Thinking Anglicans

The Tab meets… Rowan Williams

The Tab is a student online newspaper which functions at many UK universities.

The Tab Cambridge has this feature article in which the “Current Master of Magdalene and ex-Archbishop of Canterbury talks to JAMIE WEBB about homosexuality, gender equality, and those Game of Thrones rumours…”

Read it all at The Tab meets… Rowan Williams.

The question and answer getting the most media attention is copied below. But there are others.

On the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage, do you consider your own views and those of the church as being out of touch with the views of your students at Cambridge, and do you think that’s a problem?

I think it is quite a problem. This is the one area where there is the deepest sense of the church being out of step with what the rest of the culture take for granted. I think it’s quite difficult for some people outside of the church to recognise that there is something in the matter of several thousand years of assumption, reflection and ethical practice here which isn’t likely to be overturned in a moment. But, all that being said, I think the church has to put its hands up and say our attitude towards gay people has at times been appallingly violent. Even now it can be unconsciously patronising and demeaning, and that really doesn’t help. We have to face the fact that we’ve deeply failed a lot of gay and lesbian people, not only historically but more recently as well. I think that there is a very strong, again theological, case for thinking again about our attitudes towards homosexuality: but I’m a bit hesitant about whether marriage is the right category to talk about same sex relation, and I think there is a debate we haven’t quite had about that. But in a sense that’s water under the bridge, the decision has been taken, things move on. Looking back over my time as Archbishop I think that’s what most people will remember about the last ten years: ‘oh, he was that bloke who was so bogged down in issues about sexuality’.

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Cynthia
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Cynthia

This is a good start. A healing acknowledgement of the hurt. I hope he comes around on marriage, but perhaps in time.

Fr Paul
Guest
Fr Paul

“things move on” but the Church doesn’t.
Acknowledgement maybe, repentance not.
Even the South African Dutch Reformed Church has repented over Apartheid. Is it too much to hope that once day the Church of England might repent over its attitude towards LGBT people rather than just acknowledging that it is ‘wicked’ to quote his successor?

JCF
Guest
JCF

“I’m a bit hesitant about whether marriage is the right category to talk about same sex relation, and I think there is a debate we haven’t quite had about that.”

Same-sex couples have SO MOVED ON from your hemming&hawing. *Perhaps* there are discussions to be had re the future of the institution of marriage *as a whole* (why are so few heterosexuals availing themselves of it?). But really, Rowan, this sort of [gonna say it] Concern Trollery aimed *at* LGBTs? No. No way. Marriage equality NOW!

peterpi - Peter Gross
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peterpi - Peter Gross

“Even now it can be unconsciously patronising and demeaning”

Yes, former ABC Williams, it is. And, as far as I’m concerned, you were part of that. It was sooo much easier to put GLBT people and their concerns and issues with the Church in the corner closet, while you tried to make nice with the arch-conservatives. It was so much easier to tell TEC (USA), to shut up and sit down to appease the same arch-conservatives, and where did it get you, really?
I realize being ABC these days is a balancing act, but you always seemed to tilt towards one faction.

Leonardo Ricardo
Guest

Dr. Williams keeps missing the point when trying to make himself understand his cowardly behavior (he was wrong when facing down those who would outcast others at Church)…dead wrong, in Uganda at the All-Africa Bishops Conference in Etebbe, Uganda and dead wrong when pushing his pompus anglican curia plot in the lgbt blood drenched waters of Jamaica at ACC meeting. Two wrong, or more, don’t make a right. Period.

Randal Oulton
Guest
Randal Oulton

>> Finally, there’s a quite well known story doing the rounds about a conversation you had with a student in Sainsbury’s…is it true?

I wonder if he and his wife are the Sainsbury’s sort.

Linda Woodhead
Guest
Linda Woodhead

By “the church” I think he means “me and other church leaders”.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

By “the church” I think he means “me and other church leaders”.

Thank you, Linda, that point is worth making and will need to continue to be made in the coming discussions around Civil Partnerships etc.

