On coercion

Rowan Williams on why it’s wrong, and why it’s pointless.



Rowan Williams on why it’s wrong, and why it’s pointless.


When states or other communities exercise coercive power, they are saying in effect, “Well, we will determine what action will satisfy us, what action ought to be taken through, and you will perform this action or suffer the consequences”. And while there are situations where that’s almost inevitable – societies need police forces – it’s not at all the same as a religious change, because the religious perspective says, well, you need to change your heart, you need to change your mind. In other words, we can if necessary stop you doing something stupid, sinful, and destructive by force. But that’s not in itself a religious or a Christian thing. That would mean you understanding why this was not a possible way of living humanly.

So when Christianity has got into the business of coercive force – religiously discriminatory legislation, Spanish Inquisition or whatever – it’s not been very impressive. It’s produced external conformity, internal resentment, and I think a deep wound in the credibility of Christianity in the long run.