Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is floundering over his suggestion early this month in Britain that a “constructive relationship between Islamic law and the statutory law of the United Kingdom” not only merits consideration but is perhaps “unavoidable.” Even his predecessor as chief prelate of the Church of England has criticized Williams.
“His erudite and nuanced acceptance of some Muslim laws within British law would be disastrous for the nation and, to some degree, a direct challenge to the values of the Christian/ Jewish ethic on which our laws have been constructed,” pronounced Lord George Carey. The former archbishop may not be the towering intellect that Williams is reputed to be. But Carey’s low-church simplicity helped him to avoid his successor’s proclivity for intellectual and verbal diarrhea.
Vividly contrasting with Williams’ ponderous speeches and interviews, Carey penned a succinct op-ed for the British newspaper News of the World. “The Archbishop of Canterbury may have done Britain a great favor by raising issues concerning Islam,” Carey wrote. “But I believe he has overstated the case for accommodating Islamic legal codes, not the importance of the topic.”
Carey said he could not subscribe to Williams’ suggestion that Britain “concede some place in law for aspects of Sharia.” Emphatically, he declared, “There can be no exceptions to the laws of our land which have been so painfully honed by the struggle for democracy and human rights.”
Carey’s point about the primacy of British law is refreshingly simple compared to Williams’ various strained explanations of his remarks. His original February 7 speech to the British Courts of Justice, titled “Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective,” was over 6,200 words.
His subsequent February explanatory interview with the BBC was an unhelpful 2,200 words (including the questions) and only compounded the controversy while adding no clarity. Does the archbishop not recognize the virtue of brevity?
Apparently not. As the uproar expanded in Britain and around the world, especially within the 80 million member Anglican communion over which the archbishop spiritually presides, Williams tried to explain himself further in a 3,000 word speech to his church’s February 11 General Synod. Over a third of it was devoted specifically to the Islamic law controversy.
“Some of what has been heard is a very long way indeed from what was actually said,” Williams complained. Nobly, he admitted that he “must of course take responsibility for any unclarity” and for any “misleading choice of words.” He called his original 6,000 word speech only an “opening contribution” to the dialogue.
“I tried to make clear that there could be no ‘blank checks’ in this regard, in particular as regards some of the sensitive questions about the status and liberties of women,” Williams tried to explain. “The law of the land still guarantees for all the basic components of human dignity.”
BY MOST ACCOUNTS, the Archbishop of Canterbury is intellectually brilliant. Perhaps too brilliant. He does not seem to have any media savvy or appreciate that a few ill considered words from so senior a churchman can easily inflame his British and international constituency.
Shortly before Christmas, Williams told a BBC radio interviewer that he rejected non-biblical myths about the Nativity Story. He meant that the Gospels do not specifically mention that the Wise Men were three in number, or that they were kings, or that donkeys were present at the stable, or that snow was present, or that the whole affair occurred in December. The Daily Telegraph unhelpfully headlined its description of the interview; “Archbishop Says Nativity a Legend.”
Williams’ supposed rejection of the Bible’s description of the first Christmas was reported internationally. Pat Robertson denounced the supposed apostasy as “disgraceful.” Rush Limbaugh, in mentioning Williams’s recent remarks about Sharia, referenced the Archbishop’s supposed rejection of the Christmas star.
In the actual interview, Williams was in fact fairly orthodox and described his belief in a literal Virgin Birth. But his attempt at sophisticated analysis will forever be remembered as the Archbishop’s denial of the Nativity Story just in time for Christmas.
He should have known better. Sometimes he seems more determined to show just how smart he is than to perform what is for bishops the supreme task: encouraging the faith of their flock, most of whom are not professors at Oxford.
Most of Williams’ career before becoming a bishop was spent in academia, and perhaps that is where he really belongs. That he should preside over the global Anglican Communion during its greatest modern crisis is a greater irony. The same year that he was elevated by Prime Minister Tony Blair to Anglicanism’s most senior prelacy was also the year of U.S. Episcopal Church’s election of its first openly homosexual bishop.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?