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

I don’t recall seeing Lord Williams of Oystermouth seated on the benches reserved for peers in the House of Commons when the Equal Marriage Bill was being DEBATED. He did literally poke his head round the door to catch the brief contribution from his successor and then vanished when the Lords spent two days with some 100 speeches DEBATING the second reading of the Bill …….. Nor was he anywhere to be seen during Committee stages ……… I believe that the Church of England Synod did not debate either the principle or letter of the Bill but as he had… Read more »

commentator
Guest
commentator

What is so amazing is the way that Lord Williams manages to distance himself from any of this behaviour. He had the chance to redress the balance and he chose NOT to. His actions added to the ‘patronising and demeaning’ behaviour and one may also dare to say the ‘violence’ against LBGT people. In his own Province he never once acted with the sort of integrity he is now calling for.

Were he to repent, many would forgive. When he reportedly speaks this way, many will simply be angry and sad.

rjb
Guest
rjb

Given that Sainsbury’s is by far the closest supermarket to Magdalene, Randal, I’d imagine he and his wife probably shop there much of the time. As do most Cambridge students. There’s a Waitrose and a Tesco Express in the Kite, but it’s a rather along way from the colleges, and I doubt even Dr Williams’ harshest critics could be unmoved by the mental picture of the man tottering on a bicycle down East Road, groceries slung precariously around his handlebars…

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Does everyone here forget the ‘poisoned chalice’ given to Rowan after the collusion of his predecessor with some of the vociferous African Primates – on their rejection of homosexuals in the Church? I suspect that Rowan may not have fully understood the extent of the burden he would be carrying in his new post. His task, as he saw it, was to keep the Communion together under his watch, by maintaining contact with everyone. However, some of us have prayed that, on his return to the less stressful field of academe, Lord Williams might in some way try to reverse… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Fr Ron
what possible relevance can Rowan Williams’s views have to anyone? There is a difference between changing your opinions over the years and forgetting them for a few years while you actually have the chance to make a difference and then reverting to them again when it’s safe again.

Commentator
Guest
Commentator

May I point out to Fr Ron that Lord Williams was an archbishop before he came to Canterbury. He knew what the job entailed. Everywhere else there is constant reference to his high level of intellect, please do not now decide that he lacks the ability to understand the job he chose to accept. When Lord Williams arrived at Canterbury he took extraordinary steps to distance himself from all his former allies in the debate about sexuality. He took tactical decisions to prepare the way for the actions that he already had in mind. It was his misfortune that the… Read more »

Craig Nelson
Guest
Craig Nelson

Martin is entirely correct, we’ve debated plenty. I can’t speak for other websites but TA was abuzz the whole time with passionate and erudite debate. At the end the debate petered out because all had been said and there were two thirds majorities in both Houses of Parliament. In so far as there ever is a debate on this issue it consists of a common sense equality position and a negative religious backlash with lots of scaremongering which the CofE press operation clearly engaged in. The CofE did all it could to enter into the debate at the time RW… Read more »

Richard Ashby
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Richard Ashby

I just wish that Dr Williams would go away and do his soul searching in private, and only re-emerge when he has caught up with the rest of the world.

peterpi - Peter Gross
Guest
peterpi - Peter Gross

Martin Reynolds, thank you for informing this under-informed Yank that Rowan Williams’s current title is Lord Williams of Oystermouth.
I had to Google Oystermouth, and discovered it’s in Wales, near Mumbles.
With full respect for the Welsh people, and my new understanding that Oystermouth is a corruption of a perfectly proper Welsh name, sort of like Texans renaming the Purgatoire River the Picket Wire River, nevertheless, I bet a lot of us feel our MPs — or, for us Yanks, our representatives and senators — all seem to come from Mumbles.

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

It is a least possible (and would be typically sensitive and courteous) that Lord Williams is being careful in how, as the previous Archbishop, he now expresses his opinions in public on issues the church is still working out its policy on. He had own experience of coping with a predecessor who exercised wide freedom to do just that on sensitive matters. What’s more, frustration though it is to watch, I think he is right.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“Fr Ron – what possible relevance can Rowan Williams’s views have to anyone?” – Erika B. –

Well, Erika, maybe Lord Williams’ views were sought by an interested student body in a significant English University. I think that alone is important enough for the Church to take notice – especially as some of its behaviour lately has alienated the young, the future of the Church.

