Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in an interview published in The Times has revealed he has “no problem” with homosexuals becoming bishops, but only if they remain celibate. A leader column in the same newspaper criticises Dr Williams for his treatment of a homosexual twice rejected from becoming a bishop and calls on Dr Williams to affirm that discrimination against homosexuals is wrong.
In July of this year, for the second time, the dean of St Albans, the Rev Dr Jeffrey John, was rejected for a position as a bishop. Dr John entered into a civil partnership in 2006, but insists that his remains celibate. The Archbishop of Canterbury, reportedly decided decided that appointing Dr John as Bishop of Southwark would lead to a split in the church and that evangelical parishes would not recognise him as a bishop. Dr John was forced to abandon his appointment as Bishop of Reading in 2003 because of protests over his sexuality.
In the interview, published in today’s Times, Dr Williams said: “To put it very simply, there’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop. 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.” The standards that Dr Williams refers to include not engaging in sexual activity with someone of the same sex, informed by the teachings of the Bible. Although, since 1991, homosexuality has not been a bar to ordination in the Church of England.
Prior to his ascent to the top of the Church of England, Dr Williams was widely regarded as a liberal. Some have claimed that he turned his back on these liberal views as he has gripped the reins of power. He has been faced with the potential splintering of the Anglican Communion over homosexuality and the ordination of women bishops.
The Times challenged Dr Williams with a passage on the subject he wrote 21 year ago. “If we are looking for a sexual ethic that can be seriously informed by our Bible, there is a good deal to steer us away from assuming that reproductive sex is a norm.”
Dr Williams responded by telling The Times: “That’s what I wrote as a theologian, putting forward a suggestion. That’s not the job I have now.”
“I think if I were to say my job was not to be true to myself that might suggest that my job required me to be dishonest and if that were the case then I’d be really worried. I’m not elected on a manifesto to further this agenda or that. I have to be someone who holds the reins for the whole debate.”
In June of this year, Dr Williams suspended members of the US Episcopalian Church from serving on any Anglican ecumenical bodies after it appointed the openly lesbian Mary Glasspool as assistant Los Angeles bishop.
Today, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told The Times: “Before he became Archbishop of Canterbury, he [Dr Williams] supported gay inclusion and equality. Now he victimises gay clergy like Jeffrey John and goes out of his way to accommodate some of the most hateful Christian homophobes in the world. In his eyes, Church unity is more important than the human rights of lesbian and gay people. “
In a somewhat surprising leader column, The Times backs Mr Tatchell’s argument. It argues that “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.”