Time.com CNN.com Friday, June 08, 2007
Keeping the Faith
Thursday, Jun. 07, 2007
GUILHEM ALANDRY / DOCUMENTOGRAPHY FOR TIME
TIME: Many in the Anglican Communion feel it's hurtling toward schism, with you trying in vain to hold it together.
Williams: I don't think schism is inevitable. The task I've got is to try and maintain as long as possible the space in which people can have constructive disagreements, learn from each other, and try and hold that within an agreed framework of discipline and practice. It feels very vulnerable. I can't, of course, deny that. It feels very vulnerable and very fragile, perhaps more so than it's been for a very long time.
In an exclusive interview with TIME, his last before a three-month leave, the Archbishop Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, describes the Anglican Communion as "very fragile" -- and explains how he hopes to reconcile its bitter factions
Rancorously divided over homosexuality, global Anglicanism may be veering toward a schism. Can the Archbishop of Canterbury lead his flock back from the brink?
You've issued invitations for next summer's once-a-decade Lambeth Conference, but left out Gene Robinson, the gay Episcopalian bishop of New Hampshire, and Martyn Minns, from the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. So you've excluded an emblematic liberal and an emblematic conservative.
Of course, exclusion is not particularly a Gospel idea. The election and ordination of Gene Robinson was an event which many in the Communion had warned would deepen our divisions. Similarly, with Martyn Minns, there had been warnings that [his missionary assignment in the U.S.] looked like a kind of aggression against another Anglican province. I felt we would run the risk of their attendance becoming the subject matter of the conference.
Surely as bishops they are entitled to attend?
The mode of their appointment in the face of substantial protest simply means their bishoping is going to be under question in large parts of the Anglican world. Regarding Robinson, one thing I've tried to make clear is that my worry about his election was that the Episcopal Church hadn't made a general principled decision about the blessing of same-sex unions or the ordination of people in public same-sex partnerships. I would think it better had the church actually taken a view on that before moving to the individual case. As it is, someone living in a relationship not theologically officially approved by the church is elected to a bishop — I find that bizarre and puzzling.
The Anglican primates met in Dar es Salaam in February and made three key recommendations to the American bishops: that they stop ordaining gay bishops and blessing gay unions and that they create a special bishop to serve the needs of conservatives. What happens if they refuse?
An absolute blanket no to all of this would pose a real problem. We've had indications of a cautious yes to part of it.
The Episcopal Church reacted angrily to the communiqué. It was seen as interference and colonialism. I was a bit taken aback because I didn't see it as the primates trying to dictate terms, but to say, look, here is a scheme which we think you could work with. But I've occasionally thought — rather mischievously — that the issue could be described [to the Americans] in terms of a good American slogan: No taxation without representation. That is, in some parts of the world, the decisions of the Episcopal Church are [incorrectly] taken to be decisions that the local Anglican Church owns and agrees to, and the local church can suffer in reputation or worse because of that.
Can you give us an example?
In Egypt there have been denunciations of all Christian churches from the Friday pulpits for sanctioning same-sex relationships.
Isn't the Scripture straightforward on homosexuality?
It's impossible to get from Scripture anything straightforwardly positive about same-sex relationships. So if there were any other way of approaching it, you'd have to go back to the first principle of human relationships. Those theologians who've defended same-sex relationships from the Christian point of view in recent decades have said you've got to look at whether a same-sex relationship is capable of something at the level of neutral self-giving that a marriage ought to exemplify. And then ask, is that what Scripture is talking about? That's the area of dispute.
You yourself once thought it possible that same-sex relationships might be legitimate in God's eyes.
Yes, I argued that in 1987. I still think that the points I made there and the questions I raised were worth making as part of the ongoing discussion. I'm not recanting. But those were ideas put forward as part of a theological discussion. I'm now in a position where I'm bound to say the teaching of the Church is this, the consensus is this. We have not changed our minds corporately. It's not for me to exploit my position to push a change.
One gay activist said bitterly that he hoped you liked your newfound friends, but it strikes me that you don't have many. Your position seems very sad and lonely.
It feels burdensome, of course. And making decisions that will lose you friends, compromise people's perception of your integrity — that's very hard. On the other hand, that is only a part of the reality. First and foremost, I'm a priest and a bishop, and what I have to do is to celebrate sacraments, to pray, to try to convey the reality of God. I don't spend all my days in self-pity.
Do you see it as the taking up of a cross?
Well, of course. And anybody who expects to go through a Christian life without a cross is deluding themselves.
Last month, you signed onto a report by the Church of England citing a litany of errors in the War in Iraq. Why?
We proclaimed we were going into Iraq with the intention of creating a democracy, forgetting that democracies happen when certain conditions allow them to.
And you thought Britain was too subservient to the U.S.?
I was deeply saddened by the apparently uncritical way in which our government accepted the case for going around the U.N.
One of the things you also said was that perhaps if Blair and Bush had prayed together, they might have come to a different conclusion?
I believe good religion is good for people because it teaches you to be repentant, to believe your actions are always fallible and resting on mixed motives, that you need grace and mercy. Bad religion tries to persuade you that God is invariably and automatically on your side.
The Western world is struggling to come to terms with Islam. Where should we start?
We — Christians, Westerners, whatever — perceive the Muslim world as large, aggressive, successful, expanding. Muslims in the U.K. see themselves as small, vulnerable, under attack, suspected by everybody. When you have something like the Mohammed cartoons in the Danish papers, ask yourself what it feels like if you're a member of an economically depressed, rather isolated Muslim community, in a majority non-Muslim environment.
When you return from study leave, you'll focus once more on the problems within Anglicanism. Some people have already decided to stay away from the Lambeth Conference and possibly begin a process of division.
I don't particularly want to be — I wouldn't say blackmailed but pressured by either extreme on this. I think they'd lose by not coming. I think they need to talk to each other and listen to each other without prejudice.
Are you optimistic?
I'm hopeful. Not optimistic.
"Hopeful" is a safer word?
It's a safer word.