For what it’s worth I’m still not sure what to think. The language he uses in this letter is relatively strong for him. He takes a clear position opposing the ordination of partnered gay or lesbian bishops – and apparently argues that the same reason leads us to oppose the ordination of any partnered gay or lesbian person to any order. I suppose by extension he’s opened the door to opposition to any partnered relationship for the laity as well.
This is a major shift for him. He’s written both publicly and privately in the past that he does not in principle see any reason that gay and lesbian relationships, within certain boundaries (including sexual expression) can be and are holy. His argument in his letter is that the majority of Christians in the world have not come to a consensus on the question.
Which makes little sense, and he knows that. He’s possibly the finest theologian to sit in St. Augustine’s chair since St. Anselm. He knows that change in the church happens at the grassroots level or in the mission field and is then judged by the body as to whether or not it is God’s will. He knows that this takes centuries in some instances.
So why is he not talking about this now?
The Anglican Curmudgeon I think has the nub of it when he points out that Williams mentions ecumenism again and again in the essay. We have a Pope in Benedict that has apparently decided to make Ecumenical reunion a major theme of his Pontificate. The Pope has made overtures to the Orthodox, but that is going to be slow going given the fractious nature of Orthodoxy right now and the competing claims between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church as to who is the real voice of that Church in the 21st century. The Lutherans are probably near to the German Pope’s heart, but Lutheranism is at present a federation – there’s no official entity to enter into talks with at the moment. The broad spectrum of Protestant denominations have little interest in reunification.
That leaves the Anglicans.
A covenanted Anglicanism, with the Archbishop of Canterbury as primus inter pares, with a particular Archbishop who comes from the Catholic wing of the Communion, makes the most likely candidate to achieve reunion in the near future.
There is a great deal to gained in this possible reunion. I think most importantly for the British, it would give Her Majesty a real chance at reuniting the believers in England, and then perhaps of Britain into one shared faith again. Which, if I were her, I’d see as a goal worthy of pursuing with everything I had. Imagine what it might mean for Great Britain, for Ireland, for the Commonwealth, to put aside the religious tensions between the established churches and the resurgent Roman Catholics.
If this is true, and I suspect for a number of reasons that it is, given that the Archbishop and the Queen would probably agree on this reunion as being worthy of pursuing, the problem with it is that it is asking the Anglican Communion to achieve it by sacrificing it’s gay and lesbian members and their friends.
That, at least for me, no matter how committed I am to ecumenism, is not an option. I’ll do whatever I can to bring all of God’s people into a reconciled relationship with each other. But I won’t intentionally work to exclude any of God’s people to achieve it. Real reconciliation does not require us to deny who we are so as to be reconciled. I won’t consider jettisoning the conservative voices in the Episcopal Church so that our life would be less fractious. I can’t consider asking the LGBT members to leave either for the same reason. Doing either would cause us to cease being truly catholic – and would not speak to the hope that a catholic church can bring into a divided world.