I'll say this for Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury: He communicates directly and accessibly when speaking with broadcast journalists. Indeed, people who care deeply about the conflicts of the Anglican Communion might wish that Williams would grant a monthly one-hour interview to BBC Radio 5's Simon Mayo. British papers had some fun with Williams' observations, during an interview with Mayo on Wednesday, on just what the Gospel of Matthew says about the Nativity, and what about Jesus' birth narrative is central (see The Daily Telegraph and The Times). Hijinks ensued, especially on the Web, to the point that some blogs reacted as though Williams was dispensing with the whole of the Incarnation.
FoxNews.com prepared this surprisingly thorough roundup of how some American Christian leaders responded to the the archbishop's remarks.
The British papers reported the archbishop's remarks with technical accuracy, but they were hobbled by lurid headlines: "It's all a Christmas tall story" in The Times, "Archbishop says nativity 'a legend'" in The Daily Telegraph. This was enough to set visions of a Welsh Jack Spong dancing in people's heads. (Williams, while still bishop of Monmouth, Wales, wrote a withering critique of Spong in the U.K.'s Church Times just before the Lambeth Conference in 1998.)
As the archbishop says early in the interview with Mayo, he loves discussion with some of Christianity's fiercer critics, including Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman. Indeed, he has engaged in a public dialogue with Pullman already. Here's hoping they don't do an Easter tour together. I don't worry about what the archbishop would say, but about how breathless headlines would distort it.