* Former Archbishop of Canterbury
* Condemns American “imperialism”
* Opposes Israel’s security barrier in the West Bank
* Believes that Sharia Law should be given a place in the British legal system
* Opposes the use of “conversion therapy” for transgenders
Born in Swansea, Wales on June 14, 1950, Rowan Douglas Williams was raised in the Anglican faith after his parents became Anglicans in 1961. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Christ’s College (Cambridge) in 1971; a Master’s Degree from Christ’s College in 1975; and a Ph.D. from Wadham College (Oxford) in 1975. He subsequently became an ordained priest in 1978.
From 1980 to 1986, Williams was a Lecturer in Divinity at Cambridge. From 1984 to 1986, he was Dean and Chaplain of Clare College in Cambridge. And from 1986 to 1992, he was the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford.
After earning his Doctor of Divinity degree in 1989, Williams was elected as: a Fellow of the British Academy for the Promotion of Historical, Philosophical and Philological Studies in 1990; Bishop of Monmouth in December 1991; Archbishop of Wales in December 1999; and Archbishop of Canterbury in July 2002.
Between 1979 and 2007, Williams authored or co-authored approximately 30 books, mostly on theology and spirituality; two of the books were collections of his own poetry.
In 1989, Williams delivered an address to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement titled, “The Body’s Grace,” which provided a theological case for same-sex unions. “If we are afraid of facing the reality of same-sex love because it compels us to think through the processes of bodily desire and delight in their own right, perhaps we ought to be more cautious about appealing to Scripture as legitimating only procreative heterosexuality,” he stated.
In a series of letters which he wrote to an evangelical Christian during 2000 and 2001, Williams said that, “[a]n active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might … reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness.” He also suggested that the Church of England could revise its opposition to same-sex partnerships: “The church has shifted its stance on several matters, notably the rightness of lending money at interest and the moral admissibility of contraception, so I am bound to ask if this is another such issue.”
In 2002, Williams acknowledged that he had knowingly ordained a practicing gay priest, in contravention of Anglican tradition.
In 2002 Williams authored Writing in the Dust, a short book of his reflections on the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Stating that terrorists “can have serious moral goals” and that it was inadvisable to depict the 9/11 hijackers as “evil,” he wrote: “Bombast about evil individuals doesn’t help in understanding anything.”
In October 2002, Williams signed a petition declaring that the looming, American-led invasion of Iraq would not only violate United Nations ethics and Christian teaching, but also would “lowe[r] the threshold of war unacceptably.”
In June 2004, Williams and the Archbishop of York, David Hope, together wrote a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on behalf of all 114 bishops of the Church of England. The letter criticized Blair’s decision to send British troops to Iraq, and condemned those troops’ alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees as a “deeply damaging” turn of events that would “diminish the credibility of [W]estern governments” in the eyes of the world.
In December 2002, Williams became the Archbishop of Canterbury, a position that made him the principal leader of the Church of England and the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
In books which he had authored prior to becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan had articulated the following positions on an array of key issues:
“Bombast about evil individuals doesn’t help in understanding anything. Even vile and murderous actions tend to come from somewhere … it does not mean that those who did them had no choice, are not answerable, far from it. But there is sentimentality too in ascribing what we don’t understand to ‘evil’; it lets us off the hook. If we react without … self-questioning, we change nothing. It is not true to say, ‘We are all guilty,’ but perhaps it is true to say, ‘We are all able to understand something as we look into ourselves.’
“It is just possible to deplore civilian casualties and retain moral credibility when an action is clearly focused and its goals are on the way to evident achievement. It is not possible when the strategy appears confused and political leaders talk about a ‘war’ that may last years … From the point of view of a villager in Afghanistan whose family has died in a bombing raid, a villager who has probably never heard of the World Trade Centre, the distinctions between what the US forces are doing and what was done on 11 September will be academic. […]
“If we stopped talking about war so much, we might be spared the posturing that suggests that any questioning of current methods must be weakness at best, treason at worst. We could ask whether the further destabilisation of a massively resentful Muslim world and the intensifying of the problems of homelessness and hunger in an already devastated country were really unavoidable. We could refuse to be victims, striking back without imagination.