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

David Runcorn reminds us in a timely manner that Lord Williams is kind to old ladies, children and small animals, he is especially kind to Justin Welby. What we recall here is how he threw gay people as a group under a bus when it seemed politic, and betrayed individuals who had shown nothing but loyalty, time and time again. If Williams was, as you suggest, being “careful” then we would have no cause to complain, but here he is being disingenuous and on recent occasions he has been deliberately unhelpful to us in an attempt to bolster his successors… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Fr Ron, yes, students decide to interview a new well known figure who joined their university for their publication. That’s neither here nor there. And yes, some of us here are apparently still interested in what Rowan Williams has to say. Although once his views were reported in the national newspapers, now I’ve only come across this on TA and in the Pink newspaper where it attracted few comments. But, really, his moment of influence has come and gone and he has done with it whatever he saw fit to do with it. The ones who will now alienate people… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

‘Rowan reflects that his time as ABC will be seen as overwhelmed by questions of sexuality.I believe that had he stayed true to his principles this would have been less so’.
Very hard to know what possible evidence you have for this claim Martin Reynolds. All the signs are the subject would have been volatile and painfully divisive led in any direction at this point in the life of the church and society.

badman
Guest
badman

Rowan Williams is no fool and he knows he failed. This quote – not in Simon’s extract – is striking: “It may be culturally a bit difficult for some people to say ‘I’m a Christian’, partly because people will then say ‘Oh, you’re some sort of homophobic, misogynistic reactionary are you?’ which isn’t very encouraging.” Rowan Williams’ three great failures were: his failure to extricate the Church of England from homophobia, his failure to get the women bishops legislation through, and his failure to pass the Anglican Covenant. Of these, only the third did no damage with the public. But… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Justin Welby, not someone I admire greatly because he voted for the fatal amendment, nevertheless managed to stand up and condemn homophobia and to apologise to gay people for how the church had often behaved towards them. And no international outcry followed, no Primates condemned the lax attitude of the CoE, no mention of any tearing of the fabrics of the Communion. It was always possible to be cautious about gay equality while being very very firm in condemning homophobia. There may be many possible reasons for why Rowan did not do this and why he, possibly inadvertently, fuelled it… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

First I’m told I am commending Lord Williams for being kind to old ladies and small animals. Now, Erika, you suggest I want to exonerate him as a tragic Greek figure (which Greek you do not make clear). I intend nothing of the sort. I am quite clear that Lord Williams, at a particular time in the life of the church, carried the burden of leadership on our behalf. He is now judged by how he discharged it. That is as it should be. I have made clear in other comments that, like others, I wish he had done some… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“Bogged down” indeed. I’d say he still is.

As for responsible followership, it often involves showing the supposed “leaders” which way they ought to lead.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

David, apologies if I misunderstood you. As to leadership and followership, did we not have that discussion in the context of the debates about the Covenant, when a group of people within the Anglican Communion and within the CoE wanted a much more centralised and structured and international system of leadership, whereas the majority of us preferred the existing system and leaving the power of making national decisions with national church governments? And I think the main criticism levied against Rowan Williams is not so much his style of leadership but the fact that he had publicly held one set… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“Organisations can be actually unleadable at times in my experience. So for what it is worth I think we need a discussion, alongside leadership, on what responsible ‘followship’ might look like and require of us.” Rowan punished TEC for inclusion and didn’t speak up against human rights abuses in Africa. That is not a problem of an “unleadable” organization. The more authority he tried to assert, the bigger mess he made of it. His leadership became about power and unity at the expense of conscience. “Followship” in the 21st Century has to be built around consensus. Even a consensus to… Read more »

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

Of course Lambeth wanted to centralize power at Lambeth.

