Rowan Williams addresses the House of Lords

Rowan Williams, speaking as the Archbishop of Canterbury, has addressed the House of Lords in the wake of recent events in England. Here’s a snippet:

‘There are indeed, as we’ve been reminded, no quick answers here. And I believe one of the most significant questions that we ought to be addressing in the wake of these deplorable events, is what kind of education we are interested in, for what kind of a society. Are we prepared to think not only about discipline in classrooms, but also about the content and ethos of our educational institutions – asking can we once again build a society which takes seriously the task of educating citizens, not consumers, not cogs in an economic system, but citizens’.

The full speech can be read here.

Prior to his attendance at the House of Lords, Rowan Williams also offered this statement, and the communion he serves made available this prayer.

Also, and singing in a slightly-different key, Mike Ovey, the Principal of Oak Hill College, offers this reflection on looters, consumerism and a civilised society.



  1. Once again it seems a little too late, and mere words after the fact, from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He should have been one of the very first to speak, and speak spiritually ‘In Christ’, with spiritual authority! I don’t hear the Lordship and challenge of Christ in his statements, at least to my ears! The first and always foremost education is spirituality and that simply ‘In Christ’. Am I asking too much? I think not! Sad, Rowan has got all the so-called Anglican credentials, but it has always been his leadership and theological depth, to my mind & question. Just my thoughts at least. But I pray for him, and for the spiritual office he holds, again ‘In Christ’.


  2. I think I see what the Archbishop is trying to do … he’s trying to get the powers that be to take a step closer to bringing order to society through education. And this is a mild step towards God if it can be achieved. But I have to agree with the irishanglican that he doesn’t go far enough. What the kids in London need is Christ. I know because I would’ve been one of those youth out there doing the same thing before I met Jesus.


  3. @Andrew: there’s a very particular story of why I was up at 0227 (a rare thing these days, to be sure), not that my sleeping habits require my justification.


  4. Amen there Chandler, my point also is a Christological one toward Williams. He just does not appear to speak often of Jesus as Mediator in Himself (as He is). The Gospel is certainly Theocentric but always too Christocentic. And too the revelation of God as Triune. One just does not hear the doctrine of God and a warm Christology often in Williams preaching. But again, this is my opinion. But then I am myself much more of a “biblicist”. To quote again one of my favorite quotes, and I know Jason will like this, “The non-theological christ is popular; he wins votes; but he is not mighty; he does not win souls; he does not break men into small pieces and create them anew.” (P.T. Forsyth) And only a Biblical theology can do such!


  5. @Robert (and Chandler and Beauregard): thank you for your comments. I’m not sure what I would have said if placed in Rowan Williams’ situation this week. While I share some sympathy with what you are intimating regarding any express christological statement in his address to the House of Lords, Williams’ speech here, as at other times, betrays, I think, the sense in which he seeks to be a theologian for the nation, concerned not only for the conscience of the Church but also for society as a whole. One might properly ask whether he always discerns the times rightly (who of us does?), or takes up the right instrument for the occasion (though my sense is that he gets both of these right more often than not), but it is clear that Williams is not sectarian – even you must concede that of him! – and is one who properly thinks in wholes, and, I believe, does so from an explicitly christological standpoint. His theology is large and all-encompassing precisely because his Christ is. Williams is shy neither of the gospel, nor of its Christ.

    I think your reference to Forsyth (no great friend of Anglicanism, by the way) – ‘The non-theological christ is popular; he wins votes; but he is not mighty; he does not win souls; he does not break men into small pieces and create them anew’ – to attack Williams is grossly misguided, and it is difficult to see how anyone familiar with Williams’ writing and speaking over the past three decades could propose the charge. To be sure, Williams, as our brother in Christ, comes under the same policies of mutual accountability and correction as do you and I. None of us walk above contradiction or the need of amendment.

    But it’s interesting all the same that you mention Forsyth in this context. For here the Scot and Welshman would, I think, agree, that it’s ‘easy to be plain and obvious, but not easy to be a light in a dark place. The professors of the obvious are many and weariful, but the seers of the moral order are few. It is easy to yield to the religious impressionist’, but not so easy to ‘grasp principles and go with them, as with torches, through the moral mist that surrounds us. It is not easy to track their action in a luminous path across life’s moor. But then it is not easy to do anything worth much. And the Church has no business to be so fond of easy effects, so dazzled by rapid ones, or so facile in sympathy. No doubt her first business is to evangelize the world, and her second is to consecrate those she has evangelized, and her third is to help and heal those ignorant and out of the way. But it is a fourth, if it be not part of the others, to become the moral guide of Society, and translate her holy Gospel into large social ethics closely relevant to the time … I am afraid there are causes which make this task quite hard enough to tax a great religion of self-sacrifice. It is easy to secure public interest in religion and public help for charity; but it is not easy to get the religious world to educate its agents, to fit them to face the real moral issues of the time, or to elicit the ulterior moral resources of its own creed, either in the way of demand or of power. No grace of piety will save a Church for society without the grace of moral judgment and public sagacity. But the pious function of the Church is very apt to impede the righteous. And too many treat as mere morality the efforts of sagacious Christians to cure the public of its chronic enlargement of the heart and atrophy of the conscience’.

