One friend suggests his refusal to “speak out” is a reflection of Jesus’s own approach, especially when Christ refused to answer Pontius Pilate’s questions at His trial, as described in Mark’s Gospel. “I think that, again, one of the things the Gospel ought to do is make us question the way we put our questions,” Williams says. “So that, right throughout the ministry of Jesus as well as at His trial, a hostile person sitting there could say, ‘He never gives a straight answer to a straight question: “Do we pay tribute to Caesar?”‘ And Jesus pushes it back and says, ‘What are we really talking about?’ I think it’s always important to ask before we make the snap answer: what are we really talking about?”
Thirty years ago, Rowan Williams had a formative experience in Liverpool that would help define his approach as a churchman and an archbishop. “When I first went to train in a parish in the 1970s, I went to one of the worst council estates in Liverpool for a bit as part of my student experience, and the vicar said to me something I’ve never forgotten: ‘The people here have doors slammed in their face every day of the week. I want to make sure they don’t have another one slammed on the seventh.’ That’s a very central vision for me and that’s what I try to work with.”
It is a vision that helps guide him through the crises threatening his church.