Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, addressing theology students in Toronto, said an oft-quoted passage in Paul's Epistle to the Romans meant to warn Christians not to be self-righteous when they see others fall into sin.
His comments were an unusually open rebuff to conservative bishops, many
of them from Africa, who have been citing the Bible to demand that
pro-gay Anglican majorities in the United States and Canada be reined in
or forced out of the Communion.
"Many current ways of reading miss the actual direction of the passage,"
Williams said on Monday, according to a text of his speech posted on the
Anglican Church of Canada's Web site.
"Paul is making a primary point not about homosexuality but about the
delusions of the supposedly law-abiding."
The worldwide Anglican Communion is near breaking point over
homosexuality, with conservative clerics insisting the Bible forbids gay
bishops or blessings for same-sex unions. Its U.S. branch, the Episcopal
Church, named a gay bishop in 2003.
In fact, Williams also revealed on Tuesday that he had considered
canceling the Anglicans' once-a-decade 2008 Lambeth Conference, which
has the potential to become a flashpoint over homosexuality.
"Yes, we've already been considering that and the answer is no," he told
the Anglican Church of Canada's Anglican Journal.
"We've been looking at whether the timing is right, but if we wait for
the ideal time, we will wait more than just 18 months."
In the passage of Romans that Williams referred to in Monday's speech,
Paul said people who forgot God's words fell into sin. "Men committed
indecent acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty
for their perversion," Paul wrote.
Williams said these lines were "for the majority of modern readers the
most important single text in Scripture on the subject of
homosexuality." But right after that passage, Paul warns readers not to
condemn those who ignore God's word.