The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has accused suicide bombers and terrorists who justify their actions in the name of God of committing blasphemy and indulging in the fantasy of being in control of events.
The archbishop spoke out yesterday in a sermon at York Minster about people of faith having to come to terms with the “horrible” fact that some terrorists believe they serve their God and justice by organised slaughter and suicide.
He spoke to a congregation largely made up of members of the Church of England general synod – an institution not noted for its suicide bombers.
“This represents a condition of spiritual weakness that is both pitiable and terrifying. For the person who resorts to random killing in order to promote the honour of God or the supposed cause of justice, it is clear that God is not to be trusted. God is too weak to look after his own honour and we are the strong ones who must step in to help him. Such is the underlying blasphemy at work,” he said.
“Last week the prime minister appealed to ‘moderate’ Muslims to challenge the extremists in their midst … but perhaps we should be saying too that what we look for is not just moderation, if all that means is a measured and unexciting religious commitment … It is people who are extreme in their confidence in God who will most effectively challenge the extremists of murder and fear.”
The archbishop’s words came in the midst of a meeting of what is in effect the church’s parliament, during which there has been much less agreement on the main issue on the agenda – the church’s consideration of whether it can finally agree eventually to consecrate its women clergy as bishops – and indeed on the divisions over the place of sexually active homosexuals in the clergy.
Dr Williams acknowledged in his sermon that the church is “confused and struggling”. He told the congregation ruefully: “We may be in a thorough mess but at least we shall not mislead anyone into supposing that the power and wisdom of God depend upon the smooth coherence of the Church of England’s workings.”
He is pessimistic about the chances for his plan, suggested less than a fortnight ago, for a covenant of agreed doctrine and discipline to be signed by all partner churches, or of its surviving long enough to be discussed at the next meeting of the world’s Anglican bishops in two years.
The covenant idea has already come under attack from the hardline conservative leader of the church in Africa, Archbishop Peter Akinola, and also from liberals who believe the plan is unworkable.