Outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams has attacked the so-called “identity politics” of racial minorities, feminism and gay rights, in a comment made to teenagers during a debate on identity.
Dr. Williams, who will step down from his position as principal leader of the Church of England and symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion toward the end of the year to take up a new role as Master of Magdalene College in Cambridge in January, is quoted as telling a group of teenagers during a visit to the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff that the push to say “This is who I am, these are my rights, I demand you recognize me” was no bad thing but that it had consequences when taken too far — of which, he believes, it is on the verge.
He also added: “Identity politics, whether it is the politics of feminism, whether it is the politics of ethnic minorities or the politics of sexual minorities, has been a very important part of the last 10 or 20 years because before that I think there was a sense that diversity was not really welcome.
“And so minorities of various kinds and … women began to say ‘actually we need to say who we are in our terms not yours’ and that led to identity politics of a very strong kind and legislation that followed it.
“We are now, I think, beginning to see the pendulum swinging back and saying identity politics is all very well but we have to have some way of putting it all back together again and discovering what is good for all of us and share something of who we are with each other so as to discover more about who we are.
“Once we start saying this is my identity and that’s it then I think we are in danger of really fragmenting the society we belong to.”
However, Canon Giles Goddard, chairman of Anglican group Inclusive Church, which campaigns for the church to include female bishops and to highlight gay rights voices within the church, has reportedly said the pendulum Dr. Williams fears swinging back hasn’t yet finished its forward trajectory: “We have got a long way to go yet. We have to achieve full equality which is the removal of barriers to full participation of what I call accidents of birth. We haven’t removed these in society and we certainly haven’t removed them in the Church yet.”
Dr. Williams notably glosses over mentioning what role organized religion may play in so-called “identity politics” and the fragmenting of society as religions compete for who are the most god-fearing and god-following while trying to clutch on to waning power in the public sphere.
Dr. Williams also fails to disclose the Church’s own problem of identity politics when it comes to what it means to be part of the Anglican Communion — does it require opposition to the ordination of female bishops and gay clergy? — that under his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury has seen the Church, at an alarming rate, hemorrhage support from within its own ranks.
The UK’s Daily Mail, spinning this story for maximum anti-gay scares under the headline of “Gay rights obsession ‘could damage society’: Outspoken Archbishop’s warning on minorities agenda”, says Dr. Williams has indicated he will use his remaining few months in his current position to become more strident, presumably with regards to the Church’s recent cause de célèbre of secularization.
Those interested in maintaining a secular environment might fear that the Archbishop is setting the tone for his predecessor, especially given that the rather more strident Archbishop of York John Sentamu is widely tipped for the role.