Archbishop of Canterbury Admits Church Has Failed Gay People

Jim Burroway

September 10th, 2012

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who steps down in December, admitted that the church has been “wrong” in its past treatment of gay people, and says that he personally shares some of that blame, particularly lately in the recent dust-up where the Church of England voiced opposition to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan to introduce marriage equality in the United Kingdom:

Dr Williams is critical of the “embarrassment” the Prime Minister has caused the Church. A “very inadequate” consultation overlooked the legal position of the Churches and marriage. By opposing the change, however, the Church attracted accusations of homophobia, and for good reason, he thinks. It has been too – he says “lily mouthed” before correcting himself: “We’ve not exactly been on the forefront of pressing for civic equality for homosexual people, and we were wrong about that.”

To those who fear the constitutional consequences, he says legalising gay marriage would not of itself trigger disestablishment. “We’ve been assured that there will be no pressure on the Church to perform marriages, but of course as things stand, every citizen has the right to be married in Church. That’s alright, so long as the State’s definition of marriage and the Church’s definition are the same. If the State’s definition shifts … then we have a tangle.”

That word “tangle” illustrates that Archbishop Rowan conundrum. Where others would want to hear clarion clarity about a crisis that goes to the very heart of the Church, he shies away and hedges. To his critics, this is the reason why the Church appears weak, because he does not communicate certainty.

Williams’s lilly-mouthiness has become legendary at BTB.When Uganda in 2009 was in the midst of an intense debate over whether they should make the slaughter of gay people a matter of national policy, Williams could barely muster a mumble. It took him two years before he could finally declare the entire Anti-Homosexuality Bill “unacceptable,” and that at the last possible minute when Parliament was about to bring the bill up for a vote, and only after he already ceded leadership to homophobic bishops on the issue.


Ben in Oakland

September 10th, 2012

If you reached whole thing, it’s quite a bit tangle-lily-mouthed.

We used to be against gay people, but now we’re still against ’em, just not as much as we used to be.

So that’s all right.


September 10th, 2012

Something new to me is the statement that every citizen has a right to be married in a church.

Is this true? A right guaranteed by the government? Like the right to a trial or a free press in the US?

David Waite

September 10th, 2012

I started a comment on Archbishop Williams and (fortunately) was interrupted before I previewed and posted it. My honest assessment of Rowan Williams, as a human and as a church leader, is unprintable.

As a PK (preacher’s kid) the first thing I learned about the profession was that verbal certainty was the first and most important thing a flock looks to its shepherd for. Many catholics despise what they see as their bishops’ moral bankruptcy, while grudgingly admitting that they certainly know where their shepherds stand on an issue, whether they agree with their pastors or not.

This interview of the retiring Archbishop is a perfect illustration of his utter incompetence as a church leader. You correctly point out his dreadful failure over Uganda. He totally failed to deal properly with the Bishop Robinson issue, and at one stroke lost the richest national contributor to the Worldwide Anglican Communion because of his own vacillation.

What sort of actual leader admits personal and institutional failure and then complains that he and the organization have been embarrassed by others over their own failure? What sort of leader tells the stupid lie he just told about proposed civil marriage, pretending that the Established Church of England has any legal grounds for complaint or ‘tangle’ over it?

Still, I thank FSM for Williams and Sentamu. They have been far more effective instruments in favor of disestablishment than any organization of disestablishmentarians could ever be, and together with the Catholic bishops have been a material aid in pounding the nails into the coffin which will eventually hold the House of Lords’ rotting corpse.

David Waite

September 10th, 2012

Soren the answer to your question is no. It is a total lie. It is a little surprising from Williams, who usually deals only with half-lies and obfuscations that the press can’t quite call him on. This one, a mythical government-guaranteed right to a church marriage, is a complete lie and Williams is well aware of that.

The retiring Archbishop of Canterbury may be relying on a misunderstanding in the more uninformed circles of the UK’s Anglican congregants, about the Established Church’s own rules, which guarantee a congregant’s right to be married in his or her own parish of birth registry or present residence.

Those rules (from the church, not the parliament) require that it be a Church of England ceremony and at least one member of the couple must be a congregant or born to a congregant. The Established Church of England does not extend this right to every British citizen and the government of the United Kingdom doesn’t grant a right to a church wedding at all, to any citizen, and cannot dictate rules governing church marriages to any church, Established or otherwise.


September 10th, 2012

My *real* opinion of Dr. Rowan Williams and his sidekick of York (Dr. John Sentamu) also ought not be printed here or anywhere…but, I will suggest that not only was Cantuar amongst the worst Archbishops EVER, he is also a snitty and untrustworthy fellow (with the spiritual welfare of ALL). His antics when on the CROWN NOMINATIONS destroyed the authentic qualifications of The Very Reverend Jeffrey John (partnered Gay/celebate) with his feardriven nonsense against LGBT clerics at Church. His footdragging, conservative zealot pandering has been a HUGE obstacle when the entire Church of England wants heterosexual women to be able to ascend to thrones of Bishops. The man is full of himself, a coward, a bad manager and a supporter of the failed Anglican Covenant which he engineered/manipulated into being with his buddy Drexel Gomez, former Primate of the West Indies (think LGBT bloodrenched Jamaica) and Bishop Cameron (whom he promoted over Jeffrey John) for a diocese in Wales. Now it appears Rowan Williams, ABC, is trying to erase his tracks (and help John Sentamu become the next ABC to replace him). There is a popular saying at the moment in regard to the selection of the next Archbishop of Canterbury: ANYBODY BUT YORK!


