Posted by Christopher Johnson | Friday, March 16th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 25 Comments

I was driving around this morning laying in supplies(I was dangerously low on kimchi.  There were only two large and full jars left in my fridge but please don’t worry.  I stopped here to get some) when word came over the radio that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, had announced his resignation effective at the end of the year:

Archbishop Rowan Williams has today announced his acceptance of the position of Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge with effect from January 2013. He will therefore be stepping down from the office of Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of December 2012.

Dr Williams’ intentions have been conveyed to The Queen, who is Supreme Governor of the Church of England and who formally appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Normally when the Christian tradition into which I was born makes the national news, I would have dropped everything, driven home and posted something about it.  But this time I decided to wait and to think about what I think of the man and his tenure.

Other reactions are up.  At Naughton’s(here and here), Jim’s entourage debates my gracious lord of Canterbury’s legacy and wonders whether his successor might be worse than he was.

To Matt Kennedy, there is nothing to debate since it’s abundantly clear that Rowan Williams’ tenure at Lambeth Palace has been an unmitigated disaster.

Like a chaplain whispering soft words over the semi-conscious body of a terminal patient, Rowan Williams has held quiet and ever so still vigil over the Anglican Communion in its death throes. The analogy does not quite fit since unlike a chaplain, the Archbishop of Canterbury has remedies and cures at his disposal that he has consistently chosen not to use. Membership in the Communion is determined by full communion with Canterbury. Invitations to the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meetings make that membership manifest. Rowan Williams, despite Lambeth resolutions and numerous Primatial Statements, Communiques, and warnings rarely failed to invite the heresy ridden, infectious, revisionist activist leaders and representatives of the Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada to fully participate in the official councils and the life of the Communion. And so the Communion body has been broken and torn. Williams not only stood vigil over the death, he invited it, welcomed it, played the good host.

For his part, Greg Griffith thinks that Dr. Williams’ failure rests less on what he did than on what he refused to do.

We’re going to hear a lot of what we’ve always heard about Rowan Williams – that he is a towering intellect, a fine academician, etc. – and all of that may be true, but it’s undeniable that he’s done great harm to the office of the ABC. The whole point of the office is its power – not in the crass, cynical sense of the word, but the power to use the visibility of the office, and to draw upon the impressive resources of a worldwide communion in the service of the Gospel.

When that power is squandered, the office is weakened, and although the ABC has always been described as a primus inter pares, the fact is that the office is capable of exerting tremendous influence because of its unique attributes – for example, as Matt points out, the ability to do everything from send subtle signals, to issue stern corrections, and to outright expel member provinces from the communion, through the power of invitation that the ABC alone enjoys. Williams used this power in a way that can only be described as feckless and clumsy, and that’s being generous.

While Sarah Hey thinks that it doesn’t much matter who replaces him.

I’ve believed for a long time now that leadership generally comes as a consequence of the reality of an organization’s identity and integrity.  So I’ve not looked forward to Rowan Williams’ eventual departure at all, since I’ve never believed that if we could simply change leaders, the Anglican Communion could be saved.  After all, Archbishop Carey made crucial errors of judgement that set the stage for the state of the Anglican Communion at Rowan Williams’ arrival as ABC, and that led to several of Rowan Williams’ poor decisions.  Usually, unless God intervenes, we get the leadership that we deserve, and that leadership springs from the “grass roots identity” of an organization. So I don’t greet Rowan Williams’ decision to retire with relief or expectation for someone better able to lead us into greater health and deeper promotion of the Gospel throughout the Communion.  Strategically, I think that Rowan Williams’ greatest mistake was in not recognizing the chasm that exists between the foundational worldview, principles, values, and goals of the revisionist activist leaders in The Episcopal Church, Canada and elsewhere, and that of the Gospel.  As a result, he always hoped for the Communion’s not “dividing” along those lines, without recognizing that the Communion was long, long ago already fatally divided between the two worldviews.  Thus his actions occurred within the false assumption that he could “hold us together” rather than proceeding from the recognition that the Communion was fractured and attempting to salvage health and wholeness within that reality. That led to rather ridiculous maneuverings, false flags, stuttering starts and stops, retractions, alternating firmness and capitulation, forced and artificial displays of surface “unity,” attempted lengthy delays and time-wasting “processes” in the hopes that leaders would cease moving forward with the activities of their respective gospels, and a massive loss of integrity, both for the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and for the Anglican Communion itself.  His refusal to recognize the deep and broad chasm between the two competing worldviews, the gospel of the revisionists and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his resulting resistance to acknowledging the natural consequences and division that come from such a chasm, led to far greater damage to the Communion and to where we are today.

