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Queen Defends Archbishop of Canterbury

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Feb 13, 2008

The Anglican Church, already facing a looming schism over the issue of equal treatment of GLBT members and clergy, may come under still more strain over a question of Islamic law.

The U.K. newspaper the Telegraph posted an article today reporting that the Queen of England herself, in her capacity as Supreme Governor of the Church of England (the Anglican church, known in America as the Episcopalian church), is worried about the potential for further damage to the already-reeling denomination, given the controversy surrounding an opinion by the church's head clergyman, Dr. Rowan Williams, that it may be "unavoidable" that some elements of Islamic Sharia law will eventually become part of the fabric of English civil law.

Sharia law is based on the Islamic scripture of the Qu'ran, and provides severe penalties for infractions of religious law, such as adultery or homosexuality.

Under Sharia law, gays can be put to death.

The Telegraph reported that the appointment of Dr. Williams to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, the Church's highest rank for clergy, was made by the Queen, who was acting on the advice of the then-Prime Minister.

The Telegraph noted that in 2005, Queen Elizabeth II made what seemed to be a reference to strains in the global church that had its roots in the question of ordination of women, and which had at that time recently been intensified by the 2004 elevation to Bishop, in New Hampshire, of openly gay V. Gene Robinson in the American branch of the church.

Said Elizabeth at that time, "Down the centuries the Church has had to endure many steep and rugged pathways."

The Queen continued, "But the promise is that with God as our guide we may have the strength to live our lives courageously."

As the faith's Supreme Governor, however, the Queen has reportedly been concerned about this latest issue to strain the church.

The Telegraph quoted a "royal source," who said, "I have no idea what her view is on what the Archbishop said about Sharia law."

Continued the source, "But the Queen is worried, coming at such a difficult time in the Church's history, that the fallout may sap the authority of the Church."

An unnamed "royal courtier" was quoted by the Telegraph as having said, "The whole thing has not been skillfully handled."

Added the unnamed "courtier," "It can only have undermined the authority of the Church."

Officially, there's been little word, with a royal spokesperson offering no comment on the issue, the Telegraph reported.

The Telegraph article noted that membership of the Church of England has declined sharply in recent decades, with some churches seeing a loss of parishioners as high as about 30% over the past 19 years.

Church Synod member David Houlding was quoted in the article as saying, "We are very fortunate in having a monarch who strongly supports the mission of the Church of England and I am sure she would want her Archbishop of Canterbury to be held in the highest regard by everybody."

The Archbishop of Canterbury himself expressed no inclination to back off from his remarks that English law would have to embrace some elements of Islamic law in order to accommodate immigrants and English subjects of Islamic extraction. At a General Synod on Feb. 11, Williams said that although his remarks may have been "clumsy," they were nonetheless "appropriate," the Telegraph said.

Those "clumsy" remarks provoked instant and harsh criticisms, including calls for Dr. Williams' resignation, and not just from the old guard in the government and in the faith; though highly placed church officials did react, so too did Ministers of Parliament with Islamic heritage.

Catholic officials in the U.K. also responded critically, prominent among them Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. Anglican church officials who condemned the remarks included former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, as the Right Rev. Michael Nazir and the Bishop of Rochester who is, the Telegraph noted, the denomination's sole bishop from an Asian background.

Lord Carey opined that embracing Sharia law would prove "disastrous for the nation," while the chairman for the Commission of Equalities and Human Rights, Trevor Phillips, called the Archbishop's position "muddled."

Muslim Labor MP Khalid Mahmood, of Birmingham, called for Williams to resign.

The present Prime Minister of England, Gordon Brown, has shown support for Dr. Williams during the current controversy. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister stated that Williams is "a man of great integrity," the Telegraph reported.

Though Dr. Williams did not issue any apologies during his subsequent appearance at the General Synod, the Telegraph reported, a statement at his Web site did seek to calm the political storm by offering the explanation that his comments did not constitute "proposals for Sharia... and certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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