Letter to The Times from 19 C of E Bishops: Don’t misrepresent the Archbishop of Canterbury

09 August 2008 - Print Version

To the Editor, The Times

Sir, As bishops in the Church of England, we wish to protest in the strongest possible terms at what we regard as a gross misrepresentation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

First, your front-page story (August 7) and the further material inside were presented as though he had just made a fresh statement, whereas the letters now leaked were written, in a private and personal context, between seven and eight years ago (this only became apparent six paragraphs into the report). One can only wonder at the motives behind releasing, and highlighting, these letters at this precise moment – and at the way in which some churchmen are seeking to make capital of them as though they were ‘news’.

Second, Dr Williams did not say ‘gay sex is good as marriage’ (your front-page headline) or ‘equivalent to marriage’ (your inside headline). In his first letter, he concluded that a same-sex relationship ‘might . . . reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage’. This proposal (whether or not one agrees with it, as many of us do not) is far more cautious in content, and tentative in tone, than is implied by both the articles and the headlines. In the second letter, Dr Williams stresses that same-sex relationships are not the same as marriage, ‘because marriage has other dimensions to do with children and society’.

Third, the Archbishop has said repeatedly, as he did in one of the letters, that there is a difference between ‘thinking aloud’ as a theologian and the task of a bishop (let alone an Archbishop) to uphold the church’s teaching. He has regularly insisted, as he did in his closing address at Lambeth, that the church is right to have a basic ‘unwillingness to change what has been received in faith from scripture and tradition.’ He has spoken out frequently against the ‘foot-in-the-door’ tactic of divisive innovation such as the consecration of the present Bishop of New Hampshire. As he said in that same closing address, ‘the practice and public language of the Church act always as a reminder that the onus of proof is on those who seek a new understanding’. Nor, despite regular accusations, is this prioritising of the bishop’s task mere pragmatism or the pursuit of a ‘quixotic goal’ of Anglican unity. It expresses what Jesus himself taught: the fundamental and deeply biblical teaching on the vital importance of church unity and of working for that unity by humility and mutual submission.

Fourth, Dr Williams has also stressed in many contexts that the church must be prepared to stand out against social trends where they do not reflect or embody the gospel. Mary Ann Sieghart’s extraordinary suggestion that the church ‘must eventually reflect the society within which it works’ is a recipe for a blatant Erastianism, against which the Archbishop has resolutely set his face. It is ironic to hear those who would hate to see the church being the Tory party at prayer insisting that it must now be New Labour at prayer.

Fifth, the Archbishop pointed out, in an interview with a Dutch newspaper two years ago, that ‘inclusion’ – that regular mantra of gay lobbyists – is not ‘a value in itself’. We do not, he said, simply welcome people into the church without asking questions. ‘Conversion’, he said, ‘means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions.’ In that same interview he pointed out that the views he had earlier advocat ed ‘did not generate much support and [raised] a lot of criticism – quite fairly on a number of points.’

In his invitations to the Lambeth Conference, Dr Williams insisted that he saw the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Anglican Covenant as the tracks along which the Communion should move. Neither of those in any way points in the direction your articles indicated. In his final Presidential address to the Conference, he articulated clearly and sharply where we now are as a church: the reaffirmation of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life; the reaffirmation of the previous Lambeth resolution on sexual behaviour; the moratoria on same-sex blessings, on consecration of any more practising homosexuals as bishops, and on the incursions by bishops into one another’s territories; the Anglican Covenant; and some key interim arrangements while that Covenant undergoes further drafting. He presented these, in the context of a powerful and clearly thought out address, as the fresh articulation of the mind of the church, not as an opinion which he was bound to express but from which he privately wanted to dissent. He has our full and unqualified support in his=2 0magnificent leadership both of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion as we seek to obey God’s call to take the gospel to the whole world.

The Right Rev Dr Tom Wright
Bishop of Durham

The Right Rev David Urquhart
Bishop of Birmingham

The Right Rev Nicholas Reade
Bishop of Blackburn

The Right Rev David James
Bishop of Bradford

The Right Rev Graham Dow
The Bishop of Carlisle

The Right Rev John Gladwin
Bishop of Chelmsford

The Right Rev Geoffrey Rowell
Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe

The Right Rev Anthony Priddis
Bishop of Hereford

The Right Rev Jonathan Gledhill
Bishop of Lichfield

The Right Rev Graham James
Bishop of Norwich

The Right Rev John Pritchard
Bishop of Oxford

The Right Rev Kenneth Stevenson
Bishop of Portsmouth

The Right Rev John Packer
Bishop of Ripon and Leeds

The Right Rev George Cassidy
Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham

The Right Rev Nigel Stock
Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich

The Right Rev Stephen Platten
Bishop of Wakefield

The Right Rev John Stroyan
Bishop of Warwick

The Right Rev Michael Scott-Joynt
Bishop of Winchester

The Right Rev John Inge
Bishop of Worcester

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