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Press reports on the Archbishop's correspondence

Friday 8th August 2008

In response to the recent coverage of the correspondence dated back to 2000, The Archbishop Canterbury has made the following statement:

In the light of recent reports based on private correspondence from eight years ago, I wish to make it plain that, as I have consistently said, I accept Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as stating the position of the worldwide Anglican Communion on issues of sexual ethics and thus as providing the authoritative basis on which I as Archbishop speak on such questions.

That Resolution also recognises the need for continuing study and discussion on the matter.  In the past, as a professional theologian, I have made some contributions to such study.  But obviously, no individual's speculations about this have any authority of themselves.  Our Anglican Church has never exercised close control over what individual theologians may say.  However, like any church, it has the right to declare what may be said in its name as official doctrine and to define the limits of legitimate practice.   As Archbishop I understand my responsibility to be to the declared teaching of the church I serve, and thus to discourage any developments that might imply that the position and convictions of the worldwide Communion have changed.

The Bishop of Durham and 18 other signatories have also sent the following letter to The Times:

To the Editor, The Times


As bishops in the Church of England, we wish to protest in the strongest possible terms at the gross misrepresentation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

First, your front-page story (August 6) and the further material inside were presented as though he had just made a fresh statement, whereas the letters now leaked were written, in a private and personal context, between seven and eight years ago (this only became apparent six paragraphs into the report). One can only wonder at the motives behind releasing, and highlighting, these letters at this precise moment – and at the way in which some churchmen (August 7) are seeking to make capital of them as though they were 'news'.

Second, Dr Williams did not say 'gay sex is good as marriage' (your front-page headline) or 'equivalent to marriage' (your inside headline). In his first letter, he concluded that a same-sex relationship 'might . . . reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage'. This proposal (whether or not one agrees with it, as many of us do not) is far more cautious in content, and tentative in tone, than is implied by both the articles and the headlines. In the second letter, Dr Williams stresses that same-sex relationships are not the same as marriage, 'because marriage has other dimensions to do with children and society'.

Third, the Archbishop has said repeatedly, as he did in one of the letters, that there is a difference between 'thinking aloud' as a theologian and the task of a bishop (let alone an Archbishop) to uphold the church's teaching. He has regularly insisted, as he did in his closing address at Lambeth, that the church is right to have a basic 'unwillingness to change what has been received in faith from scripture and tradition.' He has spoken out frequently against the 'foot-in-the-door' tactic of divisive innovation such as the consecration of the present Bishop of New Hampshire. As he said in that same closing address, 'the practice and public language of the Church act always as a reminder that the onus of proof is on those who seek a new understanding'. Nor, despite regular accusations, is this prioritising of the bishop's task mere pragmatism or the pursuit of a 'quixotic goal' of Anglican unity. It expresses what Jesus himself taught: the fundamental and deeply biblical teaching on the vital importance of church unity and of working for that unity by humility and mutual submission.

Fourth, Dr Williams has also stressed in many contexts that the church must be prepared to stand out against social trends where they do not reflect or embody the gospel. Mary Ann Sieghart's extraordinary suggestion that the church 'must eventually reflect the society within which it works' is a recipe for a blatant Erastianism, against which the Archbishop has resolutely set his face. It is ironic to hear those who would hate to see the church being the Tory party at prayer insisting that it must now be New Labour at prayer.

Fifth, the Archbishop pointed out, in an interview with a Dutch newspaper two years ago, that 'inclusion' – that regular mantra of gay lobbyists – is not 'a value in itself'. We do not, he said, simply welcome people into the church without asking questions. 'Conversion', he said, 'means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions.' In that same interview he pointed out that the views he had earlier advocated 'did not generate much support and [raised] a lot of criticism – quite fairly on a number of points.'

In his invitations to the Lambeth Conference, Dr Williams insisted that he saw the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Anglican Covenant as the tracks along which the Communion should move. Neither of those in any way points in the direction your articles indicated. In his final Presidential address to the Conference, he articulated clearly and sharply where we now are as a church: the reaffirmation of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life; the reaffirmation of the previous Lambeth resolution on sexual behaviour; the moratoria on same-sex blessings, on consecration of any more practising homosexuals as bishops, and on the incursions by bishops into one another's territories; the Anglican Covenant; and some key interim arrangements while that Covenant undergoes further drafting. He presented these, in the context of a powerful and clearly thought out address, as the fresh articulation of the mind of the church, not as an opinion which he was bound to express but from which he privately wanted to dissent. He has our full and unqualified support in his magnificent leadership both of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion as we seek to obey God's call to take the gospel to the whole world.




















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