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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Gay community's hopes
Canterbury cathedral
Hope that Canterbury will ring changes
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Wales, has been officially named to succeed George Carey as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Reverend Richard Kirker, General Secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), reflects on what he hopes to see from the new archbishop.

This news is as astonishing as it is welcome.

Lesbian and gay Christians have many good reasons to believe that Rowan Williams will be our friend and an unapologetic ally rather in the way that South Africa's inspiring Desmond Tutu has become.

For over 20 years Rowan Williams, a noted theologian, academic and author, has eloquently advocated that Christianity and homosexuality should be viewed as wholly consistent with each other.

God's gift to human beings includes, for some, homosexuality as well as for others, heterosexuality.

To him lesbian and gay people should not be made into a 'problem' nor, of course, should they be stigmatised, demonised or marginalised.

Neither should clergy be expected be celibate just because they are gay or lesbian.

Clear principles

These may already seem self-evident truths to most people in Britain and the Western world but sadly, in the Churches and other religious traditions, the opposite is all too common and the new archbishop is not going to find it easy to win over all those who disagree with him on these fundamental matters of doctrine, church order and justice.

He has made these points in the way he knows best, as a theologian. This was a radical position to adopt in the 1980's and marked him out as person prepared to put principle before career.

Rowan Williams
Rowan Williams: An ally for the gay Christian community?
His close personal friendships with gay people over 30 years marks him out as the first Archbishop of Canterbury who is entirely at ease, publicly and privately, with a section of society that the Church has often either tried, at best, to ignore or patronise and at worst to openly discriminate against.

In fact his integrity and honesty made him deeply unpopular with the leadership of powerful sections of the Church of England - including George Carey - who remain to this day antagonistic towards self-affirming lesbian and gay people as well as towards those who stand with us as friends.

International profile

Rowan Williams has already made several working overseas visits this year, a clear sign that large swathes of the Anglican Church in Africa, Asia and America have been increasingly viewing him as their preferred choice for the Canterbury post.

Fluent in five languages and engagingly approachable because at heart he is a pastor as well as a teacher, the archbishop will be fully aware that there are those who will be aghast that the nations' highest-profile and most influential religious leader has made no secret of his support for lesbian and gay people.

How this translates into new policies is, of course, yet to be seen.

However, new policies are exactly what is required if the Church is to make any sense of its claim to be inclusive.

Racism and misogyny have long since been declared unacceptable and the Church must now be prepared to take one further step towards humanising itself.

Rowan Williams will be judged, over time, by the extent to which he is able to present homophobia as equally unchristian and by how long it takes to carry the Church with him.

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