Rowan Williams: “No problem” with celibate gay bishops

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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.

The BBC has coverage of this news here where it is given the headline: “Archbishop Rowan Williams backs gay, celibate bishops”. The Guardian’s coverage is found here.

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.

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Susannah Clark
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Susannah Clark

Our secular societies are acknowledging the justice owed to all people, regardless of race, gender etc and increasingly coming to terms with diversity, gender fluidity, sexual orientation etc. Complexities of psychological reality and diversity that allow for more affirmation (and celebration) of our differences and integrities. Old rigidities are called into question, and honesty has to ask 'Where is the grace?' Sex and gender are not one-size fits all.

If you were a transsexual bishop, would you be allowed to have sex with a man or a woman, or neither, or would you just not be allowed? Sexuality and gender are complex, sometimes fluid, and in the end I think some non-Christians are getting this, and some in the Church are playing catch-up all the time, and some don't even want to catch up because they feel obliged to perpetuate previous views... and then some, thankfully, are prophetic and recognise we are all children of God in need of grace, and diverse expressions of love and fidelity are cause of celebration not marginalisation. I am a transsexual Christian. I am also a person. As it happens I am celibate as I hope to become a nun. But celibacy is a grace for monks and nuns - we don't seek to impose it on priests. But let's just reverse this and say: to the 6 billion people on this planet who are heterosexual, "We respect you, but we are telling you to remain celibate..." Imagine the sorrow, the sadnesses, the loss of tender intimacy, the frustration, the diminution as a result of dogma... it would be a perversion...

And that is what is being said to gay and lesbian couples, and who's actually being perverse? And where do transgendered people come into this? Should they be celibate too? Or what? Things simply aren't as simple as 'stone them' or 'ostracise them' or 'marginalise them from exercising their gifts'. Things aren't simple at all. But some people want simplicity. But to placate that demand for simplicity and church diplomacy, decent people's lives are diminished. Heterosexual Christians are afforded roles and positions not granted to people who are gay and lesbian. If this was racism, we'd be crying out about prejudice and discrimination. What if someone is bi-? What if someone is divorced? What if someone lives with someone first? What if someone... cares faithfully, looks after, loves tenderly, feels humanly, and, as one part of that humanity and fidelity and commitment, expresses gentle and intimate love, because it's dignified, ennobling, life-enhancing?

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tobias haller
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tobias haller

Of his pontificate, will it be said, as of the marvelous mechanical Olympia in Tales of Hoffmann, "Il etait un automat"?

My magic glasses broke some time ago. "J'ai des yeux." The Archbishop sees expressing an opinion as a thumb on the scale. Well, we don't need an Archbishop to read a scale, do we? I would rather have a clear negative opinion (like those of his predecessor) than this "I am powerless" statement of "that's the way it is."

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David da Silva Cornell
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David da Silva Cornell

"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."

If by "failing to support Dr. Jeffrey Johns' election to the bishopric" one means stabbing Dr. John in the back, throwing him from the bus, and then driving the bus over him, then sure, I guess that could be described as "failing to support Dr. Jeffrey Johns' election to the bishopric."

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PTownVicar
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PTownVicar

"he was “conscious” of the issue of homosexuality as “a wound in the whole ministry..."

Gay people are issues? wounds? Lord have mercy!

"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"

Given his repeated propensity to sacrifice gay folk on the altar of uniformity, I find his remorse disengenuous.

"In seeking a settlement within Anglicanism, Dr Williams risks diminishing its prophetic voice."

Now, that's rich! News flash to The Times: prophets are equipped with spines.

Terry Pannell

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paigeb
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paigeb

a "particular choice of life"

I am stunned to see this coming from the mouth of someone who is supposed to be educated....

“I think because the scriptural and traditional approach to this doesn’t give much ground for being positive about it."

You mean in the same way the scriptural and traditional approaches to divorce don't allow us to permit it?

Tell me again why any of us are looking to this man for leadership?

Paige Baker

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