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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
New archbishop: An expert anwered your questions.

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  • Click here to read the transcript

    The new Archbishop of Canterbury is to be Dr Rowan Williams, the liberal Archbishop of Wales, it was announced on Tuesday.

    Conservative Anglicans have expressed misgivings about Dr Williams' appointment as he believes the Church of England should lose its established status and become a church on equal footing with all other Christian denominations.

    He also supports gay and lesbian clergy, the ordaining of women priests and allowing divorcees to marry in church.

    Dr Williams is known for being candid, calling Western military aggression towards Afghanistan "morally tainted" and criticising the threat of action against Iraq.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury heads the worldwide Anglican communion of 70 million people.

    Andrew Brown, religious author and broadcaster answered your questions in a LIVE Forum.


    Transcript


    Robert Piggott:

    Today the Welsh Archbishop, Rowan Williams, the renown theologian and outspoken opponent of US policies in Afghanistan and Iraq, was chosen to be the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans.

    He is said to combine relatively conservative theological views with a set of broadly liberal opinions on secular matters. His support for women priests and gay rights has led some conservative Christians to warn that his appointment could split the Church.

    I am joined from our Cambridge studio by Andrew Brown, author and broadcaster on religious affairs. He's here to answer some of the e-mails you've been sending us.

    First of all, can I start with the issue that perhaps has marked out Rowan Williams most of all in the minds of people who don't know him and that is homosexuality and his advocacy of gay priests - or the ordination of gay men.

    John Tigwell, Ashford Kent asks: How can Dr Williams be for the ordination of gay and lesbian people when the Bible clearly states that the act of homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord?

    Shamil Appathurai, Colombo, Sri Lanka asks: How will ordaining gay and lesbian clergy improve the work of the Church or is it just a remedy to fix the decreasing number of people taking to the priesthood?

    Is the ordination of gay people an abomination in the eyes of Lord?


    Andrew Brown:

    Archbishop Williams was the youngest professor of theology in the history of Oxford - I think it we can take that he has an informed opinion about what is or is not an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. His view is that the matter is really extremely complicated and that clearly the kind of Old Testament prohibitions that people are throwing around could be applied to a great many other things that we now regard as perfectly in order. I do think that you cannot apply the standards of the Old Testament without further consideration to the behaviour of Christians in the 21st century.

    As for the second question - whether it's a merely a way to prop up declining numbers. The point I think that matters is that there are already a great many gay and indeed lesbian priests within the Church of England and in some of the churches of North America. What Dr Williams is doing is being honest about the situation as it actually is. It's not really a question of changing policy so much as people admitting publicly what they have been doing and believing privately for at least the last 15 or 20 years.


    Robert Piggott:

    It seems to me Andrew that one of the interesting things about Rowan Williams is that he is taking his inspiration from the Bible for his views on homosexual priests and homosexual people. He's saying that if you look at the Bible you won't find any real proof that sex is for procreation alone and if it's for bringing people together and human contact and closeness, then why not between people of the same sex. Is that the way you read his opinion?


    Andrew Brown:

    I think that's a reasonable summary of his opinions, though it's not just for bringing people together obviously - it's for nourishing particular sorts of relationships. I do think that the Bible is a very deep and rich resource out of which people can get contradictory messages. One hundred and fifty years ago, Christians argued passionately - to the point of killing each other - about whether slavery was sanctioned by the Bible or not and I think there's something of the same quality in the present arguments over feminism and over homosexuality.


    Robert Piggott:

    Lennie, York, UK asks: In a debate over homosexuality and the Christian faith, what are the issues and how do the sides defend their conflicting positions? Most importantly too, what extent, in your opinion, do people use their faith to defend a position they have already come to a conclusion on?

    So is this the cart being put before the horse?


    Andrew Brown:

    I think in most cases, the cart absolutely comes before the horse. People come to the debate and indeed to the Bible with certain fairly fixed ideas on the subject and I think this applies to those on both sides of the argument. I think there are very, very few people who had say close gay friends and who decided on a reading of the Bible that this was an abomination - on the contrary. If you already believe from your secular life, as it were, that homosexuals can be good and honourable and decent people and as entitled to a love life as the rest of us, then you're going to find passages in the Bible to reinforce this conviction.

    Equally, if you tend to think that the role of the Bible is to support decency in an indecent world and that this involves fairly straightforward patterns of heterosexual marriage, then you're going to uphold the so-called traditionalist view.


    Robert Piggott:

    You'll tend to find the justification in the Bible for your way of life?


    Andrew Brown:

    Yes, I am sure this is true and I am sure this always has been true. I think it's a mistake to suppose that the Bible was ever read the way God wanted it read, as it were.


    Robert Piggott:

    Let me turn to the appointment of a new Archbishop - a very historic event for the Church - possibly coming at a very important time in the Church's history. Looking back over the period of office of George Carey, the present incumbent of the post, attendances have dwindled.

