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Rowan Williams: Moral debates over abortion, gay marriage are being ‘weaponized in culture wars’

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams |

Moral debates on issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion “have become weaponized in the current culture wars,” wherein any opposing view is seen as “monstrous and oppressive,” former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, warns in a yet-to-be-aired radio talk show.

“What about the Evangelical registrar who will not solemnize same-sex marriages? What about the legal allowances made for Catholic doctors who will not perform abortions?” asks Lord Williams in his talk for the BBC’s Reith Lectures series which is yet to be aired, according to The Telegraph, which has an advance copy of his speech.

“How disruptive can the public manifestation of convictions be allowed to become in a diverse society?” continues the former head of the Anglican Communion. “Questions like these have become weaponized in the current culture wars raging across North Atlantic societies in particular, in ways that more or less rule out nuanced exploration of what’s going on.”

It’s not good to “demonize those with inconvenient consciences as automatically monstrous and oppressive,” he adds. “You can’t simply ascribe deliberately evil intention to someone who disagrees on principle with the principles you think self-evident. Think, for example, of the debates over abortion or physician-assisted dying.”

Williams held the position until 2012 when he announced his resignation to pursue the post of master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University.

“His time in office has been marked by a slowly growing schism in the worldwide Anglican church, which he has failed to heal,” the Guardian reported in 2012. “Williams has been attacked by conservatives for his liberal views on homosexuality and by liberals for failing to live up to these principles. But he has been respected on all sides for his gifts as a preacher of great eloquence and flashes of clarity.”

Some CofE bishops favor amending the denomination’s doctrine on marriage that adheres to the biblical definition of being exclusively between men and women, not lesbians or gay couples. Last month, the Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, became the senior-most cleric to support same-sex marriage.

In a lengthy essay titled “Together in Love and Faith,” he argued that the CofE should remove its prohibition on blessing same-sex unions.

“I confirm my affection and respect for those who will want to argue, in good conscience, against change and potential provision for such change. I also make no claim whatsoever to infallibility: I may be wrong, either in the detail or in the overall argument,” wrote Croft in his introduction.

“However, the Church will only be led into true and accurate discernment as we each, honestly and faithfully, share the best perspective we can, and subject those views to the wisdom of whole Church.”

Vaughn Roberts, a theologically Evangelical same-sex attracted clergyman who Croft dialogued with in advance of announcing his views, wrote an essay in disagreement with Croft’s push for the floundering denomination to support and advocate for same-sex marriage.

One point of content put forth by Roberts was his belief that the bishop had failed to adequately engage with same-sex attracted Christians who had chosen celibacy over homosexual romance.

“There is a reference to one meeting with some same-sex attracted Christians, who hold to the traditional teaching of the Church, but there is no evidence of any greater engagement with what is a significant group,” wrote Roberts.

“The deep pain they feel at being undermined by church leaders who are, in effect, telling them that their efforts to remain godly are unnecessary, needs to be recognized, along with any wider engagement with the experience of LGBTQ+ people in our churches.”

In 2014, Williams told a newspaper that Britain was a "post-Christian" society, which, though remains haunted by Christianity.

Britain is "post-Christian in the sense that habitual practice for most of the population is not taken for granted," Williams, told The Telegraph in an interview. "A Christian nation can sound like a nation of committed believers, and we are not that."

Williams added, "It's a matter of defining terms. A Christian country as a nation of believers? No. A Christian country in the sense of still being very much saturated by this vision of the world and shaped by it? Yes."

The results of a survey released by the Office for National Statistics late last month showed that 46.2% of the England and Wales' population described themselves as Christian in 2021 — down from 59.3% in 2011, The Telegraph reported, noting that the census data also showed that every major religion increased over the 10-year period, except for Christianity.

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