Anglican archbishop urges reflection amid controversy
July 15 2003 12:00 AM ET
The archbishop of Canterbury urged members of the Church of England on Monday to draw back from confrontation following a bitter fight over the appointment of a gay bishop. Archbishop Rowan Williams, addressing the church's governing General Synod, did not refer directly to the dispute within the church over the appointment of Jeffrey John as bishop of Reading. John, who was honest about being gay
and confirmed that he had a long-term relationship with another man, withdrew from the appointment. "If all the pain of these weeks can in some way prompt us to see more clearly what we do to each other, why we threaten each other so, we shall have grown a little--grown a little into the space God has made, the new and living way," Williams said.
The archbishop, whose appointment was controversial because of his own support for gays within the church, said rival groups tended to speak to each through megaphones, not in serious conversation. And he suggested that the dispute about John had damaged the church's image. "It's been said often enough in recent weeks that we have too often been seen as a community that rewards dishonesty or concealment. It's been said also that some are intimidated in raising critical questions for fear of being stigmatized as fundamentalist and bigoted," he said. "These levels of mutual fear and mistrust are cause for grief and repentance."
During its current session, the general synod is not debating the issue of gay clergy, but the issue has been prominent in conversations among delegates and in news coverage. On Saturday gay activist Peter Tatchell interrupted the synod meeting and held up a poster saying, "Church of hate, stop crucifying queers." Some delegates walked out, while Williams and the church's other senior leader, David Hope, archbishop of York, listened to Tatchell for about half an hour before leaving. "You can see the voice of bigotry and unreason here today," Tatchell said. "Your ears are deaf and your eyes are blind. You do not witness the suffering of gay and lesbian people."
Williams urged the church on Monday to be alert for opportunities for growth on the fringes, or even beyond the bounds, of routine parish life. Much of the Church of England has suffered from a long-term decline in attendance and financial support, though some congregations have thrived. "At present there is actually an extraordinary amount going on in terms of the creation of new styles of church life," Williams said. "We can call it church planting, 'new ways of being church' or various other things, but the point is that more and more patterns of worship and shared life are appearing on the edge of our mainstream life that cry out for our support, understanding, and nurture if they are not to get isolated and unaccountable."