Rather than bar people of faith, use them in thorny debates, says former Anglican head

(Photo: REUTERS / Yui Mok / POOL)Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, smiles during a meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England, at Church House in central London November 21, 2012

Though you may not necessarily agree with religious people and their views, and might find their ideas outrageous, don't count them out when hot button topics are on the table says a former Anglican leader.

That is the essence of a lecture by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who spoke recently at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, ChristianToday.com reported.

"It really helps in a public debate, even if you lose the argument, to have certain principles embodied in it," Williams said in the inaugural Cambridge Coexist Theology Lecture.

"The task of religious representatives is not to win the argument at all costs. It is to say, it needs to be this kind of argument rather than that one," he added.

Williams noted that religious freedom has been often cited in instances where people of faith clashed with the secular majority.

But he said such views should not be entirely excluded because they add another dimension to the debate.

He mentioned a recent debate at the House of Lords, Britain's upper chamber of parliament, where the topic was about assisted dying.

Being a former leader of the Anglican Communion, the view of the religious group centered on protecting human dignity.

"In a long and highly complex debate, there were signs that this was the territory on which the best and most interesting speakers were operating," he said.

Williams likewise cautioned people of certain faiths from expecting to win an argument, saying their role should be focused more on expanding the debate on certain issues.

It is better for people to contribute to the discussion, rather than determine its outcome, the former church leader explained.

Governments should act as an enabler of discussion and ensure that all sides are heard when important issues are being tackled, Williams said.

In this way, minorities could be heard thus providing a more holistic appreciation of the topic.

"A society committed to law and rights ought to be a society profoundly interested in the welfare of religious communities and one that realizes it needs religious insights," Williams said.

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