    We have a couple of questions here. Brian Whittaker, London, UK: Given the Church of England's increasing irrelevance to the life this country, does it really matter at all who is the next Archbishop?

    Adam Blackie, St. Albans, UK: I'm a fairly regular churchgoer - two or three times a month. At 42 years old I find myself to be one of the youngest members of the congregation. What should a new Archbishop do to make church-going more attractive to the under 30s?


    Andrew Brown:

    I think the answer to the first question is that it matters if people think it matters. The thing about being a spiritual leader is that it's a kind of performance and at this Rowan has real talents. You need to be theatrical - the greatest example of this is the present Pope who actually was an actor in his youth and he manages to catch the imagination, even of people who disagree with him profoundly.

    As to the second question, what can an Archbishop do to make the Church more attractive to people under the age of say 30? I think there's almost nothing that an Archbishop on his own can do. I think it also entirely possible that church-going may be like listening to Radio 4 - a habit that people pick up in their 40s or when they have children.

    What an Archbishop can do however is to re-moralise, if you like, the really rather demoralised and dispirited clergy of the Church of England at the moment and this, I think Rowan has a fair chance of doing. They are the people who by their direct and personal interactions with their local communities will persuade people to go to Church or not.


    Robert Piggott:

    So he'll be broadly welcomed by the clergy? It seems that he was the overwhelming choice of the Synod it seemed. But not perhaps so much outside in the wider Anglican Communion.

    Chris Bessant, London, UK: How will African bishops react to Dr Williams appointment?

    Chris Meyer, Durban, South Africa: Considering the arrogant disregard shown in the selection process, for the views and desires of the vast majority of Anglicans outside the United Kingdom, what credibility and authority will Rowan Williams command in the Anglican Communion at large? Does Rowan Williams possess the skills and theology to hold the Communion together at one of its most critical moments?


    Andrew Brown:

    Well, again, taking the second question first, I don't think anybody does - it's as simple as that. At the last Lambeth conference, Rowan actually gave a really rather impressive speech, rather in the manner of the Oxford don he was, to a large and angry roomful of bishops who just ignored it. What he was urging was that people should take the time to listen to each other, to try to understand where the other was coming from - especially on this divisive issue of homosexuality - and they weren't interested.

    I watched dumbfounded as a Nigerian bishop actually attempted to exorcise on television, the chairman of the lesbian and gay Christian movement. This is not a rift which can be healed. People can stop talking about it and agree to disagree but I'm afraid that that the attitude of conservative evangelicals towards homosexuality is simply not reconcilable with the attitude, either of Rowan Williams or it has to be said of the great majority of churchgoers in the developed world.


    Robert Piggott:

    Is there any point in a family that can't agree on such a basic issue?


    Andrew Brown:

    I'm not sure anyone has answered that question.


    Robert Piggott:

    Can I move us on to this idea of a potential split. Someone calling themselves A Concerned Anglican here in London asks: How long will the Anglican communion follow Rowan Williams lead before this appointment causes a split within the Church?

    He then goes on to ask a provocative second question: Is he not just another of Tony's cronies?

    Well, I think we can rule that one out straight away, can't we?


    Andrew Brown:

    I think we can rule that one out straight away. I don't think the Anglican Communion is a coherent enough body to talk about it splitting really - it hasn't got a central government. Already you have the situation where parts of it don't recognise priests made in other parts because they're women. I think that to pretend that it means anything more than the kind of talking or arguing shop which we saw at last Lambeth conference, is to be very foolish.

    It's all very well to say - why didn't Tony Blair take into the opinions of the Archbishop of Rwanda, say, when appointing the Archbishop of Canterbury - but one is entitled to ask, why should he. When does the Archbishop of Rwanda take any notice of the opinions of Dr Williams?


    Robert Piggott:

    That remains to be seen, I suppose. Of course it's the fate of an Archbishop Designate, as Rowan Williams now is, to be scrutinised in almost everything he does, especially anything that smacks of a lack of orthodoxy and of course he has taken the step or will take the step of joining a druidic society for promotion of literature and the arts in Wales.

    We have a question from Kairen, UK who asks: I understand that Dr Williams is also a druid which I understand to be a pagan cult. Is this true? If so there appears to be a fundamental incompatibility which the Church of England should take a stand against.


    Andrew Brown:

    I think this is simply untrue, is the short answer to that question. It may be very un-English but it's not unorthodox.


    Robert Piggott:

    It has its roots in the Sun, I believe, I think what's probably causing people to comment.


    Andrew Brown:

    Yes but honestly, it's not serious. There were a number of Archbishops in the last century who were freemasons which seems to me to be a much more profound divergence perhaps from Christian orthodoxy.


    Robert Piggott:

    I think our decision is that we clear him of the charges.

    Andrew Brown, thank you very much for joining us from Cambridge today.


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