It was reported in yesterday’s London Sunday Telegraph that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has changed his view regarding accepting homosexual practice in the the Anglican church. He now says homosexuals should change their behavior if they want to be welcomed into the Anglican Church. Williams has increasingly distanced himself from his one-time support of homosexual relationships and stressed that the tradition and teaching of the church has in no way been altered by the Anglican Communion’s consecration of its first openly homosexual bishop within the very liberal Episcopal Church USA..
Homosexual advocates are correct to conclude that Archbishop Williams has become increasingly conservative on this issue. This new direction has sparked accusations that Williams has performed an "astonishing" U-turn on the issue. These revelations surfaced in a newspaper interview last week in which the archbishop denied that it was time for the church to accept homosexual relationships, suggesting rather that it should be welcoming but not inclusive. Williams told a Dutch journalist: "I don’t believe inclusion is a value in itself. Welcome is. We don’t say ‘Come in, and we ask no questions.’ I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviors, ideas, emotions. Ethics is not a matter of a set of abstract rules, it is a matter of living the mind of Christ. That applies to sexual ethics."

Some twenty years ago Rowan Williams wrote a scholarly essay in which he defended homosexual relationships. What happened to the Archbishop’s thinking on this issue? He says, "That was when I was a professor to stimulate debate. It did not generate much support and a lot of criticism–quite fairly on a number of points."

What really happened here? We don’t know for certain but frankly it appears that Williams has been convinced by the arguments in the unfolding debate itself, and by his pastoral responsibility for the unity of the whole church, to back a resolution that says homosexual practice is incompatible with the Bible. When Williams was consecrated as archbishop a few years ago I wrote that we should give him time to see how he would actually lead the worldwide Anglican Church. Many conservatives wrote him off at the time. But time has proven that Williams is willing to change his mind and take a difficult stand on an issue that is central to biblical Christian ethics.

I suggest that now we should do two things: 1. Pray for Archbishop Williams. He will need more courage and grace to lead faithfully in the coming months. 2. Recognize that leaders can and do change their minds, and sometimes, thank God, for the better. Not all thought on this controversial issue is intractable, especially when leaders are willing to listen and think deeply about the importance of their views to Christ and his people around the world. I have a strong sense that this change in Williams’ view happened for several reasons, one of which was the presence of important scholars in the church like N. T. Wright, the bishop of Durham. It appears that Tom has had a huge impact on Archbishop Williams’ thinking. I would also suggest, to my various mainline renewalist friends, that this case provides clear evidence that God can and does answer prayer in these moral battles. We should very quietly rejoice and then keep pressing the struggle for fidelity to bibical authority, especially in private conversations. And we should show other leaders how Rowan Williams has responded, urging them to do the same. Who knows? The Lord might hear our pleas for the church and “restore again the years the locusts have eatten.”

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  1. Martin Downes August 28, 2006 at 11:23 am

    A colleague of mine was ordained as a curate during the days when Rowan Williams was bishop of Monmouth (Wales). He has since left the anglical church and returned to non-conformity. You/we really should pray that Rowan Williams would repent and believe the biblical gospel.

  2. David L. Bahnsen August 28, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    “The years the locusts have eaten”. Amen, brother! =)

  3. Michael J. Pahls August 28, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    Great points all. Having read ++Williams for years now, I find his critics largely unintelligible. His work in “The Body’s Grace” to the side, he is easily the most accomplished theologian to occupy the See of Canterbury in recent memory.
    I interpret the recent retreat from his earlier proposal as a sign of his evident catholicity. How beautiful that even so prominent a bishop can repent and revise!

  4. Jeff Meyers August 29, 2006 at 10:35 am

    Good points everyone. I think we tend to idolize prominent pastors and theologians. Unconsciously we bracket them from the growth “the rest of us” experience as the years roll on.
    I have had to repent of so much of what I confidently asserted as a young man. Sometimes my head spins and I wonder if I’m really the same person.
    Unfortunately, most Christians with high visibility leadership positions often resist admitting growth and change. Even pastors have a hard time telling their congregations they were wrong in the past. It’s a god complex, I think. We want people to trust us, and we’ve convinced ourselves that they will only do so if we maintain the illusion of our being right about everything.
    We do have a wonderful example in Augustine, who chronicled his changes in his book Retractions. He says this about that book in one of his letters:
    “Cicero, the prince of Roman orators says of someone that “He never uttered a word which he would wish to recall”. High Praise indeed!—but more applicable to a complete ass than to a genuinely wise man. . . . If God permit me, I shall gather together and point out, in a work specially devoted to this purpose, all the things that justly displease me in my books: then men will see that I am far from being a biased judge in my own case. . . . For I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress—by writing. (Epistle 143.2-3)

  5. August 21, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    Anglican Archbishop says Conversion means conversion of behaviours

    The archbishop of Canterbury has told homosexuals that they need to change their behaviour if they are to be welcomed into the church, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
    The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is the head of the Anglican Church, …

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