What I find unhelpful about this piece is the way in which it is assumed automatically that anyone who seeks to uphold traditional conservative values towards marriage is homophobic. John writes that the policy of the Anglican Church ‘is morally contemptible.’ However, Rowan Williams has at least struggled to maintain unity within a Church that holds a wide diversity of views, and has respected the views of Anglicans across the world where modern western secular approaches to ethics are unknown.
John is however critical of African Christians commenting that “About half the world's Anglicans are African, and the majority of them are in violently homophobic countries whose churches back harsh punishments against homosexuals, right up to the death penalty.” John here omits to say that the call for the death penalty for homosexual acts in Uganda for instance is limited to repeated acts of sexual abuse towards children and those under care. Abuse of children, admittedly mainly sexual abuse by men against girls (and also child sacrifice), in African countries is a major problem that needs to be dealt with firmly, and Christians are right to try and address the problems. However, harsh penalties for consenting sexual acts are regrettable. Even for those who consider it to be morally wrong justice does need to be proportionate, and there may be many things that are immoral that are not illegal. But John’s diatribe against African Christians, that is Christian people with black skin, is deeply unhelpful and could be seen as western liberal elitism, if not liberal racism. It certainly doesn’t help African Christians extend loving Christian values across Africa. There is an assumption in this piece by John that the views of African Christians who hold to a more conservative ethical foundation are to be ignored. It would seem that for liberals democracy only goes so far. This might seem like western cultural imperialism by a liberal elite.
In terms of equality John taps into what I would call Humean rights as opposed to human rights. That is rights are given to people and groups on the basis of subjective sentiment and not according to a person’s intrinsic value, nor according to rational debate, nor with consideration of corresponding duties. The problem for liberalism is that ultimately ethics become relative. For Christian liberals the practice of reinterpreting scripture to suit one’s own views effectively destroys the basis for objectivity in ethical standards; in effect they cut off the branch on which they sit. We are left in a potentially dangerous place where human sentiment may turn against upholding the value of all human beings; an example being Nazi Germany where Jews, gays and others were persecuted and some put to death. Let us also have a rational and calm debate about the cause of gay sentiment; is it really a given at birth or is it something that arises through upbringing, or environment or something else? Is it nature or nurture; is it intrinsic or extrinsic to who we are as human beings? Admittedly for some it is strongly felt, although for others the recent growth in the gay community suggests it is partly a passing fashion. Also through history, as the Old Testament relates, the community of faith has ebbed and flowed between periods of liberalism and periods of conservatism. However these questions matter when we are dealing with questions of rights and equality so let us at least have a fair and honest debate. Instead of attacking African Christians and fellow Anglicans John needs to work with his fellow believers to help bring an end to sexual and other abuse of children, and to develop and campaign for a proportionate system of justice because these are Christian values that we can all accept and desire to see extended.