Wednesday, 16 October 2013

If the cap fits, Rowan Williams...

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Church of England, has said in an interview that Christians in the UK can be subject to "petty harassment" and are considered by some to be "homophobic, misogynistic reactionar[ies]".

Now, I don't know exactly what counts in this context as "petty harassment", but to be fair to Williams he does argue and has argued against the claims of some Christians to be "persecuted" when in fact they are made to feel "mildly uncomfortable"; he has said more than once that "petty harassment" should not be counted as "persecution".  It's entirely possible that I fall into the "petty harasser" category IRL; the majority of my friends are highly educated and liberal in their values, so it tends to come as a surprise to me to learn that one of them is a Christian and I do often prod at it, asking questions to try to understand how they reconcile that statement with their liberal values.

The result, usually, is embarrassment on the part of the Christian friend, a sort of shamefaced acknowledgment that the religion to which they belong doesn't sit well with the direction in which they would like societies and ethics to move.  But whether my asking questions and causing embarrassment would count as "petty harassment" for Rowan Williams isn't really the point; what matters is that Christianity has an image problem when it comes to social equality and human rights... because it has a problem when it comes to social equality and human rights.

The Church of England, to which Williams belongs, is often perceived to be rather benign and cuddly, but that didn't stop it opposing marriage equality until it was forced to admit defeat - and it still does not allow women to be bishops.

One of the reasons the Church of England is generally considered harmless is that it is often considered against the backdrop of far worse mutations of Christianity.  Its reputation is not tarnished by ongoing accusations that it systematically covered up child abuse, for example.  It does not oppose fair access to healthcare, either, or picket funerals, or promote the murder of children by denouncing them as "witches".  Only against that background could a church that openly opposes both gender equality and GLBT rights come out looking moderate and benign.

Christianity is both homophobic and misogynistic; that is why I am surprised when people who are educated and liberal tell me they're Christians.  Christianity has an image problem because it deserves to have an image problem.


  1. Rowan Williams portrays the blinkered opinion of mild Christians that what they do in your face is not petty harassment.

    An atheist relative died recently and it seems not to be the least bit embarrassing for the religious to break out into a discussion about who he's 'up there' with, or say something like "He's at peace at last.", as if there is anything of him to contemplate his new peaceful state as a pile of ashes coming out of a crematorium.

    And when they look to you for agreement and you tell them you don't believe any of that stuff, you are harassed either with mere bad looks, contempt, or even verbally abused, as if you have offended not only the believers present but also the dearly departed, who is unlikely to appreciate your disregard for him.

    While simply stating one's own contrary beliefs, particularly in response to direct or indirect questioning, or an appeal to agreement of spoken religious sentiments, does not constitute harassment, the offended response is as if harassment, or even persecution, of the religious is implied by one's simple unbelief.

    Of course, as a result of this, I do occasionally harass the more vocally imposing religious people I meet, if only with the same or slightly more force than they employ; and I suffer no shame in taking small pleasure in that.

  2. It is a much different thing to say "The Church of England is both homophobic and misogynistic" versus saying "Christianity is both homophobic and misogynistic". There have been pretty good arguments made that the teachings of Jesus on which Christianity is based were neither homophobic nor misogynistic, and in fact explicitly the opposite.

    Though many modern "Christian" groups have gotten it wrong, statements like these should be evaluated against the teachings of Christ, not what any particular church (modern or otherwise) fails at. History has proven time and time again that churches and religious communities fail in countless ways from misogyny and homophobia to mass murder and slavery.