“The hardest thing in the world is to know how to act so as to make the difference that can be made; to know how and why that differs from the act that only releases or expresses the basic impotence of resentment.”
“The perception of the child as consumer is clearly more dominant than it was a few decades ago. The child is the (usually vicarious) purchaser of any number of graded and variegated packages — that is, good designed to stimulate further consumer desires. A relatively innocuous example is the familiar tie-in, the association of comics, sweets, toys and so on with a major new film or television serial; the Disney empire has developed this to an unprecedented pitch of professionalism.
“Rather less innocuous (more obsessive, more expensive) is the computer game designed to lead on to ever more challenging and sophisticated levels. Anything but innocuous is the conscription of children into the fetishistic hysteria of style wars … what can we say about a marketing culture that so openly feeds and colludes with obsession?”
“I accept that the termination of a pregnancy is not necessarily in all circumstances the worst possible moral option, even though I consider this to be the termination of a human life. And, like many others I am sickened by the rhetoric and practice of anti-abortion activists whose respect for human life turns out to be curiously selective … I am genuinely puzzled by political parties, governments or churches that appear to find a greater moral problem in abortion than in the manufacture, marketing and use of indiscriminate weaponry, from cluster bombs and poison gas to nuclear warheads.”
A harsh critic of capitalism, Williams in 2002 said that the so-called “market state” was largely subject to the narrow, selfish concerns of industry and thus was prone to inflicting great harm upon the natural environment. And in his 2002 book, Writing in the Dust, he stated: “Every transaction in the developed economies of the West can be interpreted as an act of aggression against the economic losers in the worldwide game.”
In October 2007, Williams visited Iraqi refugees in Syria. In a BBC interview after his trip, he described advocates of a possible U.S. attack against Syria or Iran as “criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous.”
In November 2007, Williams declared that the United States wielded its military and political power in an unacceptably destructive manner. America’s attempt to intervene in foreign affairs by “clear[ing] the decks” with a “quick burst of violent action,” he said, had led to “the worst of all worlds.” Impugning what he characterized as the United States’ inflated sense of its own mission, he derided the “chosen nation myth of America, meaning that what happens in America is very much at the heart of God’s purpose for humanity.” “We have only one global hegemonic power,” said Williams. “It [America] is not accumulating territory: it is trying to accumulate influence and control. That’s not working.”
Claiming further that the U.S.-led military response to 9/11 had caused America to lose its moral standing in the world community, Williams urged the United States to launch a “generous and intelligent program of aid directed to the societies that have been ravaged; a check on the economic exploitation of defeated territories; a demilitarization of their presence.”
“Our modern western definition of humanity is clearly not working very well,” added Williams. “There is something about western modernity which really does eat away at the soul.” By contrast, Williams made only mild criticisms of the Islamic world, stating that some of its “political solutions were not the most impressive.”
Also in November 2007, Williams condemned Israel’s construction of an anti-terrorism security barrier in the West Bank. “Whatever justification is given for the existence of the wall, the human cost is colossal,” he said.
In February 2008 Williams said the adoption of some aspects of Islamic Sharia Law in Britain “seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system.” Advocating “plural jurisdiction” (where different subsets of the population would be governed by different sets of laws), he added: “There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law. It would be quite wrong to say that we could ever license a system of law for some community which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general. But there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them. In some cultural and religious settings they would seem more appropriate.”
After U.S. Navy SEALs had tracked down and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, Williams said: “The killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done. I don’t know full details any more than anyone else does. But I do believe that in such circumstances when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a war criminal, in terms of the atrocities inflicted, it is important that justice is seen to be observed.”
In December 2012, Williams retired from his post as Archbishop of Canterbury.
