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Many old allies, Williams admits, saw his shift on gays as a "betrayal." One British gay-rights activist snapped: "I hope he likes his newfound friends." But in fact, he has few on the right. "He's a very courteous man," says Morgan. "Sometimes the nuanced way in which he says things is lost on people." Certainly it is lost on archconservative Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who has said that God regards homosexuality as the equivalent of humans having sex with various animals, and who has commented, "We don't have to go through Canterbury to get to Jesus." He also set up his own Anglican body in the U.S. the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (cana) flouting Communion rules about stealing other bishops' sheep. Last February, when top Anglican archbishops gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Akinola extracted major concessions despite initial deft handling by Williams. The gathering attached a strict deadline Sept. 30 to the usual cease-and-desist demands on the Americans, and added one more: that they arrange with the Communion for a "primatial vicar" to provide religious leadership for disgruntled conservatives, an idea the U.S. Episcopalians rejected almost instantly. Williams' reputation sank further.
Last spring was a nadir. Williams was widely reported as feeling isolated and depressed. Just before Easter, retired bishop Richard Harries described a meeting of the Church of England's House of Bishops at which Williams "simply shared what was on his heart for more than an hour ... and one tough-minded bishop ... was reduced to tears." An unnamed former bishop earlier had offered the press an image of an endless via dolorosa: "He's just carrying the cross, hoping things will change."
"I think it's a rather dramatic picture painted there," Williams told Time. "Making decisions that will lose you friends, compromise people's perception of your integrity that's very hard. On the other hand, that is only part of the reality. First and foremost, I'm a priest and a bishop."
Up close, Williams is yet more benignly rumpled than at a distance. White hair springs out in every direction; wild black eyebrows seem to try to unseat his spectacles. Sitting next to a reporter, he affects the solicitous slump of a tutor assisting a student. His answers, however, are precise and confident. And indeed, he has some reason to be satisfied. One of his few direct powers is to determine who gets invited to the Lambeth conference. Many expected him to wait until after the Episcopalians' September deadline, and then if they proved noncompliant disinvite the entire American contingent. Instead, he announced in May that, for now, he was excluding just two people: Robinson alone of the Episcopalians; and Martyn Minns, the bishop of Akinola's U.S. church. If either attended Lambeth, he said, the conference would risk being just about them.
It was, of course, a gamble. Akinola threatened to pull his country's 90-some bishops out of Lambeth. Robinson said he hoped that the U.S. church as a whole (with its 111 dioceses) would "respond" to his exclusion. But the act of self-assertion seems to have energized Williams. As his hearth logs crackled, it became clear that he saw himself, the U.S. Episcopalians and Akinola as facing the same broad challenge: in the absence of bright guidelines, to subsume their more extreme philosophical impulses to the preservation of Anglicanism's unique assets. As for their real differences, Williams cited a theology he says springs from the Apostle Paul's reference to the church as the "body of Christ": God intends that people in one church "have something to learn even from the people we most dislike or instinctively mistrust. 'Here they are. In an ideal world, no doubt I'd have chosen differently, but it wasn't up to me.'"
So although he says he's "not recanting" his old arguments about homosexuality, his new job demands that he express "where the consensus of our Church is," rather than press for change. Even though Williams himself doesn't see sexuality as of "first-order" theological importance, he believes so many Christians do that pro-gay measures must be preceded by a broad shift in consensus. He portrays the U.S. church as having failed at this and Robinson's election as perhaps dangerously myopic. Williams reports complaints from Egyptian Christians that their churches are being denounced or, he hints, threatened by Muslim clergy because of same-sex relationships, even though the local Christians themselves have never accepted their validity. Williams would like to see a "covenant" or set of core Anglican principles. U.S. Episcopalians have criticized this as a move aimed at forcing liberal churches into Roman-style lockstep, and he acknowledged it could eventually isolate the American church's current stance on homosexuality. "I don't want to accelerate departure, God forbid," he says, adding that he hopes both the Episcopalians and others could benefit if their positions changed.