I have to say, I have a lot of sympathy for the predicament the Archbishop of Canterbury has found himself in as he used his General Synod opening address to apologise for comments leading to the press reporting of his statements about Sharia Law. His lecture on Islam and English Law in the Royal Courts of Justice 10 days ago was followed by a BBC interview. Note what he actually said at the interview:
“It seem unavoidable and, indeed, as a matter of fact, certain provision of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law. So it’s not as if we’re bringing in an alien and rival system.”
“Nobody in their right mind, I think, would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that sometimes appears to be associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states — the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women, as well.”
My humble observations are threefold:
1. The Media is generally inflamatory in its reporting of these events and obfuscates rather promotes healthy discussion. The “red rag headlines” in the Tabloid Press were quite alarmist, and even the Times’ headline was “Archbishop of Canterbury argues for Islamic Law in Britain”. To be on the receiving end of partial and inflamatory press reporting is painful and I don’t wish that on anyone.
2. Rowan Williams told the General Synod in London last week that he had expressed his words “clumsily”. He said: “I must take any responsibility for any unclarity.” I think that the standing ovation at General Synod was a reflection of the affection that many feel for his humble openness. But as one who has read quite a bit of Dr Williams’ writings, I confess that, despite his obvious brilliance, he is very difficult to read and often open to misundertsanding. Whilst he is a liberal in the best sense of the word (i.e. he is equally charitible to conservative evangelicals as well as everyone else, unlike many other liberals!), his theology, nevertheless is liberal. I have to say that I feel that he would be better in Academia than as the leader of the already fragmenting Anglican Communion.
3. Finally, surely, for all the attempt to start a debate about the place of Muslims in British Society, and his nuancing of the “clumsy” comment, Dr Willliams is wrong! We have a law of the land which must apply equally to all, irrespective of religious convictions. Moreover, Protestant believers have always worked hard to see the law of the land reformed under God’s word so it is more accurately reflective of a nation that is shaped by biblical convictions about God. It is for that reason that the Apostle Paul writes:
1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.
We need leadership which give us clarity and conviction about Christian issues in a Nation that is still dominantly, albeit nominally, Christian.