In the midst of a 16-day visit to India, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is thinking a bit about religious controversy and legalism.
At an "interactive" media session in organized by The Church of North India, Williams contributed briefly to a longstanding discussion over the recent legal settling of the Ayodhya conflict, in which a site long described as the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama became the same ground upon which a mosque was erected and, very probably, a previous Hindu temple was destroyed in the process. The matter went to trial and the property was divided into thirds - one for a Rama temple, one for a mosque, and still another for a Hindu sect, Nirmohi Akhara.
Williams said he was relieved and that it was time to move on. Then an innocent question.
Asked if there was any legal birthplace of Jesus Christ akin to Lord Rama's ... he answered in the negative.
“As far back as we can trace, it seems that Jesus Christ had taken birth somewhere in Bethlehem but there never has been any legal place of birth,” the Archbishop asserted.
It's novel, and maybe a bit refreshing, to hear Williams answer a simple question with a simple answer. But equally novel, and happy chance perhaps, that he was hospitably asked to parse aloud the difference between a "legal birthplace" for Jesus versus - what? - any other kind, we guess.
And just to overdraw a bit further on our political capital, it also seems noteworthy given an Anglican Covenant being commended for study by Williams's office as the outcome of a legally minded process in which we're being asked to parse the difference between an efficient and officious Communion versus - well, the other, sloppier kind. The kind that may not hold up in court because clauses and conditions weren't met, and for which no excuses would be deemed acceptable. One wonders how the judge in such a case would split up the land, and to whom it would be given.