The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, delivered a speech this week in which he welcomed the changes that had been brought about by diversity. Then he immediately backtracked and concluded that the pendulum is now swinging back so enough is enough: it’s time for minorities to step down before society fragments altogether.
The speech was muddle-headed, to say the least, and it reminded me of a criticism that Bishop Gene Robinson made at the screening of the documentary Love Free or Die at the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival last week. Williams, he said, merely managed the debate over LGBT inclusion in the Church, but he did not lead it. Then he added Moses led the people out the Egypt. He did not manage the situation. It was a powerful analogy.
In talking about “identity politics”, Williams fudged the issue so completely that he sidestepped it, and proved that the old guard does not understand the implications of cultural diversity, and instead retreats into a corner that is forever England, where vicars serve tea and sex is never talked about.
This is the core of his reasoning:
Identity politics, whether it is the politics of feminism, whether it is the politics of ethnic minorities or the politics of sexual minorities, has been a very important part of the last 10 or 20 years because before that I think there was a sense that diversity was not really welcome.
And so minorities of various kinds and women began to say ‘actually we need to say who we are in our terms not yours’ and that led to identity politics of a very strong kind and legislation that followed it.
We are now, I think, beginning to see the pendulum swinging back and saying identity politics is all very well but we have to have some way of putting it all back together again and discovering what is good for all of us and share something of who we are with each other so as to discover more about who we are.
Once we start saying this is my identity and that’s it then I think we are in danger of really fragmenting the society we belong to.
It is not a well thought out argument. It is hardly even an argument at all.
Williams would like people to focus on “the common good”. In other words, the fault of social unrest is down to the minorities who press for rights which, he assumes, exclude the majority. In other words he’s saying, stop being so selfish and defer to the rule of the pack.
It is time for the majority to catch up, and not for the minorities to step back. This is why the leadership of cultural institutions needs to be clear and strong. It is why the Church should not be arguing for inclusion, not just tolerance, as Gene Robinson so eloquently put it, and not retreating behind the lines of outdated biblical rhetoric. It is only when equal rights are achieved that we can be bound together by our common humanity, and not separated by our cultural differences.