Why Rowan Said God Was 'Useless' the Day after the 9/11 Terror Attacks; New Biography Tells of Sermon Following Tragedy

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 11, 2008 | Go to article overview

Why Rowan Said God Was 'Useless' the Day after the 9/11 Terror Attacks; New Biography Tells of Sermon Following Tragedy


Byline: Tomos Livingstone

THE Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, told a congregation the day after the September 11 attacks in New York that God was "useless" at a time like that.

A new biography of Dr Williams documents how, when he was still the Archbishop of Wales, he had been due to give an address at a building near the World Trade Center and arrived at the venue just 30 minutes before the first plane hit the Twin Towers.

Dr Williams' group had felt close to death inside the building after the collapse of the first of the towers and while escaping an "elephantine" dust cloud caused by the collapse of the second tower, the book says.

Rowan's Rule, The Biography of the Archbishop, by Rupert Shortt, published this week, quotes Dr Williams' host, the Reverend Fred Burnham, who describes a Eucharist given by the Archbishop the following day at St John the Divine Cathedral in New York.

Mr Burnham says: "When Rowan got to the rubric for the homily he was totally surprised; he hadn't expected to preach, so he preached off the cuff. He went back to an encounter that he had with an airline pilot on the streets at 7am that morning. The pilot said to him, 'Where the hell was God?' Rowan's answer was that God is useless at times like this.

"Now that's pretty shocking, but actually what he then went on to unpack is that God didn't cause this and God was not going to stop it, because God has granted us free will, and therefore God has to suffer the consequences of this like we do. So in a sense he exonerated God."

The book also reveals how the suicide of a friend more than 30 years ago was one of the "bleakest moments" in Dr Williams' life.

Hilary "Lori" Watson, a fellow MSc student at St Anne's College, Oxford, fell secretly in love with the future Archbishop while he was counselling her in the 1970s. …

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