The Woman Who Outed the Archbishop of Canterbury

I was honoured to receive the following comment from my piece Rowan Williams and the High Price of Riding the Fence:

I have been catching up with stuff on the Web concerning the letters the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote me.

My reply to Dr. Williams’ first letter ran to more than six pages, and I brought up the same points you are making about Dr. Williams’ interpretation, or misinterpretation’ of scripture. I am praying that people with sound Biblical scholarship to show that DR. Williams is wrong, wrong, and that he is making grievous errors that will have widespread bad repercussions of momentous proportions if his ideas encourage homosexual sex.

Please keep abreast of this issue and keep writing. I appreciated your article and I agree with your conclusions. better to get things out in the open.

Yours sincerely in Christ

Debbie Pitt

Dr. Deborah Pitt is the Welsh Evangelical psychiatrist (I hope Emily Stone is reading this) who published an exchange of correspondence she had back in 2000-1 with now Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. In his reply to her questions, Williams basically stated that he had come to believe that relations between committed homosexuals were not sinful. Although such sentiments are buried in some of his public writings, Dr. Pitt’s revelation of these had the effect of “outing” (I love this terminology when used in this context) the Archbishop at an inopportune time, namely the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

I admire Dr. Pitt for making these letters public. And I appreciate her kind comments about my piece, which included decrying the “fence riding” that characterises so many Anglican ministers and prelates. It makes me wonder who really needs to be Archbishop of Canterbury…

Note about the “committed relationships” argument:

This is one of the most insidious traps that exists in the whole debate over homosexuality. One thing that most people note about homosexual relationships is their transience. The current “poster child” of this is the Nigerian homosexual “hero” Davis Mac-Iyalla, who managed to embarrass his host with his predatory practices during a visit to the U.S. That notwithstanding, the LGBT community’s response to this is that they promote relationships that a) are committed, b) are non-exploitative, and c) deserve sanction with same sex civil marriage.

Their emphasis on “commitment,” however, has lured people such as Williams into thinking that commitment is the essence of a Christian relationship, i.e., if a relationship is committed, it’s Christian. But that overlooks two important points.

The first is the sad fact that committed relationships, be they heterosexual or homosexual, are the exception rather than the rule in the West these days. For most people, commitment is more of a bother than an advantage; our divorce rate amongst heterosexuals (to say nothing of cohabitation) is a testament to that, and now we’re seeing same-sex civil marriages split up. If Williams and others are hoping to legitimise same-sex relationships based on a supposedly high level of commitment, the “choir” he’s preaching to is very small indeed.

Second, commitment is only part of a truly Christian relationship. It’s an important part, to be sure, but there are many other facets. There’s no evidence that the New Testament legitimises relationships of any kind primarily because they are committed. The truth is quite the opposite: first the New Testament calls a relationship such as Holy Matrimony between a man and a woman sacred, then makes commitment (along with other things) a “part of the package.”

6 thoughts on “The Woman Who Outed the Archbishop of Canterbury”

  1. His views were not “buried in some of his public writings” as you say. The very statement is an oxymoron. Buried and public? A simple Google search, or even a glance at his Wikipedia bio (these are hardly difficult to access) would provide one with ++Williams views and with links to the full text of several of these articles. There has never been any attempt by the Archbishop to cover anything up and so to say he was ‘outed’ as if he was trying to hide something is absurd.

  2. To Tony Hunt: Given the way that ++Williams writes, it’s certainly possible to bury an opinion in front of everyone. Writing and speaking without clarity or decisiveness is an occupational hazard of Anglican/Episcopal men and women of the cloth, and that’s something I lament in this post and the previous one on the subject.

    Had Williams’ views been better understood in general, the publication of his letters to Dr. Pitt would not have been newsworthy.

    I noted in your blog “about” the following statement: “I hope not to present the idea that I think that I am smarter than I really am.” But that idea was certainly presented. But, hey, I’m from Palm Beach, maybe it’s a situation of “takes one to know one!”

  3. Hi

    I also am puzzled by this insistence that “committed” equally “right”.

    Ahab and Jezebel were “committed” but it was never “right” for a Jewish king to marry outside the faith. Similarly Samson and Delilah were “committed” at least at the beginning — but it was never right. There are a string of “committed” relationships that are deemed “wrong”.

    Of course in the New Testament we have Jesus saying that people will leave their fathers, mothers, wives and children for the faith. (eg Luke 18:29) So much for marital commitment being absolutely essential for Christians. And then of course we have the example of Pauls teaching about leaving partners who will not accept the christian spouse’s conversion …

    So exactly how has commitment got the allure that it has ended up with? an allure that has even sucked in a theologian of the stature of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

  4. Thank you,Positive Infinity, for your kind remarks. I’ve enjoyed the dialogue and agree with the comments re ‘committed’.
    If I may, I’ll quote from my letter to AbC: ”I am not saying that the quality of devotion (in homosexual relationships) cannot be as high, perhaps it can for all I know. But that does not make the relationship intrinsically right. There are many adulterous heterosexual unions that are marked by great qualities of devotion, commitment etc. That does not make them right, though. There is honour among thieves. That does not make robbery all right. Certainly not for the victims. As for ‘absolute covenanted faithfulness’ as a criterion for the rightness of a relationship, well, the Mafia operates by a similar code. (I am not likening homosexuals to the Mafia, just that the criterion is not an absolute good.) The attainment of such an ideal is less likely with homosexual relationships, which are remarkable for their promiscuity, for somw reason. Neither will the strong tendency to promiscuity be helped by friendly legislation for homosexual marriage or acceptability by the public.(Nothing, by the way, prohibits a homosexual couple from drawing up their own legal contract if they want to )”

    Let’s keep the dialogue going. There is so much share on this subject, and it is so important for the integrity of Christian practice and witness.

    All the best Debbie Pitt

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