LONDON — Homosexuals need to change their behavior if they are to be welcomed into the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury says, a position that some say is an about-face from his previous teaching.
Archbishop Rowan Williams has distanced himself from his one-time support of homosexual relationships and stressed that the tradition and teaching of the church has in no way been altered by the Anglican Communion’s consecration of its first openly homosexual bishop.
The declaration by the archbishop — rebutting the idea that homosexuals should be included in the church unconditionally — marks a significant development in the church’s crisis over homosexuals.
According to homosexual advocates, it confirmed their fears that Archbishop Williams has become increasingly conservative — and sparked accusations that he has performed an “astonishing” U-turn on the issue.
However, the archbishop’s comments have received strong support from traditionalists.
The Rev. Rod Thomas, a spokesman for the evangelical lobbying group Reform, said, “There is no doubt that he is distancing himself from the views that he has previously expressed. … The fact that he’s saying this is a hugely welcome development.”
The revelations surfaced in a newspaper interview last week in which the archbishop denied that it was time for the church to accept homosexual relationships, suggesting that it should be welcoming rather than inclusive.
“I don’t believe inclusion is a value in itself. Welcome is. We don’t say ‘Come in, and we ask no questions.’ I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviors, ideas, emotions,” Archbishop Williams told a Dutch journalist.
“Ethics is not a matter of a set of abstract rules, it is a matter of living the mind of Christ. That applies to sexual ethics.”
At the same time, he tried to distance himself from an essay he wrote 20 years ago, in which he defended homosexual relationships.
“That was when I was a professor to stimulate debate,” he said. “It did not generate much support and a lot of criticism — quite fairly on a number of points.”
Archbishop Williams said that he was determined to preserve the unity of the church from being destroyed by the warring factions in the crisis. He said he backed a resolution that says homosexual practice is incompatible with the Bible.
The Rev. Giles Goddard of Inclusive Church, a homosexual rights group, said the archbishop’s comments revealed an “astonishing” change in his position. He added, “The implication is that there is no justification in Scripture for the welcome of lesbian and gay people. It appears that he has moved into the conservative camp.”
Liberals, meanwhile, challenged Archbishop Williams’ attempt to downplay his involvement in the homosexual movement, saying he had played a significant role in spearheading moves to make the Anglican Church more tolerant.