helen, when Rowan Williams finally realized that Anglican leaders in Africa were fostering a climate that encouraged the murder of gay people, he at long last spoke up.

In the ninth year of his archbishopric.

Of course by that point he couldn’t do otherwise and salvage what little moral authority he had left in England.

commentator
Guest
commentator

Lord Williams continues to manipulate by using his academic persona and casting himself in victim mode. Twice in his life he chose to be an archbishop, of Wales and of Canterbury. He is one of the most ruthless clerics you could ever experience. He makes very considered choices as to whom he ‘consults’ or commissions with tasks. He engineers the answers he wants, where ever possible. He has ‘risen’ from his humble, middle class background and is now enjoying (as he has before) a splendid life style, a comfortable income, and positions of significance. Should one not admire his skill… Read more »

Clare
Guest
Clare

I am afraid Cynthia that I found your initial comment about Rowan Williams ‘What an outrage against humanity that man is’ … totally unacceptable. Untrue, profoundly offensive, and I am afraid so misguided that it undermines most of the rest of what you say. It was very clear to anyone who read Rowan’s comments and who had followed the concerns he had expressed in his archepiscopate that what he was doing was contrasting the appalling and difficult situations in some parts of the world where Christians are a persecuted minority eg Pakistan with the situation particularly in the UK where… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Clare, I’m surprised that you believe that Thinking Anglicans is not the right forum to discuss the hurt people suffer at the hands of other Christians. To me, one of the hallmarks of liberal theology is that it looks at the effect lived out theology has on real people’s lives. Sometimes, what sounds pure and simple and true in theory turns out to be hurtful and damaging in real life. By their fruit shall you tell them, we are told. That has to be the ultimate test for everything we do and believe. How can we account for the effects… Read more »

badman
Guest
badman

Lord Williams’ fondness for ambivalence was a function of his intelligence and humility.

But I think his own reported comments here recognise that he must account above all for his actions. Where did he leave undone those things that he ought to have done and do those things which he ought not to have done…

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Well who would be a leader?
This is merciless.
Much harder to accept is that one of the most significant factors in the success or failure of leaders are the impossible and contradictory needs and expectations of the ‘followers’ they inherit with the job. That’s us.
I find myself pondering what ‘growing up’ means as a follower in such a conflicted church.

Veuster
Guest
Veuster

IMHO the most telling comment on RW’s archiepiscopate is to be found here:

http://www.bartleby.com/246/645.html

Helen
Guest
Helen

You are absolutely right Clare. Rowan’s comments were perfectly clear, and I suspect Cynthia knows it: it’s been pointed out often enough. But it’s easier to blame this demon figure of her imagination, Rowan Williams, than admit her mistake, because otherwise she might find herself having to apologise for her wholly unacceptable language. Cynthia’s egregious verbal diarrhoea aside, what strikes me about Rowan’s dettractors here is the blinkered nature of their judgements and their sheer arrogance! Have none of you read Jesus’ warnings about judgement? Rowan is being judged on his record on one thing alone (without any sense either… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Helen, here is a link to an epidemic of LGBT teen suicides that was caused by local Christians forcing the school system to remove anti-bullying protections from LGBT teens: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/07/michele-bachmann-teen-suicide This was reported because Bachmann was one of those tea party Republicans, it has happened in a number of school districts. I didn’t say Rowan was directly connected, I said that he contributed to the narrative that gays must be excluded, i.e. we are not created in the image of God the same as straights. Those “Christians” most certainly used the Bible and the example of the major churches and… Read more »