What Can Government Tell Religion To Do Or Not Do?

The Archbishop of Canterbury made an effort to bring together competing groups within his own church as he confronted the government on its power to make decisions for religious groups. Rowan Williams appealed to conservatives and liberals within the Anglican Church to show tolerance and respect for one another’s ideas over issues such as gay rights. Even as he spoke, Henry Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda, announced his support for legislation that would deny rights to gays and lesbians. Williams recognizes that the Anglican Church can split apart on the issue of gay rights, but it is clear conservatives will not accept any compromise which allows gays and lesbians to be church officials.

At the same time, Rowan Williams expressed dismay over actions by the British government to ensure equality for gays in the Anglican Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury said he was not challenging the right of government to extend equality to gays and lesbians, but he challenged “whether government had the right to tell religious bodies” who they had to hire for church duties.

Rowan Williams raises legitimate issues as to whether religious groups should be subject to government laws about not discriminating against gays and lesbians in hiring. Fortunately, in England there is no one heading the Anglican Church like Bishop Orombi who recently said: “homosexual practice has no place in God’s design of creation.” I will have to check with God on that one.