24 Feb 2007
The Archbishop of Canterbury, ROWAN WILLIAMS, who was attending last week’s Anglican Church’s Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, granted an exclusive interview to The Guardian’s Deputy Managing Editor BERNARD MAPALALA at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam, just before his departure to the UK. The discussion centred on the raging controversy on the ordination of gays and same sex marriages in the Anglican Church.
QUESTION: The Anglican Church in Tanzania is constructing a university in Dodoma. It is possible that the universal Anglican Church is supporting the project. Can you enlighten us on the matter?
ANSWER: I have been discussing the question of the university with the Archbishop of Tanzania. It is the witness to the importance of the church…… the crucial importance of the church in education of every level in Tanzania and some other countries.
Now what we can give: we don’t have in the Anglican Church a single source of founding. What I can do is to make contacts on the (Tanzanian) Archbishop’s behalf with bodies and institutions in Britain. I am going to help.
I know that he is also talking to the Archbishop of York about partnership with the University College of John in York, and this (in Tanzania) is going to be St. John`s University, so there is a link that is going to be made there.
Q:Let us go to the issues that have been on the spotlight concerning the Anglican Church in the past few years.
Some people are saying that the Anglican Church has done away with the Bible altogether. What do you say about that?
A:I say they are completely wrong. We are reading the Bible, studying the Bible and making out of the Bible as best as we can. As priest of the Anglican Church, I am obliged to study the Bible four times a day.
And the issue in the Anglican Church at the moment has nothing to do at all with the place of the Bible.
It is due to the fact that some people in the church, a minority, especially in the United States, have chosen to read the Bible in a new, very controversial way.
Now that is not the way most of the church reads the Bible. The Bible is still important to most of us.
Q:Some people—ordinary people—are equating the current developments in the (Anglican) Church with the last days.
As the spiritual head of this church, the first among the brothers, could you say that these are the signs of the times which people should interpret?
A:I think that people have always been afraid that they are living in the last days. The church has always been capable of making terrible mistakes. So the failure of the church to deal with these difficulties now is nothing new.
What the Bible actually says is that we have to be prepared for the coming of Christ every day. Whether he comes tomorrow or in a million years, we have to be clearly ready.
Q:Now in the whole world, not just in the Anglican Church, there is a moral crisis; and there are rebellions of all kinds taking place: Rebellion against God; rebellion against religious and civil authority, rebellion against parents, and rebellion against the truth. There is a moral crisis in the world. In this situation, does the Anglican Church still see itself as a church to which people should look for moral authority?
A:I have to say two things; one is that all the things you have mentioned are listed by St. Paul in the Bible, as signs of the times in his own day.
The second thing is: Yes, I believe that people ought to look to the church for moral guidance because the church is able to tell people what God\‘s plan for human beings is. Now that is not just about sex.
Yes, it is important to be responsible…to be holy and chaste about sex is important…but it is also important about the way we use our money, especially us in the West, about how much we give, about how we care for the poor.
Q:It is Europe which evangelised Africa. Anglican missionaries, Catholic missionaries and others, they came to Africa and the Anglican Church played a big role in Zanzibar in stopping slavery. But in Europe, faith is now on the wane due to materialism and rationalism, churches have been closed down, disguised atheism is increasing, while church attendance is extremely low.
Can we say that the clock of history is turning back such that it is now Africa’s turn to evangelize Europe and America?
A:If you look across the room here, you will see that my colleague is the Archbishop of York (in the UK), he is a Ugandan, so the program has already begun (laughter).
We are very grateful for the inspiration that is being given to us by churches in Africa as well as in the developing world, and we receive ministry from them…in Britain with great appreciation.
But at the same time, although the church in terms of numbers has not grown much in the past years… In the past decades it has shrunk, (but) it is still true that people in Britain still look at the church for inspiration and guidance.
Many more people still go to church and we still are taking the church seriously. We need to work with that.
Q:We go back to the primates meeting in Dar es Salaam. The meeting has failed to come out with a clear decision on the raging controversy regarding same sex marriages….
A:That`s not true actually…
Q:It seems that the leaders are more concerned with preserving their cohesion rather than communicating the truth to the faithful. So, given the circumstances, what does the Anglican Church stand for and why are you dilly-dallying to give a stance in this very crucial moral issue?
A:The stance of the Anglican Communion is clear: It has never said anything other than that. The ordination of active homosexuals is not acceptable.
It has never said anything other than that the marriage of same sex-couples is not to be admitted.
