The Times of London has reported that:
Gay partnerships pose the same ethical questions as those between men and
women, and the key issue for Christians is that they are faithful and
lifelong, he believes.
Dr Williams is known to be personally liberal on the issue but the strength of his views, revealed in private correspondence shown to The Times, will astonish his critics.
Really? Astonish? I freely admit that I don't follow all of the ups and downs of Dr. Williams and the Anglican Communion, but I don't understand why this is surprising. The newspaper goes on to report that "in an exchange of letters with an evangelical Christian [Dr. Deborah Pitt], written eight years ago when he was Archbishop of Wales, he described his belief that biblical passages criticising homosexual sex were not aimed at people who were gay by nature. He argued that scriptural prohibitions were addressed to heterosexuals looking for sexual variety."
That, of course, is a rather standard line of argument used by many Christians attempting to get around or do away with Romans 1, a passage that has to be twisted beyond recognition to get away from its obvious references to homosexual acts. But my interest here lies is this section:
He told Dr Pitt that by the end of the 1980s he had “definitely come to the conclusion” that the Bible did not denounce faithful relationships between people who happened to be gay.
He cited two academics as pivotal in influencing his view. One of them was Jeffrey John, the celibate homosexual whom he later forced not to become Bishop of Reading after an outcry from conservatives.
In his 1989 essay The Body’s Grace, Dr Williams argued that the Church’s acceptance of contraception meant that it acknowledged the validity of nonprocreative sex. This could be taken as a green light for gay sex.
Well, imagine that: contraception leads to the validation of nonprocreative sex, which leads to the acceptance of homosexual sex. The much maligned Pope Paul VI, of course, certainly recognized the first part of this equation and would not, I'm sure, have been surprised by the second:
In a recent interview with The Atlantic, the author Paul Elie, who is Catholic, talked about his experience studying and interviewing Dr. Williams for a lengthy piece, "The Velvet Reformation," written for the March 2009 issue of the same magazine:
You write that "no church has ever had a wholly consistent set of sexual teachings." Do you think church leaders need to develop a coherent theology on sexuality, or will consensus among believers eventually push the church in one direction or another?
I think any real leader has to engage with these issues. The question is what does it mean to engage? In the view of the people at the Vatican, to engage with the issue is to state very clearly what your position is, and then to keep stating it in every situation. Rowan Williams engages somewhat differently. He insists that these are issues that have to be discussed as questions, and that people on all sides have to admit that we don't know everything. It's not simply a matter of politicking – that whichever side has a more convincing argument prevails. All of us have to look at our own experience, and the experience of people unlike ourselves. Having empathy with the other seems to be quite Christian.
You write in your piece that "The Body's Grace," Williams’s 1989 lecture to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, has been highly controversial. Can you talk about why it’s so provocative and powerful?
Perhaps. But one wonders: what if Dr. Williams had taken this same "striking" approach in "midrashing" his way through the challenging and difficult issue of, say, incest? Or polygamy? Or sex between adults and children? Or beastiality? After all, people who engage in those acts are also humans with experiences, needs, desires, longings, inclinations. And if—as Elie writes—we simply don't know everything about sexuality, upon what basis does society frown upon incest, polygamy, and beastiality while increasingly, with fervent insistence, singing the praise of homosexual sex? If, again, going back to the first article, "the Church’s
acceptance of contraception meant that it acknowledged the validity of
nonprocreative sex," what exactly is wrong with committed, nonprocreative incestuous relationships? Or committed, nonprocreative polygamous marriages? What is the objective basis of Dr. Williams' approach to these matters? From what I can tell, that is something of a mystery.
What is remarkable to me (but, again, not surprising) is how Dr. Williams, an accomplished and erudite theologian, misreads Scripture, misunderstands the language of the body, and misses the meaning and nature of sexuality, all while earnestly seeking to "engage" and "question" and "discuss" and gaze upon "experience." This in turn has led him to apparently state that the most important thing in "gay sexual relationships" is that "they are faithful and lifelong." I suppose one could take his word on the matter. But, for the life of me, I don't see why they would.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles, Excerpts, & Interviews:
• Contraception and Homosexuality: The Sterile Link of Separation | Dr. Raymond Dennehy
• Peanuts and Thomists | Raymond Dennehy
• Human Sexuality and the Catholic Church | Donald P. Asci
• The Truth About Conscience | John F. Kippley
• Marriage and the Family in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae | Rev. Michael Hull, S.T.D.
• Viagra: It's Not Just for Old Guys Anymore | Mary Beth Bonacci
• Practicing Chastity in an Unchaste Age | Bishop Joseph F. Martino
• Authentic Freedom and the Homosexual Person | Dr. Mark Lowery
• Homosexual Orientation Is Not a "Gift" | James Hitchcock
• Can I Quote You On That? Talking to the Media About Homosexuality and the Priesthood | Mark Brumley
• Kinsey: Dedicated Scientist or Sexual Deviant? | Benjamin Wiker