HAVE YOU ever given a future Archbishop of Canterbury a lift home from an anti-war event? Perhaps not-unless you were in South Wales some five years ago. There you could have seen bishop Rowan Williams leave a meeting against the bombing of Iraq and calmly accept sharing a car with several Socialist Workers Party members.
This is the man who has now been declared Archbishop of Canterbury. OK, it’s not quite as important as the defeat of Ken Jackson, but it’s quite interesting. Derek Simpson won the Amicus union elections, representing 1 million members. Rowan Williams has a worldwide flock of 70 million. Williams says, the bombing of Afghanistan was ‘morally tainted’ and an attack on Iraq would be ‘immoral and illegal’.
He was a few hundred yards from the World Trade Centre on 11 September last year. His response was, ‘I now know just a little of what it is like for so many human beings-Israelis and Palestinians now, and Iraqis a few years ago-to be addressed in the language of terror and hate.’
He added, ‘The closer you were to facing and accepting death, the harder it was to wish the fear on anyone else. The unspeakable tragedy of thousands of innocent dead cannot be made ‘better’ by more deaths.’
Three years ago Williams was a candidate for Bishop of Southwark, but his predecessor as Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, vetoed the appointment. Williams went to see him and Carey laid out a file of Williams’s writings on his desk and asked him directly if he would ‘toe the party line’. ‘No,’ was the reply.
Williams has attacked the Disney Corporation for exploiting children, condemned school league tables, and defended the rights of gays and women to become priests. It is interesting to consider why Tony Blair did not veto him for the appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Someone with Williams’s views would certainly be vetoed as New Labour by-election candidate for the parliamentary constituency of Canterbury. You’d have thought responsibility for 70 million souls might be even more important.
Perhaps Blair would have looked incredibly right wing, obsessed with controlling everything and an enemy of radical ideas in any field if he had blocked him. Not that this has exactly put him off in the past. So perhaps Blair believes Williams’s ‘loony left’ views will discredit the Church of England, thereby clearing the way for the return of Catholicism to England as state religion.
Or maybe it was just another chance to make the Conservatives look silly-their churchy types predictably attacked him getting the post. Anyway, whatever the reason, I’m hoping that Williams’s appointment is one more sign of a new turn in British politics.
The Church of England has traditionally been dubbed ‘the Tory party at prayer’. This is not an accurate description of Rowan Williams. Welsh speakers use the word ‘Esgob!’ as an expression of surprise. ‘Esgob’ means ‘a bishop’.
Let’s hope this particular bishop has a few surprises up his cassock for Blair. If Rowan Williams reads Socialist Worker (and he just might, you know), it would surely be a good way to start his office by leading his flock onto the anti-war demo on 28 September.
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