Identifying as a Minority Risks Fragmenting Society?


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.

Pink News reports:

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.


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Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Steve Punter.


Tommy S.
Tommy S5 years ago

Personally I cant stand the person (nearly said man)

Tommy S.
Tommy S5 years ago

Good riddance

Carola May
Carola May5 years ago

Archbishop Semantu is a Muslim convert to Christianity, but he apparently never read the teachings of Jesus because he still harbours Islamic ideas, especially about gay people.

Williams's comments do merit some thought as the UK IS fragmented by some minorities who refuse to assimilate into the very country and culture that has welcomed and even fed and housed them. So many Muslims live completely separate lives, refusing to become full members of British society, even expressing hate and hostility to it in their mosques.

We've tolerated their hostile and arrogant attitude for far too long and it IS fragmenting our society greatly. These Muslims have even taken over some towns and neighbourhoods and set up 'Sharia Law' zones where alcohol, smoking, immodest dress (of course it is their opinion of what that is) and gay people are definitely NOT welcome, and British law is ignored and scorned.

These are not 'extremist' or 'radical' Muslims but Orthodox true Muslims and they have stated boldly that they are about destroying our culture and civilisation and taking us over to force us all to live under their primitive tribal laws as their deity commands them to do.

We have many Hindu and Buddhist people living here, none of whom try to push their beliefs onto anyone else and live peacefully among and with us. LGBT people working for their full equality are not the problem, nor are women seeking full equality either.

Rob and Jay B.
Jay S5 years ago

While we think little of this little man and his lack of true Christian convictions, there is some truth in what he says for a society to have a certain unity necessary to function and for people to live in peace, but the article makes a good point in saying how the rights of women and LGBT people, especially in many of the Anglican churches, has not caught up with those in the US Anglican branch, the Episcopal church, which has a woman Presiding Bishop and does accept openly gay bishops and priests.

The Archbishop of Canterbury should be lauding this instead of trying to force the whole worldwide communion to sink to a lower level to accomodate the very un-Christian branches like the bigots and hatemongers on the Ugandan church. He should be calling them to live up to the teachings of Jesus who never said a word against gay people.

Hopefully the new Archbishop of Canterbury will be a true Christian, like Archbishop Tutu of So. Africa, an ardent campaigner for inclusion and true Christian love of all, including LGBT people and women. That would be a refreshing change - a true Christian leading the church finally. How radical would that be?!

Mary L.
Mary L5 years ago

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Lilithe Magdalene

So easy for a white, cis gendered, Christian ale to say. Oh sorry, have we clamored too loudly for our right to be treated as human beings? Did we interrupt your sense of power? Pathetic. White male privilege glasses in action!

Lauren B.

Maybe our challenge is to accept that we have multiple identities and share some of them with pretty much every human on earth. We struggle with our human tendency to polarize over differences instead of bond over commonalities. Are we capable of doing both and learning something from what people tell us about their identities? I hope so.

Robert O.
Robert O5 years ago

Humans often want, or even need to feel exceptional. This often plays in identity politics. And it is most certainly a form of exclusion. The desire to be exceptional is hardly a unifying force.

pam w.
pam w5 years ago

“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.”

Perhaps he's speaking out against those immigrants who come for the freedoms and then demand the "new" community to change local customs/laws and match those they left behind?

Claiming that dogs and the sale of pork and women in bikinis are "immoral" really IS fragmenting, isn't it?