I submitted the following letter to 'Reform', the URC's national magazine, yesterday.
Archbishop Williams seems to have been reading the penultimate clause in the URC's 'Statement of [its] Nature, Faith & Order' (Rejoice & Sing No.761), for his lecture on 'Religion & Law' reads like a call for the separation of the powers of State and religion, with the State, as the pragmatic 'referee,' holding all other authorities — including religious ones — accountable to itself and each other for the 'common good' and the dignity of every individual.
Much of the hostility to that lecture came from those who were stung by his suggestion that secular wisdom doesn't have a monopoly on truth and that justice and peace are likely to be ill-served by a secular 'moral majority' that marginalises all religious insight.
Howling about the abuses heaped on women in the name of Shar'ia in some communities may make the anti-religious (or simply anti-Islamic) feel a glow of self-righteousness, but stereotyping whole communities in that way (the very thing Williams appealed to his hearers to avoid) only serves to drive those women further behind the closed doors of male-dominated communities, because as a result their 'guardians' become ever more defensive and resistant to 'outside' intervention. The only way out that all this self-righteous posturing offers them requires them to reject their entire culture, family and religion, but for economically dependent women this is simply not a practical option. The only practical suggestions for improving matters that I saw in all the coverage (albeit that it was only in the form of underlying principles) were those which the archbishop had offered. A lecture that in itself tentatively offered a way of reaching respectfully into those communities and at least not making those women's situation worse has been turned by the secular Moral Majority and the Christian right into an anti-Islamic frenzy that almost certainly will.
A sad day for British journalism, a sad day for Britain, and a sadder day still for those crushed between the jaws of religious and State power, as was Jesus.