The Archbishop-elect of Canterbury is Dr Rowan Williams, the present Archbishop of Wales. He was appointed in July to succeed Dr George Carey on October 31 as the leader of 70 million Anglicans worldwide.
Among those who applauded his elevation was Dr Carey himself. “I greet the news . . . with joy”, he said. The MP for Cardiff West added, “The Church of England sometimes gets excellent choices of Archbishop, men of significant spiritual insight and great theological depth. Rowan Williams is such a man.” And to many it was no surprise that the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement announced, “This is extraordinarily good news and we are tremendously excited.”
There were, however, some dissenting voices. The General Secretary of the Church Society said, “On some important issues facing the Church, Dr Williams holds views which are unscriptural and divisive. He has stated that in certain circumstances homosexual behaviour may be acceptable.” When he was in Australia recently, Rowan Williams admitted to Anglican Media Melbourne that he has ordained a man whom he knew had, in the background, a homosexual partner; he felt able to do so because, he claims, he was convinced he was not going to flaunt it or make a scandal. It is shocking that a man who professes to be a preacher of the Word is in effect saying that sodomy is allowable provided it is kept in the background.
One newspaper correspondent is possibly correct in forecasting, “Given Dr Williams’s view that the Bible does not support a ban on practising homosexual priests, and his admission to ordaining at least one, the tone of the Church of England on the issue is bound to shift. The next few years could see the House of Bishops policy document, Issues in Human Sexuality, which bans such ordinations, being quietly dropped, and some liberal bishops might further stir controversy by publicly declaring what has been an open secret, that they have been ordaining homosexuals for years.” However, for what it is worth, the Archbishop-elect has given an assurance to fellow Church leaders that his liberal views on the issue are “personal theories” and that he is not elected to fulfil a “manifesto of my own devising but to serve the whole communion”. It is also worth noting that Issues in Human Sexuality itself speaks with a double tongue when it sanctions homosexual relationships for lay people. So there is a certain logic in Rowan William’s reasoning: “If the Church’s mind is that homosexual behaviour is intrinsically sinful, then it is intrinsically sinful for everyone”.
Sadly, the Church of England now has the kind of leader it deserves, and the state has the kind of primate it desires. As the English Churchman says, “For approval by No 10, one has to uphold the principles of political correctness. The spirit of the age – a lying spirit from the Lord in the mouth of our prophets (1 Kings 22:23) – is, above all things, anti-family. Confusion of the responsibilities of the sexes, easy divorce, wholesale abortion on demand, imaginary ‘rights’, the incessant glorification of immorality in the media, a perverse tax system, Sabbath working, all contribute to the destruction of family life. But the keystone of the arch is sodomy. Sodomy encapsulates all that is contrary to the divinely-ordained institution of marriage. It is condemned as an abomination to the Lord and as emphatically excluding people from heaven.”
Rowan Williams also appears to condone the practice of praying to Mary, according to some who have read his book, Ponder These Things: Praying with Icons of the Virgin – a book which was inspired, he says, by his pilgrimages to the shrine of Our Lady in Walsingham, Norfolk. The Director of the Church Society regards Dr Williams’s book as “a form of idolatry”; he also commented, “On questions of morality, he seems heretical, and now on matters of devotion he is at best questionable and at worst idolatrous.”
The Archbishop-elect’s Anglo-Catholic credentials are confirmed in a press interview. When asked how he approached prayer each day in his busy life, he said, “What I try to do is to take about half an hour to say the Jesus Prayer, which is what I use most regularly, the Orthodox form of prayer. That is simply repeating, ‘O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,’ using the prayer rope that eastern monks use.”
“Is the prayer rope something like rosary beads?” he was asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “There are a hundred knots on the rope and you simply say the Jesus Prayer once for each knot. And there are various ways of punctuating it – you could pause at 25 and say the Gloria or something like that, which is what I normally do.” How reminiscent of those about whom the Saviour says, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matt 6:7).
Among those who have been the key influences in his “spiritual and contemplative formation”, he listed St John of the Cross; John Chapman, Abbot of Downside; and an English Carmelite nun called Ruth Burrows, who wrote Guidelines to Mystical Prayer, a book which influenced him greatly. It seems that the Romanising process in the Church of England is about to receive a massive boost.
There are other serious concerns about his brand of religion. At a recent Druidic festival, which included prayers to pagan deities, he was inducted as an honorary white Druid. He dismissed suggestions that he was dabbling in paganism, but a spokesman for the Evangelical Reform Group has rightly asked, “How will it help African bishops and pastors seeking to draw people away from paganism to follow Christ when they see him involved in this sort of activity?” We are also told that he watches the popular TV programme The Simpsons – “which treats Christianity as fair game . . . and regularly makes fun of Jesus Christ”, and he is fond of the TV comedy Father Ted – “which contained a fair measure of sexually-explicit humour”. Without doubt it is shameful that such a man is to lead the Established Church of professedly Christian England.
It seems likely that the decline of the Church of England will accelerate under Rowan Williams’ leadership. Some evangelicals comfort themselves in his modicum of orthodoxy or in the fond hope that he will amend his views. The Church Society Secretary stated, “Evangelicals are heartened that Dr Williams holds to foundational truths such as the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The Bishop of Lewes says, “I am hoping that he will be willing to change his mind on some moral issues in a way that is more in line with the clear teaching of the Bible and the declared position of the Anglican Communion.” We have yet to see the leopard change his spots.
The English Churchman is not far off the mark when it sums up the Archbishop-elect as “a mush of Liberalism, Romanism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Charismaticism and political correctness, all glued together with mysticism”. For all his scholarship and religion, he is a blind leader of the blind and his “religion is vain”. It is therefore necessary that, like the devout scholar and leading ecclesiastic who came to Jesus by night, he be born again (John 3:1-13).
And how urgently necessary it also is that the Church of England itself – and all the Protestant Churches in the United Kingdom – be visited with a heaven-sent reformation. “Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine” (Ps 80 14).