To add to my prior comment, sometimes responsible followership requires that we resist coups d’etat.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“As for responsible followership, it often involves showing the supposed “leaders” which way they ought to lead.” – Jeremy –

Indeed, Jeremy. And this is precisely what happened in the Church of England General Synod that voted against the Anglican Covenant.

However, sadly, sometimes a few souls can wreck the intentions of the majority – like the last vote on Women Bishops in the C. of E. But, I guess that’s the problem associated with only the conservative followers seeking office in G.S.

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

Jeremy: ‘responsible followership often involves showing the supposed “leaders” which way they ought to lead’ I agree but the key words here are ‘responsible’ and ‘showing’ – the latter being a rather benign word for the process of debate we Anglican have ben locked into . And no group of followers ever thinks they are wrong do they? Furthermore if there are four or more groups of followers, all passionate convictions, all ‘responsibly’ trying to tell the leader theirs is the right way to go ….? Fr Ron: ‘I guess that’s the problem associated with only the conservative followers’ Do… Read more »

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

Unless someone can show otherwise, +RDW was never a proponent of same-sex marriage. He has been clear on that point. Those in favor see no principled distinction between Christian charity toward Gays (his consistent view) and same-sex marriage. He does. Anyone is free to disagree, but he has not been inconsistent on this particular point.

June Butler
Guest

Lord Williams says: “I’m a bit hesitant about whether marriage is the right category to talk about same sex relation…” Hmm…why not? In what category would the archbishop suggest if there is to be equality? Lord Williams: “We have to face the fact that we’ve deeply failed a lot of gay and lesbian people, not only historically but more recently as well.” As others have said, there is no acknowledgement of personal responsibility. It’s “the church” over and over. As head of the church, it seems to me that Lord Williams might acknowledge that he played more than a small… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘As head of the church, it seems to me that Lord Williams might acknowledge that he played more than a small role in the failure over the last 10 years.’

I rather suspect that Rowan never thought of himself as ‘head of the church’.

June Butler
Guest

cseitz, the problem is that the church’s idea of consistency denies gay people any form of relationship and any official roles in the church. And as long as a straight people take it upon themselves to tell gay people how they must live, regardless of anything gay people themselves say about their lives, that position is homophobia pure and simple. A wholehearted blessing of Civil Partnerships and opening up all Ministries in the church to civil partnered people would address that problem and would make it at least credible that the only objections are to same sex marriage. You cannot… Read more »

June Butler
Guest

David Runcorn,
what should a liberal following that is absolutely opposed to treating gay people different have looked like? What did groups like Changing Attitude and Inclusive Church do that they should not have done? What did they not do that they should have done?
You seem to think that there has been poor followership. I would be grateful if you could explain a little more what you mean by that.

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

“denies gay people any form of relationship” — again, just to be clear, this is not the position of +RW. He does not believe marriage is ‘any form of relationship’.

Helen
Guest
Helen

Actually Rowan did speak up against human rights abuses in Africa and said they had “no place in Anglicanism” (I’m sorry I can’t give the exact reference.) I certainly wish Rowan had done certain things differently. But judgement (“lack of integrity” etc.) is dangerous (there’s a gospel quote somewhere about that!). One thing that is clear is that Rowan did not think he had a right as Archbishop of Canterbury to impose his own views. From a British point of view this appears mistaken: he was, after all, chosen to some extent because of his expressed views. But he viewed… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

czeitz, there is no full relationship that is sanctioned by the church that gay people could enter into. Sex is officially reserved for marriage and gay people cannot be married. So by definition, the church expects gay people to live reduced lives compared to straight people. I do not recall RW to have lobbied for civil partnerships. On the contrary, I recall him having lobbied against a celibate civil partnered priest and prevented him twice from becoming bishop. So for him, clearly, marriage is not allowed for gay people and even civil partnerships are so suspect that those who have… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Helen, no-one was expecting Rowan to impose anything. He did try – he tried to impose his ideas on how the church should be run on the Americans, completely ignoring or not understanding their church polity. And he did try very hard to impose the Covenant on a reluctant CoE. But let’s leave that aside for now. He did not have to impose gay friendly policies on the Communion – that would have been impossible anyway. And, yes, I accept that on one or two occasions he said human rights abuses had no place in Anglicanism. He did not see… Read more »

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

Ms. Baker, well and good but not my point, e.g., +RDW did not change his mind (“he had publicly held one set of opinions before he became Archbishop of Canterbury”). No, he has been consistent.

