The Atlantic Monthly, March 2009

atlantic-march-2009A profile of Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, focuses on this gifted theologian’s attempts to lead the Anglican communion in its effort to make up its mind about homosexuality.  Williams himself has many friends who are gay and took a consistently liberal line on gay issues before 2002, when he became the nominal leader of Christianity’s third most popular tradition.  In 1989 Williams gave a speech to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement called “The Body’s Grace,” in which he argued that a Christian understanding of grace requires us to understand that persons need to be seen in particular ways.  Sexual relationships provide one of these ways of being seen that are key to the development of the human person.  Christians must therefore find value, not only in persons who are inclined to engage in  homosexual acts, but in those acts and the relationships of which they are part.  The essay is, from one point of view, quite conservative- Williams claims that the kind of being seen that deserves this value is a kind that must be developed over time and that only one person may do the seeing.  He thus sets his face against sexual liberationists who would resist the imposition of couplehood as the one appropriate form of human sexuality, and aligns himself with those who would merely extend that imposition to same sex relationships.  Compared to other Christian leaders, of course, Williams does not seem conservative at all.  Even the view that same-sexers should be allowed to imitate opposite-sex couples and to assimilate their behavior to norms that have traditionally been imposed on them is daringly progressive in the world where the Archbishop of Canterbury moves.   

Since most of the Anglican communion’s 80,000,000 members live in African countries where homosexuality is the object of extreme cultural disapproval, it has been quite difficult for Williams to hold to his liberal, assimilationist stand while at the same time meeting the first requirement of his job and keeping the communion united. 

Atlantic editor James Bennet recalls his meeting with recently assassinated Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan.  A theologian of a very different stripe from that of Rowan Williams, Rayyan’s “bigoted worldview, and his rich historical imagination, gave him a kind of serenity.”  This serenity was nothing daunted when Rayyan sent his own son on a suicide mission against an Israeli settlement and planned to send another on a similar mission.

Those of us who call for the abolition of the US presidency (what with today being Presidents’ Day and all) will thank the Atlantic for its note of “Politicians: Be Killed or Survive,” a study finding that the only political figures who face a significant risk of assassination are those who operate in systems where power is so highly centralized that assassinating one person will effect significant change in the policies of the state.

Brian Mockenhaupt reports on an effort to persuade US combat veterans that it’s okay to seek help for psychological injuries by showing them performances of Sophocles’ plays about wounded warriors, Ajax and Philoctetes.

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1 Comment

  1. cymast

     /  February 19, 2009

    ” . . effort to make up its mind about homosexuality” ??

    You either are a homosexual or you’re not. I find it uproariously funny that someone would ask somebody else where, on the sexuality spectrum, that person thinks they should fall. As if you didn’t already know?

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