In April 2013 — after a poll by an organization called the Coalition of Marriage had recently found that 67 percent of Christians in the United Kingdom viewed themselves as members of a “persecuted minority” — Williams stated: “When you’ve had any contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word very chastely. Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. ‘For goodness sake, grow up,’ I want to say.”
In February 2014, Breitbart.com reported that Williams was a supporter of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) — “an extremist, Khomeinist organisation that has hosted numerous anti-Israel protests in London.” Most notably, IHRC was known for supporting Omar Abdel-Rahman, who in 1996 had been sentenced to life imprisonment in the U.S. because of his terrorist activities. In 2010, IHRC hosted Ibrahim Zakzaky, the Muslim cleric who headed the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), which had: (a) referred to Jews as “the lowest of creatures on earth” and “the children of monkeys and pigs,” and (b) claimed that al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden never actually existed but were myths concocted by Western intelligence organizations.
In an August 2014 speech at the annual Living Islam Festival in Lincolnshire — an event organized by the Islamic Society of Britain — Williams reacted angrily to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent call for his countrymen to be “far more muscular in promoting British values and the institutions that uphold them.” “The setting-up therefore of British values against any kind of values, whether Muslim or Christian, just won’t do,” said Williams. Asked if he thought Islam was restoring British values, Williams replied: “Yes. I’m thinking of the way in which, for example, in Birmingham we have seen a local parish and a mosque combining together to provide family services and youth activities, both acting out of a very strong sense that this is what communities ought to do.”
In September 2014, Williams challenged Prime Minister David Cameron to uphold his 2010 promise to oversee Britain’s “greenest government ever.” And in an article he wrote for the left-wing Guardian, Williams called for decisive action on climate change ahead of the historic Paris Climate Conference slated for late 2015: “The moral case for action is clear. It is those suffering the most who carry the least historic responsibility for our situation. The wealthier industrialised nations have the power to act and secure a safe world for today’s poorest and tomorrow’s children.”
In October 2018, Williams supported an environmental extremist group called Extinction Rebellion, which was preparing to launch a massive civil-disobedience campaign for the purpose of drawing public attention to the threat allegedly posed by climate change. In a letter co-signed by nearly 100 academics, Williams and his allies wrote:
“We the undersigned represent diverse academic disciplines, and the views expressed here are those of the signatories and not their organisations. While our academic perspectives and expertise may differ, we are united on one point: we will not tolerate the failure of this or any other government to take robust and emergency action in respect of the worsening ecological crisis. The science is clear, the facts are incontrovertible, and it is unconscionable to us that our children and grandchildren should have to bear the terrifying brunt of an unprecedented disaster of our own making.
“We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, with about 200 species becoming extinct each day. Humans cannot continue to violate the fundamental laws of nature or of science with impunity. If we continue on our current path, the future for our species is bleak.
“Our government is complicit in ignoring the precautionary principle, and in failing to acknowledge that infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources is non-viable. Instead, the government irresponsibly promotes rampant consumerism and free-market fundamentalism, and allows greenhouse gas emissions to rise. […]
“We therefore declare our support for Extinction Rebellion, launching on 31 October 2018. We fully stand behind the demands for the government to tell the hard truth to its citizens. We call for a Citizens’ Assembly to work with scientists on the basis of the extant evidence and in accordance with the precautionary principle, to urgently develop a credible plan for rapid total decarbonisation of the economy.”
In April 2019, Williams spoke to a group of Extinction Rebellion activists outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London and said: “We have declared war on our nature when we declare war on the natural world. We are at war with ourselves when we are at war with our neighbour, whether that neighbour is human or non-human. […] We confess that we have polluted our own atmosphere, causing global warming and climate change that have increased poverty in many parts of our planet. […] We have contributed to crises and been more concerned with getting gold than keeping our planet green. We have loved progress more than the planet. We are sorry.”
When the Amazon rainforest was ravaged by wildfires later that same year (2019), Williams blamed capitalism and the greed that purportedly undergirded the free market. Some excerpts:
“The scale of the devastation caused by the wildfires still raging in the Amazon is hard to comprehend. This is a rainforest that provides one-fifth of the world’s oxygen; it is hard not to feel powerless and despairing in the face of the disaster overtaking the region.