That`s what the Lambeth Conference said in 1998, and every meeting has said so since then.
Q:This could be a turning point for the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church in Africa is up in arms against this situation. It has severed relations with the Episcopal Church in the US. Is schism not inevitable in the near future?
A:I don`t know. We have worked very hard to avoid it this week by saying to the American church what the condition might be…that we can mend the broken relations; and between them and other churches; and I think that the Primates Meeting has come out with a very clear statement that if that relationship is to be restored, there are certain things that we need to hear from them (the American Church).
Q:I can see that your position is very difficult. As a spiritual leader of this large communion of believers, this is a historical point in a way. What hopes do you have on the way history will treat you for the way you have handled this crisis?
A:I have tried to help people understand each other in this controversy. I have tried to challenge people to put some of their private views and convictions in the second place to the need to work together. That`s what I have tried to do.
Q:The Anglican Church and the Catholic Church are rather closer than the rest of mainstream Christian churches.
The two churches were moving closer towards unity, and then came the ordination of women (in the Anglican Church) which probably soured the relations. Now there is this issue of the American Anglican church. What is the situation now? Can you comment about your relationship with the Vatican?
A:I visited the Pope before Christmas, and spent nearly a week in Rome, meeting a large number of people in different departments there. I think they understand that the Anglican Church as a body has not changed its views on homosexuality. I don`t think that is a great problem in our relations.
The ordination of women remains a difficulty in recognizing ministry on the Roman Catholic side; but what we have done recently is to publish a document the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches; in which we have laid out what the areas in which we actually agree, and which we disagree, and what are the areas which we cooperate.
Q:And what are the areas which you agree?
A:We agree on the historic creeds, Bible and the tradition of the church, about the basics of faith, we agree about the importance of the sacraments, and about a recognized, ordered ministry.
That`s quite a lot. And what we can do together: We collaborate a little bit in England about education, on social services and our witness to society.
For example, the (Roman Catholic) cardinal in England and myself, there a number of public issues. Before Christmas we were together to Bethlehem on pilgrimage. So, you know, there are very close relations, working relations.
Q:You said you were with the Pope in December. What is your personal assessment of Benedict XVI in comparison to John Paul?
A:Obviously he is less a dramatic figure than John Paul, who was many faces: a great man, a powerful speaker, a big personality. Pope Benedict is an intellectual, with an extremely keen mind, and also, I think personally, he is a person who lives simply and is unassuming.
Q:Archbishop, I will ask you a personal question: You speak as a leader, you have to guide, you have to encourage and you have to be patient. At times, you have to preserve your opinion until the opportune time. What is your personal position in regard to homosexuality and same sex marriages? Are they sinful or not?
A:I have said what the position of the church is and that`s the position I teach.
Q:And what is that position?
A:That is the position laid out in the resolution of the Lambeth conference in 1998. That is the position that I teach.
Q:But are they sinful or not?
A:That is what we have said. The phrasing of the resolution in 1998 was that homosexual relations were not compatible with scripture. As Archbishop, bishop, priest of the church, that is the teaching which I must keep my allegiance with.
Q:What efforts are being made specifically within the United Kingdom to renew the faith, to reach out against the challenges of modern times? The church is on a collision course with the world…..
A:There is a great dealt taking place. There is an initiative I began when I became Archbishop. It was a programme designed to plant new churches, new congregations, and which would attempt to meet where people live and not necessarily in church buildings, and not only on Sundays.
I would concentrate on reaching out to young people. This programme is half-way through. We have raised half a million pounds to support it. We have about 550 new congregations that are registered as a result of this.
Q:If you observe the mainstream churches, including the Catholic Church, the Lutheran church and the others, what we see is that people at the grassroots, the ordinary parishioners, they just go to church as a formality. The community aspect of the first church is not apparent.
There is a very little personal relationship between the leaders and the members and among themselves. So Archbishop, do you agree there is such a situation?
A:I could take you to half a dozen churches without difficulty, where you would see interactions as community leaders, thoroughly in touch with what is going on with the Christian people and the community around, where they are in the forefront in the care of the most needy in the society, and sharing the gospel.
I think that the quality and service being given by our church in England is very, very high; and I think that, the work currently being done in reclaiming lost ground is impressive.
Q:Archbishop: How do you like to be remembered? When your tenure of office is over, when you have gone to retirement, how would you like the world to remember you?
A:I would like the world to remember me mercifully, and I hope, as somebody who tried to serve the Body of Christ.