In an lengthy interview published in the Times this weekend, Rowan Williams reflects on his ministry as Archbishop of Canterbury, his sense of personal failure in failing to support Dr. Jeffrey Johns’ election to the bishopric, and that he believes gay celibate Christians can serve as bishops in the Church of England.
The interview, conducted by Ginny Dougary prior to Pope Benedict’s visit to Great Britain, is wide ranging discussion of many of the current controversies surrounding Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury. There’s conversation about the recent statements of Stephen Hawkins, the Pope’s visit and the creation of the Ordinariate, Bishop Glasspool’s ordination in Los Angeles, the ordination of women bishops in the Church of England (he’s in favor), the “materially heretical” idea that making money is doing God’s work, his personal life and his experience of being in southern Manhattan on Sept. 11th 2001.
The reporting on the interview in the Times says in part on the issue of gay and lesbian inclusion in the Church:
The Archbishop says that from his appointment to Canterbury eight years ago he was “conscious” of the issue of homosexuality as “a wound in the whole ministry”.
Today he also admits that one of the most tortuous periods in his eight years at Lambeth Palace came during the unsuccessful elevation of Jeffrey John to the post of Bishop of Reading.
He confesses that he let down Dr John, who was instead appointed Dean of St Albans.[…]Dr Williams’s revelations put in peril the unity scheme due to be agreed soon, based around a new covenant that sets out teachings on which all can agree.
Ruth Gledhill blogs on the interview over on the Times website and writes in part regarding the portion of the interview where Williams reports that he’s “pro” women bishops and the reason he’s willing to make more of a plea in that controversy than he is the area of gay and lesbian inclusion. Williams explains it’s because he has issues about a “particular choice of life”:
[Williams:]“Those issues don’t arise where women are concerned [unless, of course, they are gay]. That’s simply about who and what they are. To put it very simply, there’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop.” Really? “It’s about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe. So there’s always a question about the personal life of the clergy.” [Gledhill continues]This is both confusing and rather revolting. Dr John has been knocked back twice because he has a partner, even though they are apparently celibate. First, it is an unappealing idea that the Church makes such unnatural demands on its clergy and, second, how on earth does it expect to monitor the bedtime activity? Perhaps by installing CCTV cameras? I ask him what’s wrong with a gay bishop having a partner. “I think because the scriptural and
traditional approach to this doesn’t give much ground for being positive about it. The Church at the moment doesn’t quite know what to make of it…”
All right, but do you personally wish it could be overcome in some way? Silence, then:
“Pass.” Is it really so difficult for you to say? “We’re in the middle of vastly difficult conversations about it, and I don’t want to put thumbs on scales.”
The Times “Mission Statement” regarding the interview speaks to the Archbishop’s reluctance to speak clearly on the issue of gay and lesbian rights in the Church ends with this “kicker”:
In seeking a settlement within Anglicanism, Dr Williams risks diminishing its prophetic voice. If he were to worry less about politics, he might find the resources to strengthen Anglicanism and find spiritual fulfilment of his own. For with his profound theological insight, Dr Williams is better placed than anyone to, in the words of Matthew’s Gospel, discern the signs of the times.
Secular culture acknowledges the injustice of discrimination against homosexuals. The treatment of Canon Jeffrey John, a chaste homosexual twice rejected as a bishop, offends against a widely held sense of natural justice. In electing homosexual bishops, Anglicanism might suffer defections; but it would affirm its soul.
This is not a call to choose modern mores over biblical authority, for Anglicans have long understood that the interpretation of Scripture lies in the hands of the Church. The Apostle Peter enjoined: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.”
Interpretation belongs to the tradition of Christendom, in which Dr Williams takes an historic role. He should affirm as a Christian leader and a theologian that discrimination against homosexuals is wrong. In the Church, as in the nation, let justice be done — and the heavens will not fall.
Anglican Mainstream has already come out objecting to the Archbishop’s statements opening the door to the ordination of gay bishops even as little as he does.