Politics & Policy

Archbishop of Cant

The Anglican Communion shrinks.

Last week, the Washington Post summarized for an American audience the controversy over Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s assent to the notion that the U.K. must inevitably adopt sharia law. It was a welcome service, since the speech that stoked the controversy was some 6,000 words long. The archbishop found it difficult to express his thoughts succinctly on how British citizens ought to chuck 1,000 years of common-law tradition.

Since then, the archbishop has clarified a few things on Great Britain’s embrace of sharia in a speech to the Anglican General Synod. “We are not talking about parallel jurisdictions; and 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,” he said. Williams explained that he was advocating not “parallel jurisdictions” but “plural jurisdictions.” Ah! Little wonder that the left-wing Guardian was so impressed with the “sheer complexity of his argument” and his use of “all manner of references.” If you need footnotes, it must be true.

The fact remains: Williams has not retracted his contention that the British legal system’s incorporation of elements of sharia is “unavoidable.” Presumably, after the local sharia tribunal condemns a woman to be stoned to death for the crime of being raped, due process will be served on appeal. Such a hypothetical dramatically overstates what the archbishop has suggested. But it gets a point across about the dangers of sharia — and about the encroaching Islamicization of heretofore Christian democracies throughout Europe and around the world — something the archbishop seems at pains to recognize.

This is not the first time the archbishop has pulled the neat trick of putting his foot in his mouth while simultaneously shooting himself in the foot. He had a very cordial public conversation with atheist children’s author Phillip Pullman, almost totally oblivious to the fact that Pullman’s professed desire is to disabuse children of religious belief — Pullman called C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read.”

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has distanced himself from the archbishop’s statements but still praises Williams’ “great integrity.” The queen, who serves as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, is reportedly dismayed by the archbishop’s comments. However, the source of her anxiety is not that the archbishop might be using his position to undermine the values of the English people and government.

According to royal sources, “the Queen is worried, coming at such a difficult time in the Church’s history, that the fallout may sap the authority of the Church.” This “difficult time” is the spreading schism in the worldwide Anglican communion. St. John’s Shaughnessy Church, one of the largest Episcopal churches in Canada, recently voted to leave the Anglican Church in Canada and realign with the more orthodox Bishop of the Southern Cone in South America. While the local church had disagreed with the Anglican Communion’s stance on homosexuality, their decision was not driven solely by that.

“From our point of view, [homosexuality] is not what the vote was about,” a church spokesman told the Globe and Mail. “It was about the supremacy of the Bible and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.” As opposed to the supremacy of, say, the Koran. (Or the Hindu Vedas, for that matter: the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno — bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles — recently apologized for attempts to convert Hindus. “There are enough Christians in the world,” said the Rev. Karen MacQueen, following a January interfaith worship service with Hindus there. That sentiment surely provides comfort to Christians in India who are regularly victimized and martyred by Hindu nationalists.)

In the Anglican schism brewing in the U.S., 61 churches have realigned with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, headed by Peter Akinola, the Anglican primate in Nigeria. Akinola has clung to traditional Anglican orthodoxy in large part because Christians in Nigeria are subject to violent attempts to Islamicize the country.

Following an outbreak of violence against Christians in Nigeria related to the Danish cartoon incident, Akinola was unequivocal about what he saw going on in his own country. Nigerian Christians had nothing to do with secular Danes disrespecting Islam. The cartoons were only a pretext to the real goal: “It is no longer a hidden fact that a long-standing agenda to make this Nigeria an Islamic nation is being surreptitiously pursued,” he said.

Ben Kwashi, the archbishop of Jos in northern Nigeria, expressed “total disbelief” at the archbishop of Canterbury’s comments. “Once you ask for the first step of Sharia law you are going to get to the last of it. By 1960 when Nigeria got Independence, it began as penal code,” Kwashi told the BBC. “Once it came to this generation they upgraded it to full blown Sharia.”

Nigeria’s wary Anglicans provide a welcome contrast to Rowan Williams’s pollyanna attitude. Widespread violence against Christians has yet to break out in the U.K. — but, in the event, would the archbishop of Canterbury defend Christian beliefs and protect Western values? Many fear the answer is “no.” Either way, Anglicans — as well as those merely interested in freedom — should hold Williams’s feet to the fire until the extent of his surrender to sharia is clearly stated.

It appears unlikely that Williams has the stomach or inclination to resist the encroaches of sharia law’s most un-British elements into the U.K.’s legal system and society. But he doesn’t have to help.

– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

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