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Anglican Archbishop: too intellectual to lead?

The Archbishop of Canterbury faces criticism for his views on Islamic law and gay clergy. Is he just misunderstood?

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Anglican leader: Dr. Rowan Williams said he could have expressed his view of Islamic law more clearly.

Luke MacGregor/Reuters

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When it comes to leadership in the Church of England, the former Bishop of Norwich once reportedly said: "If you want to lead someone in this part of the world, find out where they're going. And walk in front of them."

Rowan Williams, who celebrates five years as Archbishop of Canterbury next week, could never be accused of doing that.

Since he took over the delicate task of leading the Anglican church's 77 million strong worldwide communion, Dr. Williams has repeatedly found himself marching against the current of public opinion, government policy, or both.

There was his criticism of British involvement in the Iraq war, which put the government's nose out of joint. There were proclamations on issues ranging from stem-cell research, abortion, and the criminal-justice system to America's foreign policy record and the economic iniquities of globalization.

But nothing has troubled England quite as much as his remarks this month on the inevitability of certain elements of sharia law in Britain. Sharia, he said, offered a way of arbitration, particularly in marital or family disputes, that could provide an alternative to divorce courts. "Certain conditions of sharia are already recognized in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system," he said.

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