John Humphrys, a BBC radio broadcaster, interviewed Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently, about the outcome of the Primatesâ€™ meeting on the ordination of Gene Robinson, homosexual bishop-elect of New Hampshire. Here is the edited version of the interview
QUESTION: Is there a crisis in the Anglican Church?
ANSWER: Undoubtedly there is a huge crisis looming.
So, where do we go from here?
If the ordination of Gene Robinson goes ahead in the US, we shall have some response from around the world. What we have done is to give ourselves time to reflect on a central commission in the Anglican Church which will look at the possible implications of a split, because there are constitution and legal questions for all churches involved.
There is no doubt that they are going ahead. Bishop Griswold, the most senior Anglican in the US said, â€œthe second coming (of Jesus) could occur, but I am scheduled to be in New Hampshire on November 2.â€
That is right. I think the Episcopal Church will make its own decision.
That decision will be to go ahead.
It looks like it.
How will the Church of England respond to that?
I cannot speak for the whole of the Church of England but there are two things I want to say: One is, Canon Robinson could not have been a candidate for a bishopric in the Church of England. There would be great difficulty in licensing him in this country to perform a bishopâ€™s functions. Secondly, whether the Church of England is in Communion with the Episcopal Church in the US, is much harder to decide with a yes or no answer...
Do you believe that Canon Robinson should become a bishop?
No, I do not, because I believe that on a major issue of this kind the Church has to make a decision together. One of the things that has emerged most painfully is the large number of Anglican provinces, who feel that a decision has been made which involves them in something they have had no part in at all. Many of these are people from small, struggling churches. It matters a lot that they have a voice in a decision which, like it or not, affects them directly.
If you as the head of the Church says, â€˜I will not accept this man as a bishop,â€™ where does that leave the Church?
It leaves the Church with a huge challenge about coordinating its discipline and its legal systems across the world, which we have never had to do before. There may be a number of provinces who will declare that they are not in Communion... what complicates this is that the Anglican Church is not a monolithic body with a single decision making authority. Our Communion depends on relationships rather than rules and these are at the moment strained.
If Gene Robinson were a celibate homosexual would you accept him?
I donâ€™t want to speculate.
Are you prepared, as the Archbishop to accept celibate homosexuals as bishops and priests?
The position of the Church and my own, is that a celibate homosexual is eligible for consideration as a priest or indeed as a bishop. The question is whether such an appointment is genuinely the mind of the Church.
So why was Jeffrey John not allowed to become bishop?
Jeffrey Johnâ€™s nomination was complicated not only by internal dissension in the Church of England, but also by the dismay... felt by sister churches across the world.
The Church of England seems to be saying, it is alright for people to be homosexual, but not for its priests.
I think that the position the Church of England has held in the document on â€˜Issues in Human Sexuality,â€™ for the last ten years, recognises public ministry imposes certain constraints on a priest. Whoever is appointed, works within the expectations of a congregation and the wider Church.
Is there a contradiction between your conscience and your position as the head of the Church?
My belief has always been that if the Church were ever to change its view, it would have to be because the Church as a whole, owned it and not any personâ€™s conviction prevailed.
Does your conscience tell you that homosexuality is a sin?
I have theological views on this which are in print and I have raised certain questions as to whether the traditional ethic is acceptable in every way. However, the Church has to make a decision on this, or the results are divisive and more unjust.
But donâ€™t you have to set a very clear moral lead?
My task is to say what the stand of the Church is...
But as a Christian, donâ€™t you not have to say what you believe?
I have said what I believe! I will, in the pastoral context, listen to the needs of any person who comes to me in that circumstance, but also... I have to make sure that as many people as possible are involved in the conversation which contributes to whatever change there may be, if there is change.
But you surely cannot have been happy putting pressure on Canon Jeffrey John to withdraw from the bishopric of Reading?
When working in a context where a wider view has to be taken in, that of any individual is costly...
You do not believe homosexuality is a sin. You are faced with a good man... yet pressure was put on this man to withdraw.
The appointment of a bishop affects a huge number of people worldwide... who should undertake that office is never about reward for good behaviour. It is about... what we have had to say corporately.
But the archbishop should set a moral lead.
The statement that came from the Primatesâ€™ meeting this week, which
I endorsed makes clear that we stand where we did as a Church on the resolution of the Lambeth Conference in 1998. It also
notes that part of that resolution commends the report of the study group in the conference on the need to listen to homosexuals as people made in the image of God...
What is more important: The unity of the Church in the long term or individual morality?
In the long term it is what the unity of the Church is for: that is mission and proclamation to the world. Individual morality is a part of that and yet in witnessing to the wider world we have to try to consider what we can do to stay together without some feeling excluded by that process. The paradox is that there are two groups that feel as if they are excluded. One group is the homosexual community and the other is churches, often in the developing world who feel excluded in discussions that go on. Therefore, we donâ€™t have a morally black and white situation of how the Church responds.
Anglican Communion News Service
Archbishop of Canterbury interview on gay bishop