Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams told a group of theological students that the scriptural text conservatives use to argue against homosexuality is misread.
The Anglican spiritual leader was speaking in Toronto on Monday when he examined the practice of reading the Bible. He said the primary point of the most important single text in Scripture on the subject of homosexuality – for the majority of modern readers – is not about homosexuality. Instead, it's meant to warn Christians not to be self-righteous when they see others fall into sin.
In the first chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul lists same-sex relationships as "unnatural" relations along with other moral depravities of mankind. The text is "famously" used by conservative Christians to back their argument against homosexuality. But Williams said Paul's rhetorical gambit is not helpful to the conservative "who has been up to this point happily identifying with Paul's castigation of someone else."
"Paul is making a primary point not about homosexuality but about the delusions of the supposedly law-abiding," he stated, according to the Anglican Church of Canada.
William's comments, however, does not favor either side. He stressed the text is "not helpful for the liberal case either since Paul's point is that everyone "in his imagined readership" agrees in thinking same-sex relations is as obviously as immoral as idol-worship.
The 77-million Anglican Communion is currently wracked by debate over homosexuality and near breaking point. Anglican primates (leaders) issued a Sept. 30 deadline for the Episcopal Church to unequivocally pledge not to consecrate another openly gay bishop or authorize the blessing of same-sex unions. The Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003.
Williams stressed that his comments on Monday "does nothing to settle the exegetical questions fiercely debated at the moment." Instead he was explaining a strictly theological reading of Scripture.
"Take Scripture out of this context of the invitation to sit at table with Jesus and to be incorporated into his labor and suffering for the Kingdom, and you will be treating Scripture as either simply an inspired supernatural guide for individual conduct or a piece of detached historical record – the typical exaggerations of Biblicist and liberal approaches respectively," he said.
The Anglican head warned that there is a division in the communion "and it's getting deeper and more bitter," according to The Washington Post. "If the Anglican Church divides, everyone will lose."
As the leader of the Anglican Communion, Williams said the main thing he can do "is try to maintain the level of credibility that allows him to get people around the table." He further stressed the importance of community in the Christian church.
The Anglican Communion is currently in the process of drafting an Anglican Covenant, intended to be a faith statement to foster unity among its churches. Williams commented that he found "unacceptable a draft covenant presented to the senior archbishops, or primates, that would allow the communion to boot out member churches deemed to have stepped out of line doctrinally on issues such as sexuality."
Williams announced on Monday that he intends to visit the United States in the fall in response to the invitation from the Episcopal House of Bishops.