Sunday, February 10, 2008

A sermon for the Archbishop

Today in London’s Sunday Times journalist Minette Marrin delivered a wise and needed sermon meant for Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. But we can all benefit from her words which begin:

My text for today is “Hold fast that which is good”: 1 Thessalonians 5:21.

These are words I heard so regularly in prayers at my Anglican girls’ school that I have been unable to forget them. I draw them to the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to have forgotten them.

At least, he seems to be losing his grip on what is good in this country and, indeed, to be throwing it away with both hands in his curious suggestion that aspects of sharia should be recognised in English law.

In an interview on Radio 4 last Thursday, Rowan Williams said that the introduction of parts of Islamic law here would help to maintain social cohesion and seems unavoidable. Sharia courts exist already, he pointed out.

We should “face up to the fact” that some British citizens do not relate to the British legal system, he said, and that Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”. …

“An approach to law which simply said there is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said . . . I think that’s a bit of a danger,” [Williams said.]

What danger? And to whom?

The danger, surely, is rather the archbishop and those who think like him, who seem unwilling to hold fast that which is good.

What is good and best and essential about our society - it isn’t merely a matter of “social identity” - is the principle of equality before the law. That principle and its practice have made this country the outstandingly just and tolerant state it is; it is one of the last remaining forces for unity as well.

What is also good and essential to this country is the law itself. It has evolved over centuries from medieval barbarities into something, for all its faults, that is civilised.

Our law expresses and maintains the best virtues of our society. Anybody who does not accept it does not belong here. …

Williams’s behaviour looks like vainglorious attention-seeking, but it is also something much worse.

To seek to undermine our legal system and the values on which it rests, in a spirit of unnecessary appeasement to an alien set of values, is a kind of treason.

It is a betrayal of all those who struggled and died here, over the centuries, for freedom and equality under the rule of law and of their courage in the face of injustice and unreason. Theirs is the good that we should hold fast and so of all people should the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Otherwise, what is he for?
You can read everything Marrin said here.

Here’s a link to the full text of the Archbishop’s speech, “Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective,” on which he drew for his remarks on Radio 4.

Regarding the speech itself, Marrin told readers:
The archbishop and his few supporters insist that the media have misrepresented him and not many people have actually read the learned speech that he gave to a learned audience after his inflammatory radio interview. They are wrong.

I haven’t seen any serious misrepresentation in the media, and reading his speech several times doesn’t exonerate him. Nor does it increase respect for his judgment, his command of English or his powers of ratiocination; he is woolly of face and woolly of mind.
I've read the speech and a number of British media reports. Those accounts don't misrepresent what Williams said in his speech.

The Guardian reports: “Williams defiant over Islamic law speech.” The report includes radically different reactions to Williams’ remarks by two Anglican bishops:
Stephen Lowe, the Bishop of Hulme, condemned the "kneejerk" response to the remarks as a "shame on our nation".He told Radio 4's The World at One: "We have probably one of the greatest and the brightest archbishops of Canterbury we have had for many a long day. The way he has been ridiculed, lampooned and treated by some people and indeed some of the media ... is quite disgraceful."

The Bishop of Rochester, the Right Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who has both a Christian and a Muslim family background, said all the codes of sharia "would be in tension with the English legal tradition on questions like monogamy, provisions for divorce, the rights of women, custody of children, laws of inheritance and of evidence. This is not to mention the relation of freedom of belief and of expression to provisions for blasphemy and apostasy."
I don't doubt that many, if not most, Anglican clergy in Britain agree with Bishop Lowe. But it's Bishop Nazir-Ali who makes a good deal of sense.

I agree with Marrin that what Williams is proposing is a "betrayal of all those who struggled and died here, over the centuries, for freedom and equality under the rule of law and of their courage in the face of injustice and unreason."

The only good I can see coming from Williams' proposals and remarks is if they serve to alert people to just how willing many leaders in the West are to toss away the foundations of our civilization and liberties.

Your turn.

Hat tips:, Mike Williams and clergy friends