There is an old Jewish proverb that if God came to earth, people would start smashing His windows. After an initial period of loving Rowan Williams, the press and the Church are beginning to have their doubts. The man who was hailed as the complicated Welsh poet and the much longed-for Intellectual in Public Life is now a Welsh Windbag who can control neither the openly gay bishops in America nor the conservative evangelicals at home. He has dismayed his former liberal friends by supporting, a little oddly, it must be said, a measure in the Synod (heavily defeated in the event) which would have brought back heresy trials to the Church. At the same time, he still wants to be gentle and understanding over the issue of gay sex, so he hasn’t really won any friends among the Bible-bashers. As well as the evangelicals, the usual suspects among right-wing journalists now line up to denounce him — Peter Hitchens, the Revd Peter Mullen and so on — because of his supposed weakness on such subjects as Hell, Islam and other matters.
Yet my faith in him is undimmed, and my admiration has grown in the last year. The crowning glory for me was a trivial matter. The Today programme on Radio Four offered him a ‘prime slot’ to do ‘Thought for the Day’ on Christmas Eve and his office replied that the Archbishop would be offering his thoughts on the Nativity of his Saviour from the pulpit of Canterbury cathedral. To those who run programmes such as Today it is all but unthinkable that a public figure should not wish to appear on their show. Margaret Thatcher was wise enough to refuse to go on Today, and it did not do her much harm. Rowan Williams sees the point of not constantly appearing in the popular media.