    Out of interest, what would you have said given the opportunity to address the House of Lords, and through them the nation?


  6. I’m not sure anyone can be ‘a theologian for the nation’ in any context (except maybe in Constantine’s day). I take your point about Williams’ writings, though. One must respect him as a theologian. My point is simply that I believe he missed a prime opportunity to bear witness to the transformational power of Christ. ‘Education’ per se is not enough to reform the youth (and policy-makers?) who did this. They need Christ. I’m open to giving Williams the benefit of the doubt and understand ‘ethos’ in the most positive light, if by ‘ethos’ Williams is speaking of some kind of Christian-based moral education, which might be what he was hinting at given his context (as you know, there is a sharp distinction among educational institutions here in the US between secular and Christian).

    As to what I would say if I were in such a position, I suppose I couldn’t do better than to imitate the apostle Paul who found himself in a civic setting and spoke of Jesus’ resurrection, repentance, and the forgiveness of sins (Acts 23-26). Paul was not just defending himself while on trial, he was bearing witness to Christ. I know Williams believes in what Paul did; I just don’t understand his hesitancy to do the same, especially given the extreme display in London lately. In such a time, the public doesn’t need a chaplain or a pastor, they need a prophet, an evangelist, an apostle.

    I am reminded of some redemptive stories from the Rodney King riots in LA back in 1992 (which spilled over to my hometown of Las Vegas). At one point, as African Americans were pulling whites out of their cars and beating them, an African American minister stood over one of the bloodied victims, with his clerical collar on and his Bible held up to heaven, protecting the defenseless white man. And after the riots, Reginald Denny, one of the white truck drivers pulled out of his truck and beaten unconscious, appeared on television to declare his forgiveness to his attackers because Christ had forgiven him.


  7. There was another Archbishop, and I remember him well: Arthur “Michael” Ramsey (died 1988?). Ramsey was an Anglo-Catholic also, friends with the profound Austin Farrer. And he was also Orthodox (EO) friendly. But he also had nonconformist background. He was simply a Christian spiritual leader! He wrote a book still read today: The Transfiguration, and certainly closer to the Orthodox. And he also wrote a response to the then liberal ideas in the book: Honest To God, by J.A.T. Robinson; Called “Image Old and New”. And he wrote the book: The Charismatic Christ (1973), toward and for the then Charismatic movement.

    I am myself an Anglican Reformed and certainly Calvinist Christian, but closer to this great man Michael Ramsey! I am not against Rowan Williams, he is certainly brillant at times, and yes a broad minded sort. But a real “Churchman”, and a historical Anglican? Not for me, sadly! We simply cannot be everything to all men, but we can be something to some, and call some to the Gospel of Christ. For only those will come that see the Glory of Christ, and the Glory of Christ is for the glory of man, but this is always redemptive..Christ for me, and then Christ in me! And as the memorial stone says for Michael Ramsey, “The glory of God is the living man. And the life of man is the vision of God.” (Irenaeus)


  8. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday (by Paul Sheehan) spoke of “widespread policy failures which have bred a feral British underclass”. Sheehan spoke of a recent visit to London when, in Piccadilly Circus, he was approached by a young man, English, white, skinny who asked him for money. When Sheehan refused, the young man’s eyes narrowed and he responded “Foreign c***”. This young man was someone who thought that that sort of disrespect, not only for a visitor to his country, but for himself, was acceptable. This is the person who must be reached by a church declining in numbers and influence in society.
    People in the church who are at the coalface need to keep saying the message, in a respectful way, and view social justice as of greatest importance.


  9. @ Chandler: ‘I’m not sure anyone can be “a theologian for the nation”‘. Do you mean that it’s possible to be a theologian of another kind? Is Christ so small, so divided, so sectarian! There is all the difference in the world in being a theologian for the nation and being a theologian of the nation, an impasse wider even than that between chaplain and apostle.


  10. BTW: has anyone heard/read any statements about these events from the queen? or even from that other self-appointed archbishop (of atheism), Mr Dawkins, whose doctrine of altruism, it seems, is not working?


  11. I’m pretty sure the Queen will say something in her Christmas message – can we wait that long?
    Is Mr Dawkins a go-to man in these sorts of circumstances? I don’t agree with his atheistic views but that doesn’t rule him out of (possibly) being someone who would care about the situation.


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