Essay / Culture

Archbishop of Canterbury, Moral Expert?

On Sunday Rowan Williams, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, was featured in a Reuters story entitled “World Anglican Leader Attacks U.S.” In this very short piece, Williams is reported as responding to an Islamic magazine’s inquiry regarding the moral position of the U.S regarding the war in Iraq. When asked if the U.S. has lost the moral high ground since 9/11, Williams responded “Yes.” He then compares the current United States to the imperialistic British empire of bygone days, stating: “It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering and normalizing it. Rightly or wrongly, that is what the British Empire did — in India for example. It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put things back together again — Iraq for example.” At least Williams had the courtesy to acknowledge the imperialistic British elephant in the room. However, as an Anglican, my issue with Williams is not what he is saying per se but rather that he has the audacity to stand in moral judgment of an entire nation. Let me explain.

As the head of the Anglican Communion (albeit more of a titular head), Williams is presiding over a crumbling church. The fracture of the Anglican Communion is well known to most people who follow, even tangentially, the current state of the Christian church. What is dividing Williams’ own church is the erosion of biblical, Christian morality. That’s right, Williams is claiming to judge the morality of the United States when he himself is apparently unable to state unequivocally the moral position of homosexuality, for example. One only needs to read the Bible and have a basic grasp on Christian history to know where homosexuality falls on God’s moral scale, yet Williams seems unable to recognize this obvious moral stand. However, he does not seem to have this same problem when judging the actions of the U.S. Williams’ own reply to the Muslim magazine is telling: the situation in Iraq is clearly amoral whereas British imperialism (and all of its attendant sins, think South Africa) may have been right or wrong. Until Williams is able to uphold biblical, Christian morality for his own church; it seems unwise, perhaps even foolish, to stand in judgment over the U.S.’s actions in Iraq.

Archbishop Williams, let’s get our own Anglican house in order before we claim the right to judge the actions of others.

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