Rowan Williams' comments about Sharia law in the UK and half-apologies for them are already becoming old news. And it now seems he will survive.
The damage remains, however, and will be lasting in two overarching ways:
1. This episode adds to the cumulative erosion of good will and trust toward Dr. Williams. Really, I don’t think this episode would have created such a furor if that good will and trust weren’t greatly eroded already. His vacillations, his coddling of heterodoxy, his stringing along the orthodox, his subversion of “the Windsor Process” once Lambeth neared – all these have done great and cumulative damage to his stature. Many who were once well disposed toward him (such as myself, believe it or not) were fed up with him even before the latest foolishness.
And this Sharia episode certainly adds to that damage. But there is more than just an additional accumulation of self-inflicted reputation destruction . . . .
2. This episode opens up a significant additional front of the harm Rowan Williams has done to the Anglican Communion and to his own reputation.
Up to now, the main problems Anglicans, among others, had with Rowan Williams were related to his policies concerning same-sex issues and church discipline. Yes, he has offended with his occasional blatherings, such saying the U. S. has lost the moral high ground and with his advocacy of further restrictions on speech. But these have been side shows up to now.
His Sharia comments are of a different order. They have put the Archbishop of Canterbury on the side of appeasing Islam and undermine those whose freedoms and lives are targets of Islam. Those include a great many Global South Anglicans.
For them, as well as for orthodox elsewhere, Rowan has not only put himself on the wrong side of same-sex and church discipline issues; now he has put himself on the wrong side of issues of how to deal with aggressive and oppressive Islam. And these issues are literally life and death matters for many in the Anglican Communion.
This is bad enough. But causing such harm in his area will have collateral damage as well. This has surely hardened opposition to his leadership. And perhaps many who have been deliberating whether to continue to participate in the Anglican Communion and to go to Lambeth just had their minds made up for them. Certainly, Rowan has made just made it that much more difficult for Global South Anglicans to remain in communion with Canterbury.
In his Synod speech yesterday, Rowan claimed to understand the difficulties Christians face because of Islam. But he has very clearly demonstrated that he does not. That is completely inexcusable, and his half-apology doesn’t do. And if the Synod of the Church of England lets him off easy as expected, then whole Church of England shares in the responsibility for the damage Rowan Williams has done.
Again, the damage Rowan has done with his Sharia comments is of a different order than from his other discourses. And it will be lasting, even if not immediately evident due to the usual ditherings of the Church of England.