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Homosexuality and the New Archbishop of Canterbury

Category Articles
Date November 1, 2002


How then does Rowan Williams arrive at this perverse and paradoxical conclusion which contradicts the orthodox and Biblical teaching on this subject?

by David N. Samuel

"The Body’s Grace", is a lecture that was given by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in London in 1989. They have gleefully republished it with a photograph on the front cover of the lecturer dressed up in his religious costume, standing in a garden, hands grasped and looking into the distance in a studied manner.

David N. Samuel has put us in his debt by reviewing this lecture under the title ‘Antinomianism at Canterbury’ in the current ‘English Churchman’ (Fridays October 18th & 25th 2002). We now know exactly what Rowan Williams’ attitude to homosexual activities is and why evangelical men in the Church of England are in despair. David Samuel writes thus:

This lecture was given originally in 1989 to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. It gives us a good idea of where the new Archbishop of Canterbury stands on this important question of same-sex relationships. He clearly regards them as legitimate and, indeed, as having the endorsement of Christian teaching. This is an astonishing stance for a man in his position to adopt. We must, I suppose, give him the credit for being open about it. Many in high positions in the church have held similar views, but have kept very quiet about them. However, for a man holding such views to be at the helm of the Anglican Communion is a truly alarming prospect


How then does Rowan Williams arrive at this perverse and paradoxical conclusion which contradicts the orthodox and Biblical teaching on this subject? The answer in short is, not from Scripture. He quotes the Bible only once in his whole lecture, and then out of context. His axiom and argument are drawn instead from literature. Extraordinarily the main thesis he advances for the justification of homosexual practices is to be found in the term ‘entering into the body’s grace’ which he derives from the Raj Quartet, a series of novels written by Paul Scott. This expression he defines as ‘knowing yourself in a certain way as significant and wanted by another’. This experience, he argues, leads to the transformation of the person. The sexual relationship is specially significant in this respect. Indeed, this, according to Rowan Williams, is its defining characteristic. Thus a new norm is created for sexual relationships, by which their authenticity is to be judged, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual. He argues that a homosexual relationship which fulfils this norm is better than a heterosexual one that does not; and even goes so far as to say, that if this norm, which he has enunciated, is not present "it is both wicked and useless to hold up the sexuality of the canonically married heterosexual as absolute, exclusive and ideal." The whole lecture has a morally subversive ring, and the savour of antinomianism about it.

In setting up this notion of love as transcending law, the author is engaging in a false antithesis, for true love will not seek anything that is in opposition to the law of God. God is love, and love is the fulfilling of the law. But Rowan Williams establishes his ideal of ‘the body’s grace ‘ in opposition to the revealed will of God in Scripture, so that he is able to confuse and frustrate the norms that Scripture lays down. According to his view, any sort of sexual relationship is valid or authentic as long as it conforms to his criteria of entering into the body’s grace.

All You Need Is Love

All this is in some ways reminiscent of the ‘new morality’ or ‘situational ethics’ of the 1960’s, and preached by the Bishop of Woolwich in his book Honest to God. "Love," he wrote, "has a built in moral compass, enabling it to home intuitively upon the deepest needs of the other. It can allow itself to be directed completely by the situation with no prescriptive laws." So the idea of commandments could be dispensed with. That theme was echoed in the popular song of the time, "All you need is love." Nothing of itself, it was argued, can be labelled wrong. One cannot, for example, start from the position that sex before marriage, or for that matter adultery, are sinful in themselves. Now Rowan Williams, bowing to the same logic, is prepared to take the step that was unutterable then, if not unthinkable, and to argue from the same premise, and say that homosexual relations, in themselves, are not sinful.

There is in all this a strong antipathy to laws and commandments. Many think, no doubt, that they find justification for this in our Lord’s teaching, particularly in his condemnation of the Pharisees. That is a mistake. Our Lord’s condemnation of the Pharisees was not that they adhered to the commandments of God, but rather that they substituted their own traditions for the commandments of God, and by so doing made the commandments of God of none effect. He castigated them precisely because they did not honour and keep God’s commandments.

Self Deception

It would appear that the new Archbishop of Canterbury is guilty of the same thing. he is substituting his own rule or norm for God’s commandments. he is throwing overboard the chart and compass by which the ark of the church and, indeed, the ship of state should be steered, and in their place relying solely upon what he thinks and feels is right. But the Archbishop, like those before him, massively underestimates the capacity for self-deception in the sinful heart of man. We are dealing not with angelic beings but with fallen, sinful human nature. We have many warnings of this in Scripture. "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Jeremiah 17:9. In this condition we have an infinite capacity for rationalising and justifying sinful behaviour as good and righteous. That is why we need objective moral standards; that is why we need the commandments of God, and why they should be kept constantly before us. He who truly loves God will love his Word and keep his commandments. Love is the fulfilling of the law and not, as Rowan Williams argues in this lecture, the abrogation of it.

To conclude: the thrust of this booklet is subversive of Christian morality. It is antinomian in its teaching since it seeks to overthrow the law of God. "The law is good," says Paul in 1 Timothy, it is necessary, because of the sinful condition of mankind, because of the spiritual darkness of our hearts and we need, as it were, handrails in the dark, which is what the commandments provide. It is of course, true that we are "saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" Ephesians 2:8,9. But Paul, the great advocate of salvation by grace, warns all who call themselves Christians, "Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God" 1 Corinthians 6:9,10.

David N. Samuel

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