Rowan Williams Tells ‘Persecuted’ Western Christians to Grow Up

Since blog traffic tends to be lower on the weekends than during the week, most of the serious blog content—full posts written by our bloggers—will be posted during the week. I will use the weekends to post brief, thought-provoking excerpts that I think will be of interest to readers of the blog. For the most part, these will be posted with only brief commentary.

The first excerpt comes from a recent story in The Guardian about some comments by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at the Edinburgh International Book Festival:

Christians in Britain and the US who claim that they are persecuted should “grow up” and not exaggerate what amounts to feeling “mildly uncomfortable”, according to Rowan Williams, who last year stepped down as archbishop of Canterbury after an often turbulent decade.

“When you’ve had any contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word very chastely,” he said. “Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. ‘For goodness sake, grow up,’ I want to say.”

True persecution was “systematic brutality and often murderous hostility that means that every morning you wonder if you and your children are going to live through the day”. He cited the experience of a woman he met in India “who had seen her husband butchered by a mob”.

Lord Williams’s years as archbishop of Canterbury were marked by turbulence over the church’s stance on the role of gay priests and bishops; gay marriage; and homophobia in the wider Anglican communion – with many members of the church expressing disappointment at a perceived hardening in its position on homosexuality.

Asked if he had let down gay and lesbian people, he said after a pause: “I know that a very great many of my gay and lesbian friends would say that I did. The best thing I can say is that is a question that I ask myself really rather a lot and I don’t quite know the answer.”

This reminder is specially relevant in light of the recent anti-Christian violence in Egypt. It is also a reminder that even those of us who have been quite badly treated by other Christians because of our sexuality still have it far better than many of our Christian (or gay) brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

I sometimes find myself getting angry or frustrated with Christians who complain about being persecuted. When they talk about how they are suffering from anti-Christian persecution, I think about how much worse I’ve had it from other Christians for being gay. It’s easy, in those moments, to feel bitter. But Williams’ words remind me again that others have it far worse than I do.

If my own limited experiences of persecution help to make me aware of what it is like to be in the minority, to be unable to protect myself or those I love from unjust discrimination, this may be God’s way of raising my awareness of the far more serious persecutions that others face. Perhaps God has allowed me to suffer a little in order to awaken me to the needs of others who suffer more.

The only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.

― Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being

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