One of the UK’s most senior gay humanist campaigners has countered the messages of regret voiced in response to the news of that Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams is to stand down from Church of England post.
George Broadhead, a veteran gay-rights campaigner and the secretary of the UK’s only gay humanist charity – the Pink Triangle Trust – pointed out that Dr Williams’s tenure as the Archbishop of Canterbury has been one of disappointment for LGBT people.
“Ten years ago [his appointment] was welcomed by some LGBT activists, notably Christian ones, as they believed him to be on the liberal wing of the Church of England and [that he] would take a benign stance on LGBT relationships and rights,” he said.
"However, they were soon disillusioned.” During his time as the spiritual leader of the Anglican communion, Williams has seen his church divided by its stance on homosexuality.
Broadhead went on to criticise Williams for sacrificing the rights of gay people within the church in order not to fall foul of the so-called traditionalists who, for instance, won’t contemplate openly gay people to serve as clergy within it.
Broadhead has been a long-time critic of Dr Williams.
In 2008, during an interview he gave to Diana Brown, of International Humanist News – the magazine of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) – Broadhead was asked whether institutionalised homophobia of some religions was a problem likely to find a solution.
His answer was unequivocal: “As long as the hard-line evangelicals continue to hold sway in the Anglican Church and spineless archbishops like Rowan Williams are at its head, I don’t see any solution being found there in the foreseeable future.”
Currently, the British government are drawing up legislation to legalise same-sex marriage, something the Church of England has been implacably against.
Seen to be a liberal within the church, even Williams has recently come out as being against such a move.
In February, Williams said that the law had no right to legalise gay marriage.
“‘If it is said that a failure to legalise […] same-sex marriage perpetuates stigma or marginalisation for some people, the reply must be, ‘I believe, that issues like stigma and marginalisation have to be addressed at the level of culture rather than law.’”
Broadhead says, “It is obvious that hostility towards LGBT sexual relationships and rights emanates largely from the three main religions – Anglican, Roman Catholic and Islam – and nothing [has] changed for the better in the Anglican Church under the leadership of Rowan Williams.”
Indeed, earlier this month – as reported by Digital Journal – the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, condemned the UK goverment's plans to legalise gay marriage.
Earlier today, again as reported in Digital Journal, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) declared its support for O’Brien’s stance.
Williams has often been criticised by gay-rights campaigners for his wishy-washy stance on LGBT issues when faced with homophobia within his church and among his clergy.
In particular, of gay bishops within the Church of England, Williams has been criticised for his apparent obfuscation.
“There’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop [but] there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe,” he has said.
But it’s worse than that, Broadhead reminds us: “Although [Williams] condemned the murder of Ugandan gay activist David Kato [in 2011], he declined to condemn the Ugandan Anglican Church from backing the hateful and draconian anti-homosexuality bill introduced in the country’s parliament [in 2010]”.
At the time, as highlighted in Gay & Lesbian Humanist, while Dr Williams was saying he would not be making a public comment on the Ugandan bill, he nevertheless did speak out against the appointment of a gay woman, Mary Glasspool, as Suffragan Bishop to the US Episcopal Church.
Subsequently, and only after much lobbying from LGBT-rights campaigners, Lambeth Palace reported that Williams had “been in talks with the Anglican Church in Uganda” and, belatedly, during an interview with the Daily Telrgraph, he referred to the Ugandan bill as of “shocking severity”.
But even before that, there was the case of another openly gay – but celibate – priest, Jeffrey John.
An unholy row erupted following the announcement that John had been appointed the Suffragan Bishop of Reading.
However, as reported in G&LH at the time, the priest “eventually bowed to pressure from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and did not take up the appointment”.
Now, Broadhead concludes, “Any sympathy Williams may have had for LGBT people has been sacrificed by the need to keep his Church unified.”
Meanwhile, the Freethinker – the atheist publication founded by G.W. Foote, in 1881 – had this to say: “Praise for the [outgoing] Archbishop of Canterbury – and unctuous messages of regret over the news that he is to resign – were predictable.”
Line of succession
Dr Rowan Williams will continue in his post until a replacement is found.
The choosing of a new Archbishop of Canterbury falls to the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), who, according to Lambeth Palace "will submit the name of a preferred candidate (and a second appointable candidate) to the Prime Minister who is constitutionally responsible for tendering advice on the appointment to the Queen [who is the Head of the Church of England]".
Therefore, David Cameron – as the serving Prime Minister – will, in effect, then make his recommendation to the Queen Elizabeth. Saint Augustine of Canterbury was the first person to hold that position, from circa 597, and the next incumbent will be the 105th.
As to the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, being top of the list as Williams’s successor, Broadhead said, “If that happens it will be a clear case of going from the frying pan into the fire.”