Savitri Hensman, writing in The Guardian, says that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s approach to reconciliation fails because of a flawed approach.
Ending conflict and promoting mutual understanding are deeply important to Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury. But has his approach largely failed because of a flawed approach to reconciliation?
Williams has long been concerned with peace and reconciliation. As he wrote in his 1994 work, Open to Judgement, “‘God so loved the world’ – not the Church, not the moral majority, not the Ministry of Defence or Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, not Iran or Iraq, but the world. He condemns not the world but the fantasies of absolute rightness that torture and disfigure the world.”
However, he also wrote that the church’s calling to live in true community “doesn’t mean that we are somehow committed to peace at all costs, to reconciliation rather than justice”. To witness for peace “requires an exposure, in ourselves as in the world in general, of hidden deceit and destructiveness, and a critique of easy harmonies.”
Despite this, in recent years Williams has tended to de-emphasise the importance of challenging injustice. For instance, in a sermon in 2007, he seemed to argue that, during conflict, no one should be treated as innocent, except where the imbalance of power is enormous.
It is good to avoid self-righteousness, and recognise we all have done wrong at some time: nobody is perfectly innocent. Yet in particular conflicts, often one party or the other is to blame: a drunk patient who swears at an A&E nurse who is doing her best to be helpful, for instance, or a homophobic father who rejects a son because he is gay.
It is often all too easy for those on the receiving end of injustice to blame themselves, but this does little to resolve the problem. There may be extenuating circumstances, and it may be genuinely painful for, say, someone brought up in a white supremacist household to work with a black person for the first time. And there can be difficult judgments to be made. But this is part of life; and being challenged can help us to grow morally.
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Does this critique of Williams’ work internationally seem similar to his work in the Anglican Communion?