September 10th, 2012

Actually, yes, the British government does guarantee heterosexual couples the right to be married in the Church of England:

If you haven’t been married before (and in some circumstances if you have) you have a legal right to be married in the Church of England parish church where you live.

For the Church of England, provided that the couple is eligible to get married, they have the right to get married in their local parish church (or in a parish church with which they have a connection). Currently of course this only applies to marriage between a man and a woman.

That would not change as we do not intend on lifting the bar on same-sex religious marriages being solemnized on religious premises i.e. through a religious ceremony.


September 10th, 2012

Funny how he says this less than a half-year before stepping down.


September 10th, 2012

While I fully accept what is said above and was particularly angry that he did not speak up sooner and more forthrightly on the Uganda situation, I think the man is more sympathetic than he dare give voice. Being at the top of the CofE must be like having to herd cats.

David Waite

September 10th, 2012

Marcus, thank you, and I sit corrected. I also apologize to this blog’s community for my inaccuracy. My answer to Soren’s questions was not accurate in its details, as your link indicates. However, per your link, the answer to Soren’s questions is still no. Soren asked,

“Something new to me is the statement that every citizen has a right to be married in a church.

Is this true? A right guaranteed by the government? Like the right to a trial or a free press in the US?”

Soren restated Williams’ claim and then asked 3 questions about that claim. The answer to the first question is still no. Rowan Williams was lying when he said “every citizen” because your link clearly says “If you haven’t been married before (and in some circumstances if you have).” The answer to Soren’s second question is a conditional “no” since an unqualified “yes” would have to depend on a “yes” to the first question. The UK government can’t guarantee a right it hasn’t granted. Your link shows that the government never says “every citizen without any exception.” The answer to the third question is an unqualified “no” since those American constitutional guarantees are available to all Americans, without conditions (such as unmarried status).

I’m also pretty sure that a British citizen cannot ask for or receive a Muslim or Buddhist or Bahai wedding ceremony in a Church of England venue. Having been wrong once on this thread, I state this cautiously and add that I do not have a government document link to back up my supposition.


September 10th, 2012

No problem, David. :) I myself don’t object to Williams’s wording, since nearly every universal right does turn out to have some fine print, but the policy really goes to show how laughable the Anglican Church’s position is. They’ll sanctify the marriage of an atheist and a pagan as long as they have British passports, but two women or two men marrying civilly would somehow impinge on the sanctity of the heterosexual atheist-and-pagan union?


September 10th, 2012

Williams attempting to do legacy damage control already?

Too late bubba. You’ve already set your page in the history books and it won’t be pretty. There’s NOTHING you can do to change your legacy now. Live with the shame of it!


September 10th, 2012

He seems to be every bit as evil as Pope Palpatine

Timothy (TRiG)

September 10th, 2012

I doubt it. I don’t know much about either man, but my impression is that Rowen Williams cares about people, while Pope Benedict cares only for the institution of the church (and perhaps for himself*). Rowen Williams is a thoughtful scholar. That does not in itself make him a good person, but it’s a good start.


* I don’t know how self-interested he is.


September 10th, 2012

@David, They can’t get a non CoE wedding but they can get married if eligible to marry under English law even though they aren’t Christians (barring one person being divorced and I suspect also the old rules about dead brother’s wife and dead wife’s sister). At one time the only way of getting married in England was a CoE ceremony with the exception of Quakers and Jews. Unitarians and Roman Catholics among others either had to have a CoE wedding or get married outside the country.

BTW the CoE is actively looking for the non-active to get married in their churches; it is a source of revenue.
“You’re welcome to marry in church whatever your beliefs, whether or not you are christened and whether or not you regularly go to church”


September 10th, 2012

I am an Episcopalian and have watched Mr. Williams fairly closely since before his placement to high office. Before becoming AC he was viewed as a thoughtful theologian who was well versed in the history of the church and compassionate enough to bring to bear a modern view on things like the rights of GLBT. The second he became AC all that changed. His public disrespect of Bishop Robinson, the firt openly gay bishop in the Anglician Communion added to the verbal abuse he threw at the US House of Bishops when he was invited to the US as a guest along with the disrespect he gave our Presiding Bishop when she preached in England (he order her not to wear her bishop’s hat) leave me nothing good to say about the man. The Church of England is a state church, something we have a hard time understanding as Americans. As such it must serve all the people….church members or not, if it is to legimate its established status. The antiwoman and antigay positions of its two top leaders leaves in question its very reason to be. Rumor has it that the top guy to replace him has only been a bishop for 18 months and was a oil corporate ex before becoming a man of the cloth…that should tell you something.

David Waite

September 11th, 2012

@ Erp, I see I hadn’t fully appreciated how important their worship of Mammon in the form of wedding revenues was to them. I must further accept they may be genuinely worried they’ll be eventually forced to marry couples of the same gender. They guiltily know they themselves greased that slippery slope by first putting revenue ahead of doctrine; the wicked flee when no man pursueth.

Ben in Oakland

September 11th, 2012

Are you guys saying they will marry any penis and vagina, even if not CofE, but our money is a little too sinny for them?

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