(What we have long time known now once more out in the open and sure to raise problems for Rowan --P.T.)
August 6, 2008
Rowan Williams: gay relationships 'comparable to marriage'
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
Rowan Williams believes that gay sexual relationships can “reflect the love of God” in a way that is comparable to marriage, The Times has learnt.
Gay partnerships pose the same ethical questions as those between a man and woman and the key issue for Christians is that they are faithful and lifelong, he believes.
Dr Williams is known to be personally liberal on the issue but the strength of his views, revealed in private correspondence shown to The Times, will astonish his critics.
The disclosure threatens to reopen bitter divisions over ordaining gay priests which pushed the Anglican Communion towards a split, as conservatives seek uphold the Biblical opposition to homosexuality.
As Archbishop of Canterbury, he recommitted the Anglican Communion to its orthodox position that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture at the Lambeth Conference which closed on Sunday.
In an exchange of letters with an evangelical Christian, written eight years ago when he was Archbishop of Wales, Dr Williams describes his belief that Biblical passages criticising homosexual sex are not aimed at people who are gay by nature.
Instead, he argues that scriptural prohibitions are addressed “to heterosexuals looking for sexual variety in their experience”.
He says: “I concluded that an active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness.”
Although written before he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, Dr Williams describes his view in the letters as his “definitive conclusion” reached after 20 years of study and prayer. He refers to it as his “conviction”.
He draws a distinction between his own beliefs as a theologian, which are liberal, and his position as a church leader for which he must take account of the traditionalist view of the majority of Anglicans. He has stuck to this position ever since.
“If I’m asked for my views, as a theologian rather than a church leader, I have to be honest and admit that they are as I’ve said,” he writes.
The letters, written in the autumn of 2000 and 2001, were exchanged with Dr Deborah Pitt, a psychiatrist and evangelical Christian, who lives within his former archdiocese in south Wales and wrote challenging him on the issue.
In reply, Dr Williams describes how his view changed from that of opposing to gay relationships when, in 1980, his mind became “unsettled” by contact as university teacher with Christian students who believed the Bible forbade promiscuity not gay sex.
Dr Williams, who was ordained priest in 1978, became a lecturer at Cambridge two years later and was appointed Dean of Clare College in 1984.
He writes that by the end of the 1980s he had “definitely come to the conclusion” that the Bible did not denounce faithful relationships between people who happened to be gay.
He cites two academics as also pivotal in influencing his view, one of whom ironically is Dr Jeffrey John, the celibate homosexual whom he later forced to withdraw as Bishop of Reading after an outcry from conservative evangelicals.
Until now the clearest statement of Dr Williams’ liberal views was an essay, The Body's Grace, published in 1989 in which he argued that the Church’s acceptance of contraception meant it acknowledge the validity of non-procreative sex. This could be taken as a green light for gay sex.
But he provoked criticism from liberals in the Church of England, and the United States in particular, for seeming to backtrack once he became Archbishop of Canterbury.
Liberals have been bitterly disappointed that a man they regarded as chosen to advance their agenda instead abiding by the traditionalist consensus of the majority.
Liberals from the US Episcopal Church, who see the issue as one of justice for an oppressed minority, were particularly distressed at the Lambeth Conference when the Archbishop appeared to blame them for the growing rift in the Church.
His leadership at Lambeth was a success because, while he failed to resolve the differences in the Church, he avoided outright schism. In spite of everything he has done to maintain unity, however, conservatives are still reluctant to trust Dr Williams because of his theological stance.
In the correspondence, he writes of his regret that the issue has become 'very much politicised' and is treated by many as 'the sole or primary marker of Christian orthodoxy.'
Asked for a response, Lambeth Palace yesterday quoted a recent interview the Archbishop told the Church of England Newspaper: “When I teach as a bishop I teach what the Church teaches. In controverted areas it is my responsibility to teach what the Church has said and why.”