Evangelicals and Dr Williams

From time to time the press gets the opportunity to treat the Church of England as though it was some kind of second rate political party. Like bees to a honeypot, or vultures to a corpse, their antennae home in on any hint of controversy. There’s nothing like a good slanging match to sell newspapers.

Dr Rowan Williams has found himself at the centre of controversy ever since the press got hold of the news that his name had been put forward by the Crown Appointments Commission to No 10. The leak, now widely believed to have come from No 10 itself, certainly sold newspapers, but whether the initial guarded reactions helped or hindered No 10 in its assessment of the likely reaction of the Church at large to the nomination of Dr Williams is hard to tell.

Anyway various groups have corresponded with the Archbishop of Wales and there have been a number of face to face discussions. The net result is that opposition to a move to Canterbury has been steadily growing.

A broad front

Notwithstanding the spin-doctored pap which the Church Times feeds to the unthinking fodder in dioceses across the country, we know that Reform has expressed concern at the unorthodox views the Archbishop holds on a number of theological issues (sexuality being only one of them). The Archbishop on his part appears to have been very frank and honest, as one would expect of a man of integrity, and has been unwilling to say that he holds views which others might wish him to hold, but which he does not hold.

The Church Society has also held discussions with the Archbishop and likewise has received little comfort other than the Archbishop saying that if asked what is the Church’s teaching on particular subjects he would say what it was, even though he would privately disagree with it.

Attempts to suggest that those with reservations about the Archbishop of Wales were merely extreme Evangelicals, unrepresentative of the wider Church, foundered when the Church of England Evangelical Council (constituted as a representative body including people from all streams of Evangelicalism) voted unanimously fully to endorse a letter from its chairman, Dr Paul Gardner, which had been published in The Times on 4th October.

The letter asserted that all Evangelicals, along with the majority of the worldwide Anglican Communion, would wish to affirm the traditional view of Scripture and its authority which was upheld by the Bishops at the Lambeth Conference in 1998. The letter stated that the danger of a ‘rift’ becomes explicit if some in leadership are unable to teach and commend the Church’s expressed opinion on these matters (including scriptural teaching on sexual morality).


Various diocesan bishops of varying churchmanship have privately joined in the chorus of concern and one wonders what kind of reception will await the new Archbishop when he attends his first meeting of the House of Bishops. If the letters winging their way between the dioceses and Lambeth are anything to go by, the House of Bishops are in for, shall we say a lively discussion?

As the concern for the Church becomes more widespread, one is concerned that some of the material appearing in the press is less than helpful. For instance, Dr Williams has been quoted as saying something to the effect that he had not sought the post of Archbishop of Canterbury and that the invitation had not been welcome to him.

Now when a new rector comes to a parish you might hope to hear him say before his institution that he rejoiced at God’s call to this parish to build up the saints and to extend God’s kingdom in the area. In contrast, if he were to say that he had not sought the post nor was it welcome to him, wouldn’t you wonder what he was doing there? It would hardly be the most auspicious start to his new ministry.

In a similar vein, if Mr Duncan Smith had said, on his appointment as Conservative party leader, that on certain key issues he felt Labour policy was right and Conservative policy was wrong and that in certain circumstances he would feel it appropriate to advocate voting Labour, wouldn’t you wonder if he was in the wrong job?

Beliefs and ethos

The issue must surely be whether someone can adequately discharge his responsibilities to uphold and enforce an organization’s beliefs and ethos, if he is known not to subscribe to those beliefs and that ethos himself?

Unfortunately many of those who have rushed into print in the national press have ignored this underlying issue and merely commented on the presenting issue – the Archbishop’s widely publicized views on questions of sexuality. Worse still, we have suffered a number of correspondents advertising their lack of grasp of the central issue – and making unsubstantiated claims that large numbers of people share their opinions.

There was even one letter in the Guardian, signed by several people including a member of the Crown Appointments Commission, supporting the appointment – which was all the more surprising since I thought members of the CAC were not supposed to make public comments on such matters.

And, of course, there are the correspondents who describe themselves as Evangelicals, then express remarkably un-evangelical opinions, and for good measure attack the credibility of those Evangelicals who raise matters of concern to us all. One such, who just happens to be a Principal Officer in the Church in Wales, and who might therefore not be entirely disinterested in the fate of his boss, finished his letter to the Church Times by laying claim to intellect and integrity – a claim that was hardly supported by the five preceding paragraphs.


Nothing can stop Rowan Williams being consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury if he chooses to proceed. What is being brought into question is whether he would be in a position to discharge the responsibilities of the post in anything like a satisfactory manner. Is he already too compromised?

What will the man in the street think about the Archbishop designate? He will know that he

has preached against Walt Disney, that he has made sympathetic comments about Saddam Hussein, that he believes that in certain circumstances it may be acceptable to God for clergy to engage in buggery and that he has been initiated as a Druid.

It is hard to tell why the selectors have chosen this particular player as an opening batsman to face the onslaught of an unbelieving world’s fast bowlers? He has a powerful intellect and he is a very nice chap, but will appointing him captain be enough to command the loyalty of his team and to prevent them getting a drubbing?

Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.

There have been a number of face to face discussions. The net result is that opposition to a move to Canterbury has been steadily growing.