: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: Brian from Toronto, Canada

Rowan Williams

  • Former Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Condemns American "imperialism"
  • Anti-capitalist
  • Opposes Israel's security barrier in the West Bank

Born in Swansea, Wales on June 14, 1950, the theologian and poet Rowan Douglas Williams was formerly the Archbishop of Canterbury, a position that made him the principal leader of the Church of England and the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. (A key member of the Archbishop’s ceremonial court is the Dean of Canterbury.) He held that position from December 2002 to December 2012. From 1931 to 1963, the position of Dean was filled by Hewlett Johnson — an avowed Christian Marxist who acquired the nickname “The Red Dean” because of his strong support for the Soviet Union and its allies.)

Williams earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Christ’s College (Cambridge) in 1971; a Master’s Degree from Christ’s College in 1975; and a Ph.D. from Wadham College (Oxford) in 1975. He became an ordained priest in 1978.

From 1980 to 1986, Williams was a Lecturer in Divinity at Cambridge. From 1984 to 1986 he was Dean and Chaplain of Clare College in Cambridge. And from 1986 to 1992 he was the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford.

After earning his Doctor of Divinity degree in 1989, Williams was elected Bishop of Monmouth in December 1991, Archbishop of Wales in December 1999, and Archbishop of Canterbury in July 2002.

Between 1979 and 2007, Williams authored or co-authored approximately 30 books, mostly on theology and spirituality; two of the books were collections of his own poetry. In addition to his religious duties, Dr. Williams is a Fellow of the British Academy.

In 2002 Williams authored Writing in the Dust, a short book of his reflections on the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Stating that terrorists “can have serious moral goals” and that it was inadvisable to depict the 9/11 hijackers as “evil,” he wrote: “Bombast about evil individuals doesn’t help in understanding anything.”

In October 2002 Williams signed a petition declaring that America’s looming invasion of Iraq would not only violate United Nations ethics and Christian teaching, but also would “lowe[r] the threshold of war unacceptably.”

In June 2004 Williams and the Archbishop of York, David Hope, together wrote a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on behalf of all 114 Church of England bishops. The letter criticized Blair’s decision to send British troops to Iraq, and condemned those troops’ alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees as a “deeply damaging” turn of events that would “diminish the credibility of [W]estern governments” in the eyes of the world.

A critic of capitalism, in 2002 Williams said that the so-called “market state” was largely subject to the narrow, selfish concerns of industry and thus was prone to inflicting great harm upon the natural environment. On another occasion he said, “Every transaction in the developed economies of the West can be interpreted as an act of aggression against the economic losers in the worldwide game.”

In October 2007 Williams visited Iraqi refugees in Syria. In a BBC interview after his trip, he described advocates of a possible U.S. attack against Syria or Iran as “criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous.”

In November 2007 Williams declared that the United States wielded its military and political power in an unacceptably destructive manner. America’s attempt to intervene in foreign affairs by “clear[ing] the decks” with a “quick burst of violent action,” he said, had led to “the worst of all worlds.” Impugning what he characterized as the United States’ inflated sense of its own mission, he derided the “chosen nation myth of America, meaning that what happens in America is very much at the heart of God’s purpose for humanity.” “We have only one global hegemonic power,” said Williams. “It [America] is not accumulating territory: it is trying to accumulate influence and control. That’s not working.”

Claiming further that the military response to 9/11 had caused America to lose its moral standing in the world community, Williams urged the U.S. to launch a “generous and intelligent program of aid directed to the societies that have been ravaged; a check on the economic exploitation of defeated territories; a demilitarization of their presence.”

“Our modern western definition of humanity is clearly not working very well,” added Williams. “There is something about western modernity which really does eat away at the soul.” By contrast, Williams made only mild criticisms of the Islamic world, stating that some of its “political solutions were not the most impressive.”

Also in November 2007, Williams condemned Israel’s construction of an anti-terrorism security barrier in the West Bank. “Whatever justification is given for the existence of the wall, the human cost is colossal,” he said.

Williams acknowledges that he has knowingly ordained a practicing gay priest, in contravention of Anglican tradition.

In February 2008 Williams said the adoption of some aspects of Islamic Sharia law in Britain “seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system.” Advocating “plural jurisdiction” (where different subsets of the population would be governed by different sets of laws), he added: “There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law. It would be quite wrong to say that we could ever license a system of law for some community which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general. But there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them. In some cultural and religious settings they would seem more appropriate.”

After U.S. Navy SEALs had tracked down and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, Williams said:

“The killing of an unarmed man is always going to leave a very uncomfortable feeling because it doesn’t look as if justice is seen to be done. I don’t know full details any more than anyone else does. But I do believe that in such circumstances when we are faced with someone who was manifestly a war criminal, in terms of the atrocities inflicted, it is important that justice is seen to be observed.”

At the end of 2012, Williams retired from his post as Archbishop of Canterbury.

In February 2014, Breitbart.com reported that Williams was a supporter of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) — “an extremist, Khomeinist organisation that has hosted numerous anti-Israel protests in London.” Most notably, IHRC is known for supporting Omar Abdel-Rahman, who in 1996 was sentenced to life imprisonment in the U.S. because of his terrorist activities. In 2010, IHRC hosted Ibrahim Zakzaky, the Muslim cleric who heads the Islamic Movement of Nigeria. That organization: (a) has referred to Jews as “the lowest of creatures on earth” and “the children of monkeys and pigs,” and (b) contends that al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden never actually existed but were myths concocted by Western intelligence organizations.

In an August 2014 speech at the annual Living Islam Festival in Lincolnshire, an event organized by the Islamic Society of Britain, Williams reacted angrily to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent call for his countrymen to be “far more muscular in promoting British values and the institutions that uphold them.” “The setting-up therefore of British values against any kind of values, whether Muslim or Christian, just won’t do,” said Williams. Asked if he thought Islam was restoring British values, Williams replied: “Yes. I’m thinking of the way in which, for example, in Birmingham we have seen a local parish and a mosque combining together to provide family services and youth activities, both acting out of a very strong sense that this is what communities ought to do.”