“But however strong – and bitter – the feeling about this as an environmental catastrophe, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is also a human tragedy.
“We need to listen with intensified attention to the voices of those who call the rainforest home, voices all too often sidelined or deliberately silenced, their stories a mere footnote in global news headlines. We have no excuse for not listening now.
“The survival and wellbeing of these communities should take precedence over the drive for ‘development’ that serves only a lust for consumption and convenience. The fact that this does not seem to be an obvious moral priority should make us all ashamed.
“For generations, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin have been the stewards of the forests. Some have literally paid for this with their lives, long before this summer’s fires. These communities have for years been subject to attacks, illegal invasions and deforestation. Their rights have been overridden in the face of the greed of various powerful economic interests, and theirs is a story that speaks of the stark economic inequality blighting and corrupting so much of our world, including countries like Brazil. […]
“All of us are implicated. The global patterns of economic growth, including the unprecedented levels of demand for meat in the developed world, account for much of the pressure on land use in the region. And widespread deforestation in other parts of the world means we are more reliant than ever on the region for our global ecological balance.
“The wildfires raging in the Amazon are a visible metaphor for the effect of our unrestrained passion for limitless economic growth. […] It looks increasingly likely that we are at, or very near, a tipping point in our global ecological crisis, a crisis generated by the desire to maximise indefinitely what we can extract from our environment, as if it were no more than a store cupboard to be raided. […] The compulsive acquisitiveness that causes the radical damage we see dehumanises us as well as ruining our environment. The fires are burning in the soul as well.”
Following the UN’s 27th Convention on Climate Change (COP 27) in November 2022, Williams emphasized the need “to get the wealthiest countries and the more conspicuous consumers to recognise the sheer physical urgency we face.” Claiming also that a climate disaster was most likely to directly harm low-income people, he added: “Where the burden falls heavily on the poorest, we must make sure we are not simply transferring this urgent burden from one [set of poor people] to another.” Moreover, Williams supported a policy that would bar fossil-fuel corporations from attending any future UN climate summits: “I would certainly be relieved if they were not there,” he said.
After Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president in November 2016, Williams wrote an article in The New Statesman lamenting and condemning Trump’s victory. Some key excerpts:
“No one knows yet what Donald Trump will do as president…. We have seen elsewhere how extremists have been elected with the optimistic collusion or tolerance of those who believe that such people can be ‘managed’ in office; and we have seen them discover, bitterly and too late, their error. Nor is there any indication that Trump’s energy is in short supply. However limited his grasp of the complex issues that he has opened up, the force of his personality will generate a hectic climate of plans and half-plans, expenditure and public rhetoric, that will be almost as damaging as the projects themselves. […]
“Trump’s campaign succeeded in spite of the cast-iron demonstrations of his total indifference to truth (not to mention decency). It has offered not a connected strategy for national reconstruction, but an incoherent series of crowd-pleasing postures; as if Trump’s real aim was not to do anything as president but simply to be president, to be the most important man in the Western world. This election represents a divorce between the electoral process and the business of political decision-making. It is the ersatz politics of mass theatre, in which what matters most is the declaration of victory.
“As such, it is the most cynical betrayal of those who are disenfranchised. It confirms that they have no part in real political processes; they can only choose their monarch. They have become detached from the work of politics by the erosion of liberties and economic opportunities – one reason why there is such pressure to displace this on to a feverish defence of archaic ‘freedoms’ such as gun ownership, and on to whatever scapegoated minority can be held responsible for unemployment or general insecurity.”
In April 2022, Williams co-signed a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which the signatories repudiated “conversion therapy” as a means of treating gender dysphoria in transgender people. Characterizing such therapy as an “attempt to induce vulnerable and isolated people to deny who they truly are,” the letter stated: “To be trans is to enter a sacred journey of becoming whole: precious, honoured and loved, by yourself, by others and by God.”