Anglican Archbishop: too intellectual to lead?
The Archbishop of Canterbury faces criticism for his views on Islamic law and gay clergy. Is he just misunderstood?
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Williams studied theology at Christ's College, Cambridge, and earned a doctorate at Oxford in 1981. An unashamed enthusiast of intellectual pursuits, he collected academic honors and languages (he speaks seven) with assiduous regularity, and, in 1986, was appointed Oxford's youngest ever professor of divinity at the age of 36. His career in the church formally began in 1992 when he left academia to become Bishop of Monmouth. Eight years later he was elected Archbishop of Wales.Skip to next paragraph
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A self-declared "hairy leftie" who also counts poetry and his family (he has two school-age children) among his passions, the archbishop in private is a gentle, thoughtful man who can appear slightly aloof until engaged, friends say.
"He is a man with a monumental intellect but he is also a man of considerable personal humility," says Robin Baird-Smith, the archbishop's publisher. "People who say he's an intellectual snob are completely missing the point.
"He listens extremely well and he's extremely accommodating. He takes very seriously what you say and there is no question of him patronizing you," he adds. It is this ability to identify with the common man that sometimes appears that Williams is happier giving a service at a parish church than he is negotiating the politics of a church with members in 160 countries.
But asked whether his academic background was a disadvantage to leadership in a era of shallow headlines, Mr. Baird-Smith disagrees. "It makes him exactly the person we need at the moment. When everything is dumbed down and sound bites, this man offers people great hope."
Mr. Fraser remembers the archbishop as a "real thinker" who inspired his students. "He was really always someone who would challenge you and make you think deeper about things. That is what he was trying to challenge the church and the country to do about a whole range of complicated issues."
But if the country was unsure about his sharia remarks, the church has been equally uncertain over his leadership during a tumultuous period in which the Anglicans have been deeply split between those who favor the ordination of gay clergy and those who see homosexuality as sinful. The division is so deep that Fraser says Williams has inherited "one of the worst jobs in the world."
The schism widened further Monday, when the Church of Uganda threatened to secede from the rest of the Anglican fellowship unless the liberal wing of the church change its stance on homosexual clergy and same-sex marriage. The Ugandans have already announced a boycott of the upcoming Lambeth Conference, a 10-year convocation of Anglican bishops.
Questioning his leadership, some senior members of the General Synod, the 'parliament' that oversees Anglican affairs, have called for Williams to step down. Col. Edward Armitstead, a Synod member from the diocese of Bath and Wells, said: "Rowan Williams is a godly, gracious and clearly very able person in many ways, but I don't think he's got the gift of leadership that the church needs at this present time.
"The church is facing difficulties with falling attendances, diminished financial giving and fewer men and women coming forward for ordination to full-time ministry, and it really needs a clear Christian leadership."