The article that follows is in part based on a pair of long blog posts that I wrote on the 11 and 15 February 2008 (‘Rowan Williams and Sharia: A Guide for the Perplexed’ and ‘What is Enlightenment: More on Williams and Sharia’). They were simply intended as an explanatory guided tour through the lecture, though with an implicit interest in undermining some of the wilder misrepresentations that I had then read. These posts did not focus on questions of strategy—on the political wisdom of delivering the lecture, or the handling of the media by Williams and his staff (I dealt with those issues briefly in an intervening post, not reproduced here)—but simply with the content of the lecture itself. I have not attempted in this article to step beyond that original remit: this article remains an attempt above all to explain, without too much by way of my own explicit comment, what Williams said.
In his 1989 lecture, 'The Body's Grace', Rowan Williams describes sexual relationships as capable of playing a role in the communication and learning of the gospel. I argue that the lecture gives the church a threefold task in relation to such relationships: to call them to loving mutuality, to faithfulness, and to faith. The same pattern characterises Williams' ecclesiology, and helps make sense of many of his public statements about recent Anglican controversies: as Archbishop of Canterbury he sees himself as tasked with issuing the same threefold call to the participants in ecclesial arguments about obedience.