It's true that the election of a practising gay person as a bishop in the US in 2003 was the trigger for much of the present conflict. It is doubtless also true that a lot of extra heat is generated in the conflict by ingrained and ignorant prejudice in some quarters; and that for many others, in and out of the Church, the issue seems to be a clear one about human rights and dignity. But the debate in the Anglican Communion is not essentially a debate about the human rights of homosexual people. It is possible -- indeed, it is imperative -- to give the strongest support to the defence of homosexual people against violence, bigotry and legal disadvantage, to appreciate the role played in the life of the church by people of homosexual orientation, and still to believe that this doesn't settle the question of whether the Christian Church has the freedom, on the basis of the Bible, and its historic teachings, to bless homosexual partnerships as a clear expression of God's will.I couldn't write a better summary of what I believe to be the fundamentals of my position. I have no stake in how the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion at large decides the issue of the homosexuality. My concern is that conservatives in the Church, some of whom I know and am very fond of, are failing to make the proper distinction between a theological dispute, which Williams goes on to say has to be decided "on the common basis of Bible and historic teaching," and a dispute over the abrogation of the most fundamental of civil rights for gay and lesbian Nigerians, as endorsed by Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of All Nigeria.
Archbishop Williams makes this distinction, and he makes it clearly. He says to liberals:
Unless you think that social and legal considerations should be allowed to resolve religious disputes -- which is a highly risky assumption if you also believe in real freedom of opinion in a diverse society -- there has to be a recognition that religious bodies have to deal with the question in their own terms.At the same time, he says to conservatives:
... this is not and should never be a question about the contribution of gay and lesbian people as such to the Church of God and its ministry, about the dignity and value of gay and lesbian people.I've been frequently frustrated by the claim of conservative Anglicans that "rights" of gays and lesbians mean nothing if their behavior is sinful. See here for an example. There are few arguments with less intellectual meat than that one. Why's that? Well, if it isn't sinful, then we have taken away someone's civil rights for something that person did not believe in the first place. Not a good thing for "freedom of opinion in a diverse society."
And, I have to admit, I've been frustrated by the claim of liberal Anglicans that external concepts of human rights can occasionally trump Scripture. I feel like they've been reading a different Bible (though I agree with them in their position on human rights).
So, I hope that Archbishop Akinola is reading Williams' reflection carefully. Because in the same Anglican Communion where liberals are letting human rights guide an evolution in the historical beliefs of the Church, conservatives are letting "orthodoxy" steal away the most basic protections that civil society can offer those in an aggrieved minority: speech, assembly, the press, and free exercise of religion. (See here for more details on the "gay marriage" situation in Nigeria.)
I hope Akinola's American supporters (i.e., the Institute on Religion and Democracy, The American Anglican Council, and the Anglican Communion Network, headed by Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh) are reading Williams' reflection, too.