So, yes, I went to see Archbishop Rowan speak – turns out it was the opening event for the new Manchester Research Institute for Religion and Civil Society, and therefore he was speaking on a topic more sociological/political than religious, but it was still very interesting, if a little hard for my muzzy cold-addled brain to follow in places. Broadly, he was advocating a sort of post-libertarian state model in which a government would acknowledge that there are bounds beyond which it should not step – in terms of legislating morality, for example – but which also acknowledged the existence of social groups (for example, faith groups) that would necessarily exist under this state: a state which encompassed both political freedom and religious freedom.
I wish I’d taken a few more notes on the talk, but I was still suffering with full on man-flu, so it took most of my effort just to keep up with things, let alone take notes – this being ++Rowan, his style was quite nuanced and he made sure every word meant something.
The day after this talk, the Archbishop hit the headlines in a rather unceremonious way – Church could think again over women, says Williams, apparently. The thrust of the article is that he’d said that, first, the ordination of women hadn’t led to any spectacular rebirth of the Anglican church and that second, he could conceive of a circumstance that would lead to the Anglican church reconsidering its position on female priests.
Now, on the surface, that’s quite a slap in the face for women priests, especially considering he was one of the people most strongly in favour of ordaining women. However, if you read the article, it becomes apparent (if you’re at all familiar with Williams’ manner of speaking) that that’s not what he said at all. Yes, he said there hasn’t been a revival as a result of women priests – but neither has the church gone to hell. Well – good; that’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Women weren’t invited to be ordained to because the Anglicans believed they were the key to a modern revival, anyway, so what’s the big deal?
Also, he said he could “just about envisage a situation in which, over a very long period, the Anglican Church thought about it again, but I would need to see what the theological reason for that would be”. That’s like George W. Bush saying that he could “just about envisage a situation in which, over a very long period, America could enter into a political alliance with Al Qaeda”. That’s very far from “re-opening the debate” over women priests.
It’s a shame that this has caused such a furore – so far as several women priests coming out to condemn his remarks – because it seems to me it just stems from a misunderstanding of his comments. The Archbishop is a very clever, very wise man who has a genuine and deep love for God and his Church – but he has a manner of speaking which can be misinterpreted easily and this, combined with headline writers out for a story, can sometimes lead to this sort of misunderstanding.
Graham Ward (one of the people responsible for the founding of the MRIRCS) is such a Rowan Fanboy, though. It’s funny 🙂