Monday, February 11, 2008

Williams in synod Sharia address

Williams in synod Sharia address
Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Williams said law and religion needed to be debated

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says he does not regret speaking about Sharia law, as it is right to air other religious communities' concerns.

He told the Church of England's general synod he felt some remarks had been taken out of context, but he accepted he may have created misunderstanding.

He has faced calls to apologise for his comments, in which he implied adopting aspects of Sharia law was unavoidable.

Earlier PM Gordon Brown praised Dr Williams's "great integrity".

I believe quite strongly that it is not inappropriate for a pastor of the Church of England to address issues about the perceived concerns of other religious communities
Dr Rowan Williams

Dr Williams told clergy and lay people at the synod - the Church's governing body - he believed "some of what has been heard is a very long way indeed from what was actually said".

"But I must of course take responsibility for any unclarity in either that text or in the radio interview and for any misleading choice of words that's helped to cause distress or misunderstanding among the public at large, and especially among my fellow Christians,'' he added.

He said: "I believe quite strongly that it is not inappropriate for a pastor of the Church of England to address issues about the perceived concerns of other religious communities, and to try and bring them into better public focus."

Liberties and consciences

Part of the "burden and the privilege of being the Church" in the UK meant, Dr Williams said, the clergy needed "some coherent voice on behalf of all the faith communities living here".

"If we can attempt to speak for the liberties and consciences of others in this country - as well as our own - we shall, I believe, be doing something we as a church are called to do in Christ's name: witnessing to his Lordship, not compromising it."


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The relationship between law and religion was a subject on which "Christians and people of other faiths ought to be doing some reflecting together", he added.

Dr Williams sparked a major row after saying, in a BBC Radio 4 interview last week, the adoption of parts of Sharia law was "unavoidable" in Britain.

He has insisted he was not advocating a parallel set of laws, but has faced calls for his resignation.

Conservative MP Robert Key, a synod member, said Dr Williams's speech had been well received.

He said: "The archbishop had overwhelming support, not only for having opened up this very important discussion, which is part of the fabric of our national life - we simply cannot avoid it - but he also clearly had the majority of the synod right behind him.

"I suspect he will always have a tiny minority, and I think it is tiny, who are opposed to him, but it was quite clear synod wants to move on."

Community service

Dr Williams had been facing pressure from some Church of England traditionalists who wanted him to apologise for his original comments.

Two synod members also called for Dr Williams to stand down following his remarks.

His predecessor as the Church of England's leader, Lord Carey, said on Sunday the acceptance of some Muslim laws would be "disastrous" for Britain.

But, writing in the News of the World, Lord Carey said his successor should not be forced to quit.

Earlier the prime minister's spokesman said Mr Brown understood "the difficulties" the archbishop was facing and paid tribute to Dr Williams's "dedication to public and community service".

Mr Brown believed religious law should be subservient to UK law, he added.

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