Great Timing From Rowan Williams

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has been in pretty hot water this week after criticising the appointment of a lesbian bishop in the United States – a move he claimed raised “very serious questions”.

As the Times reported, Dr Rowan Williams stated the choice of Canon Mary Glasspool to be a suffragan bishop in Los Angeles had “important implications”. Glasspool’s appointment is the second instance of an openly homosexual clergy member appointed to the position of bishop in the US Episcopal Church, after a vote at last summer’s General Convention of the Episcopal Church had in effect ended the moratorium on gay bishops.

Speaking of the election, Williams said:

“The election of Mary Glasspool by the Diocese of Los Angeles as suffragan bishop-elect raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion but for the Communion as a whole. The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.” – Source: The Times Online

The timing of Williams’ homophobic comments could not be more ill thought out, coming just as the world stands appalled at the abhorrent bills being pushed through Ugandan courts, along with the other countless instances of intolerance and homophobia committed in the name of religion. It’s alarming then that Williams has chosen to take the stance he has – especially for someone with a reputation for relative liberalism within the religious world.

Williams isn’t the only influential religious representative to condemn the appointment – the American Anglican Council was among the first of the conservative bodies to speak against the latest election, accusing the Episcopal Church of a further departure from biblical teaching. President of the group Bishop David Anderson said of the decision:

“Unfortunately, this election provides further clarity to the rest of the Anglican Communion. Should the rest of the Episcopal Church consent to this election, there can be no more pretending that the Episcopal Church holds to Anglican Communion doctrine. Not only has it elected another non-celibate homosexual bishop, but it repeatedly defies the moratorium on same-sex blessings.”

Glasspool herself is defiant in the face of the homophobia of the mainstream Anglican church, saying:

“Any group of people who have been oppressed because of any one isolated aspect of their persons yearns for justice and equal rights.”

There’s so much of this whole story that I can’t help but find deeply disappointing – firstly that the so-called liberal and relaxed Church of England, along with other Anglican and Protestant groups, has reacted with the kind of homophobia and intolerance we expect to see of religious extremists. Not only that, but the timing of the announcement particularly disturbs me – Williams has made a real choice in deciding to condemn the appointment of a lesbian bishop and yet to remain silent on the recent Ugandan law that outlaws homosexuality.

For me, it really does back up something Dawkins is adamant on, and something I’ve never really particularly subscribed to before now – the mainstream moderate areas of religion survive by seeming reasonable and liberal, but with their central tenants based on the same unfounded and unproven ideas as the extremists, we have to tar the two groups with the same brush and treat them accordingly.


  1. #1 by Stu on December 15, 2009 - 12:31

    ‘For me, it really does back up something Dawkins is adamant on, and something I’ve never really particularly subscribed to before now.’

    Pardon? The ‘moderates’ are the people who allow extremism to flourish. I find it difficult to believe that someone as obviously intelligent as your good self hasn’t figured that one out before now.

    You are absolutely right to say both groups should be treated the same though. Personally, I even invite jehovas’ witnesses in for a cup of tea and make sure they leave seriously doubting their faith. But I would do exactly the same with a ‘moderate’ priest or believer because if it wasn’t for them there would be no jehovas’ witnesses in the first place.

  2. #2 by Gittins on December 15, 2009 - 13:36

    I don’t understand why a lesbian woman would want to become an Anglican Bishop anyway. It’s a bit like a non-white person working for the BNP.

    She could enter the 2012 Olympics and win gold in the mental gymnastics.

  3. #3 by AexMagd on December 16, 2009 - 14:16

    Moderates confuse me. They’re almost there. They’ve abandoned (most of) the insane aspects of their holy texts but doggedly refuse to join the dots and bin the whole thing. It’s wishful thinking at its most pathetic and cowardly. Rowan Williams comes across as a fundamentally quite nice guy but reading those letters he wrote as a bishop trying to square his faith with the very obvious fact that there’s nothing wrong with being gay was torture. The guy was tying himself in knots trying to make the pieces fit together (to mix a couple of metaphors).

    Liberal and fundamentalist churches draw their inspiration from the same poisoned well. Even though many liberal religious people have more in common with humanists and atheists than others who share their faith, when it comes down to it God is the thing they unite on. How come it’s always atheists complaining about these things? Where are the high-profile Christian groups upholding secularism and equal rights for all (Ekklesia being the exception there)?

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