The Archbishop v. The Scotist

The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has written an interesting essay in the Times education supplement, in which he argues:

“Quite often in discussion of Christian attitudes to homosexuality …. it is taken for granted that any statement that a form of behaviour might be sinful is on a par with the expression of hate, so that it is impossible for a conservative Christian, Catholic or Protestant or, for that matter, an orthodox Muslim to state the traditional position of their faith without being accused of something akin to holocaust denial or racial bigotry.

“Yet the truth surely is that while it is wholly indefensible to deny respect to a person as such, any person’s choices are bound to be open to challenge. Any kind of behaviour or policy freely opted for by a responsible adult is likely to be challenged from somewhere; it isn’t as though sexual activity were different from any other area of conscious choice. And to challenge behaviour may be deeply unwelcome and offensive in a personal sense, but it is not a matter for legislative action.”

The Anglican Scotist has also written an interesting essay, in which he responds:

“While Williams thinks that homosexuals might freely choose not to engage in any homosexual activity at all, and that such a choice would not harm them as persons, I think you can see the truth is quite otherwise. … It is extraordinary, and indeed indicative of a bizzare affection for Abstractions, that Williams would consider advocacy of a ban on all homosexual activity neutral with respect to the well-being of homosexuals.

“If he is going to so theorize with any credibility, he’ll have to draw a firm red line; maybe he meant to, but was just to shy (poor Rowan!): let ‘homosexual activity’ mean ‘homosexual intercourse’. But even so–can we seriously entertain advocacy on a ban on such for all homosexuals is neutral with regard to their well-being as persons? Consider the effects of such a ban on all heterosexual persons. We would see, I think, lots of straight folks become mentally ill: neurotic, clinically depressed, et al. And a few might be driven to criminal acts nevertheless. Indeed–did not Paul speak to this effect about heterosexuals? Better to marry than burn? If we recognize ‘the’ or even ‘a’ need for intercourse among heterosexuals, why would we fail to recognize it among homosexuals?”

I am largely in agreement with the central purpose of the archbishop’s piece, which is to argue against the supression of Christian unions at British universities. I agree that holding traditional attitudes on sexuality is not sinful, and I am something of ACLU type when it comes to free speech. I generally believe that the answer to bad speech is more speech, and I don’t really understand why ostensibly liberal people in Canada and the U. K., and on American campuses, have backed laws against hate speech. But in making an argument for banning certain kinds of speech, but allowing others, the archbishop offers what strikes me as an exceedingly reductive view of the role that physical intimacy plays in human life.

Tobais Haller has also commented on Dr. Williams’ essay. He notes:

Does the fact that a negative opinion towards another rests on some theological opinion or belief wipe away any guilt? One needs to examine, I think, first, if the opinion is indeed a matter of the faith, or a mere cultural artifact. In the present situation “homosexuality” has been elevated to a place in our discourse that a cold-blooded examination of Scripture hardly warrants. (One might also do well to see if the “belief” is true or not; that is, does it truly reflect what the tradition and reason and the Scripture point to?) But secondly, must we not also consider the harm done by holding the negative opinion, even if it is justifiable on the foregoing bases; to ask, What is the fruit of this opinion? Does it build up, or does it in fact cause suffering? For generations, it was held as a core theological belief, justified by Scripture, that women are inferior to men; I need not retail the suffering such a theological opinion has wrought, and wreaks. Racism too finds ample justification in Scripture and the tradition — and it is no use suggesting that such matters are trivial or medieval when the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa only finally repented of their doctrinal support for apartheid in this last decade.

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