Archbishop of Canterbury links human rights to faith

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams voiced his concerns about the vulnerable position of religious minorities at a lecture Feb. 28 . Photo: Peter Williams/WCC
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams voiced his concerns about the vulnerable position of religious minorities at a lecture Feb. 28 . Photo: Peter Williams/WCC
Published February 29, 2012

Geneva – The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke on Feb. 28 of the link that human rights must have with faith and of the responsibilities inherent in Christian unity in a day-long visit to the Ecumenical Center in Geneva.

The responsibility of Christians who receive the gift of unity lies in “seeking a life in which no one is without the other,” Williams told staff, visitors and governing members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and other organizations based at the center.

“Unity is neither a means nor an end,” he said. “Unity is what God has given us in the church,” he told a roundtable discussion that included representatives of the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed confessions of faith. The discussion was moderated by WCC General Secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, according to a WCC news release.

The Rev. John Gibaut, director of the WCC joint commission on Faith and Order, said disunity is often more evident than church unity, and noted different traditions describe the church in differing terms. “If we cannot agree on what we mean by the church, we cannot begin to say much about the unity of the church,” he said, noting that the joint commission is working on a proposed consensus document on “The Church.”

The Rev. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, noted that Christians are called together for a purpose and depicted the unity of the church as both “a gift and an obligation for the people of God.” Christians are not called simply to be’ one, but to act together against injustice and violence, and to establish peace, he added.

Later, in a keynote lecture entitled, “Human Rights and Religious Faith,” Williams described the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 as a landmark in the history of moral consciousness.

“It has offered a global benchmark for identifying injustices to those who have never been able to make their voices heard,” he said, and “a crucial way of working out what it is for people to belong together in a society.”

Speaking to a packed auditorium, he said that it is also important for the language of rights “not to lose its anchorage in a universalist religious ethic-and just as important for religious believers not to back away from the territory and treat rights language as an essentially secular matter, potentially at odds with the morality and spirituality of believers.”

Williams also voiced his concerns about the vulnerable position of religious minorities, noting that “this is particularly acute where there is vague tradition of tolerance towards a minority that has never quite amounted to full civic equality.”

The Anglican Communion leader also flagged his concerns about the need to ensure proper protection of migrants, including asylum seekers, saying that “it is an area in which regression to attitudes of suspicion and harshness is in evidence in more than one society.”

He also indicated the consistent support of the Anglican Communion for the protection of sexual minorities from violence and intimidation.

The existence of laws discriminating against sexual minorities as such, he said, “can have no justification in societies that are serious about law itself. Such laws reflect a refusal to recognize that minorities belong, and they are indeed directly comparable to racial discrimination.”

To listen to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lecture, click here


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