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“There is more to you than you think…That seems to be the essence of faith”: Lord Rowan Williams speaks at Oxford Union

Meghana Geetha interviews the former Archbishop of Canterbury after he spoke at the Oxford Union.

Lord Rowan Williams, addressed the Oxford Union on 10th November. After the event, Lord Williams spoke to Cherwell regarding the public understanding and questioning of faith. 

The former Archbishop of Canterbury is one of the leading religious figures in recent British history. He has shown a long commitment to fighting injustice, having marched with Extinction Rebellion and having been arrested in 1985 for protesting against nuclear weapons. 

Among the subjects discussed at the talk included assisted suicide. When asked for his view, Lord Williams said: “My personal view on assisted suicide is not religious, because I don’t have a right as a religious person to contradict the society.”

Cherwell: Considering the Church of England’s consistent decline in congregation size, do you think the move away from the traditional parish system is the route forward for the Church of England to build back?

Lord Williams: “There is quite a lot of misinterpretation on this issue. What people have looked at is what supplements the parish system. But the fact is that, people still have a relationship very often, with the parish church. More people than we think. People still trust the parish church as something that will be there for them even if they don’t turn up. I think, it is hard to lose it.”

What are the justifications for and how do you think the church should be political in the present day?

“I don’t think the church should ever be bound to a political program. It is not a party organisation. But what the Church can do in a huge variety of ways, is to remind the world around of what matters about human beings. That maybe done as basic as organising a local route of visiting people in the suburb of Cardiff. It maybe somebody from the Church, perhaps the Pope addressing the whole nation. It maybe anything in between. 

“The fundamental thing is, how do we stand up for what we believe is, duty of human beings. Being critical about nuclear weapons or not, it boils down to what one thinks human beings are worthy of or not.”

On langauge and faith, how do you think we can interpret and proclaim the Gospel today in the way that it means belonging to a faith or lack of faith in our generation?

“I don’t think the answer is to ever make it easy. We are talking about another world, another kingdom in Jewish and Christian terms. We are talking about a state of affairs where the will of God shapes human actions and interactions. That’s not where we are. 

“The strangeness of the words of the Bible is a part of how we speak of that. The challenge then is to make that something different from just having a tribal dialect that we speak to one another, that never communicates. That is challenge every priest faces in the Church. I don’t think the answer is turning our back on the unusual and difficult aspects of what we say. It’s a matter of our own commitment to that mystery and vision being such that, people say, ‘it looks like as if that makes a difference’.

“I am surprised sometimes, by how unexpected people get the point of this. They don’t need things explained in a patronising way. They see that it’s different and can turn one inside-out. 

“I suppose, someone from a council estate from South London, came to their first Shakespeare play. Very often, it can speak to them. 

“There’s more to you than you think. There’s more to the world than you think. That seems to be the essence of faith. More to you than you think, it is good news, it is the Gospel.”

Do you have any regrets from your time as an archbishop?            

“I occasionally regret saying yes to that question. But obviously one makes mistakes, handles things poorly on a weekly basis. I don’t think I recall anything in particular. But I am very sad that we did not manage to see through the ordination of women’s bishops when I was still in the office. That failed in my last meeting. You just have to revise what counts as success sometimes.”

Image Credit: Meghana Geetha 

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