June Butler
Guest

cseitz, consistent based on what, though? Most of us, when we first heard that he would become the Archbishop of Canterbury, evaluated him based on what he wrote in The Body’s Grace and based on the strong friendships we knew he had with gay people. Those indications seemed to suggest that he was in support of gay relationships, recognizing their value. In those days, gay marriage was not on the table and no-one even talked about it so he could not have had an opinion on it. But we did think that, following George Carey’s strongly anti-gay period as ABC… Read more »

Helen
Guest
Helen

You focus too much on leaders Erica. The Primates as a body had reached a decision on the Windsor process which Rowan as ABC tried to get TEC to adhere to. TEC had signed up to Windsor , but its interpretation was different from others (and the process of electing bishops would in any case have made Windsor impossible to implement ). It wasn’t imposition of his views, so much as an attempt, possibly misguided and certainly tactless, to implement Windsor. As for imposing the covenant, that’s really rather silly. Yes, he felt strongly about it- he wasn’t alone in… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“Fr Ron: ‘I guess that’s the problem associated with only the conservative followers’
Do you really mean that only conservatives make bad followers?” – Posted by: David Runcorn –

NO. I’m sorry, David, for not making my point clear. What I meant was that it would seem conservatives are in the majority of those seeking to bring their view to the Synodical bodies of the Church. Sadly, most people leave it to the movers and shakers whose interest in in the status quo.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Apologies, I had not realised that June Butler was still logged on TA from my computer when I posted my last comment to cseitz above. Helen, well, yes, our evaluations are always full of pitfalls, even of the motives of those closest to us. That’s why we’re not meant to judge them. Nevertheless, the alternative is to have no conversation about them or to allow only that level of criticism that others agree with. You said earlier that you did not think Rowan had the right to impose his views. And I agree with you, speaking of imposing anything is… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Helen, and while I agree that the Covenant went through due process and was rejected, we also have to remember that this was largely due to the No Anglican Covenant group that was quickly set up by interested people from all across the Anglican Communion, that made sure that dioceses were given comprehensive information on the reasons not to support the covenant. The official information given to the dioceses in preparation for the discussion was woefully one-sided and unbalanced. Those dioceses who had not been given the information provided by the No Anglican Covenant group overwhelmingly voted for the covenant,… Read more »

cseitz
Guest
cseitz

“consistent based on what, though?” Very simply, his view of Christian marriage.

Helen
Guest
Helen

Actually, Erica, I didn’t say that Rowan didn’t have the right to impose his views; I said he didn’t think he had the right, and there’s a big difference. It’s relevant to the issue of leadership. The ABC is primus inter pares; to what extent any ABC would have been able to negotiate the various minefields he inherited is questionable. The Covenant, for example, was recommended by a panel set up at the request of the Primates, not invented by Rowan. And it is my understanding that it was Synod that voted to send the Covenant to the dioceses. One… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest
David Runcorn

June Butler Thank you for your question. I actually used the word ‘followship’ not followership as I am feeling after a relationship that is more participatory than just following. I did not say there was ‘poor’ fellowship so much as a lack of willingness to make followship part of the discussion at all. I feel that the context in which the last Archbishop exercised leadership remains a neglected part of this discussion. Without the wider context everything rests on the abilities or failings of one man. Lord who can stand? Followship places very real constraints on what even the best… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Helen, there is this narrative about Rowan that says “he held certain personal views, he put them on the back burner because of his understanding of his role as ABC, and his prime goal was to hold the church together”. I used to believe that but over the years I came to change my mind. This is not how he acted at all. He spoke out about gay matters fairly frequently – always in favour of those who were opposed to gay inclusion. He spoke out about the structure of the Anglican Communion, but he did not respect the systems… Read more »