Yup.  Sarah Hey has just hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth in Game Seven of the World Series to lead the St. Louis Cardinals to victory over the New York Yankees, four games to three.

Rowan Williams’ greatest and most unappreciated virtue is this: good liberal that he is, he nevertheless understands that the conservative position on homosexuality is a theologically serious one and that labeling it as “bigotry” and leaving it there is intellectual dishonesty of the highest order.

A position for which he has caught hell from the Anglican left.  These people apparently think that Dr. Williams should have enthusiatically attended Gene Robinson’s consecration and then informed the Africans that the North Americans are right so keep quiet, deal with it and we’ll keep the scratch flowing your way.

But my gracious lord of Canterbury was too honest to do that, which is both good and bad.  As Sarah quite correctly points out, one of the greatest, if not the single greatest failure of his tenure at Lambeth Palace was his inability(or refusal) to recognize what was right in front of his face.

That the two schools of thought current in Anglicanism were absolutely irreconcilable.  Because of that, Dr. Williams couldn’t see how fatally the North Americans had wounded the Anglican Communion in 2003.  So, good Anglican that he is, His Grace kept pretending that all problems can be solved over a couple glasses of really good Port.

How else to explain his decision to invite the North Americans to the 2008 Lambeth Conference?  By itself, the decision was not a bad one as long as the controversy that was breaking the Anglican Communion apart was seriously addressed and decided, one way or the other.

But as we all know, it wasn’t.  Rowan Williams structured Lambeth so that nothing would be decided, nothing controversial would be passed and Anglicans would continue to debate whether darkness and light can exist together in the same room.  At which point, quite a few of us gave up and moved on.

Could Dr. Williams have salvaged the situation?  Of course.  He could have attended the first GAFCON or ACNA gatherings, let it be known that he favored the establishment of a parallel North American province for conservative Canadian and American Anglicans and communicated that as far as he was concerned, these groups were just as Anglican as TEO or the AOoC.

But he didn’t because he didn’t have the vision to.  Or the courage.  Or maybe he’s just been faking his respect for the conservative position all along.  Maybe he should have gone with his heart and let the Third World and the North American conservatives walk away.  Maybe two “Anglican Communions” could have formed, with Dr. Williams as the titular head of each.

Maybe that’s Rowan Williams’ greatest failure.

25 Comments to END OF AN ERA

March 16, 2012

“maybe he’s just been faking his respect for the conservative position all along”


March 16, 2012

FINALLY. I can truly thank God for something this man has done.

March 16, 2012

I’m surprised he waited this long. Surely he couldn’t have been enjoying his job.

His departure changes nothing. The Anglican Communion has been theologically hollowed out to the point that it really doesn’t matter who’s ABC anymore.

Dale Matson
March 16, 2012

“Or maybe he’s just been faking his respect for the conservative position all along.” RW is a broad church intellectual from his head down to his toes. He was involved more with social issues, CoE issues and allowing the revisionist agenda to advance than he was with respecting and representing the views of the majority of Anglicans in the communion. He is tone deaf and never has reflected the mind of the communion. He acquiesced to the liberal agenda because at heart, it is his agenda too. His covenant did not restore order or unity to a divided communion. It was not a band aid or even wall paper that could hide the cracks. He was at times even disloyal to Tradition or Scripture. The revisionists used him but have never respected him. He has been more willing to speak out on Sharia Law than apostasy in the Anglican Communion. He squandered the authority of his position and diminished the office. He has been a terrible serial disappointment as those of us hoped he would step in and step up at each turning point during his tenure. Eventually we got the message and so did the Bishops of the Southern Cone. They formed and framed a plan B for Anglicanism. Pope Benedict has shown more compassion for Anglo Catholics than the ABC. The Queen’s 2011 Christmas message was more stirring than any of his homilies. Rowan Williams Fair thee well.

Smurf Breath
March 16, 2012

As many have remarked before, his primary goal seemed to be to stave off a schism in the Communion until he was able to leave, and now that goal is in sight. I don’t think he made any mistakes, or failed, by the yardstick he is using. If his successor is clumsier than Rowan, no matter which direction that successor leans, at least he’ll bring some clarity to the issue, or force action by one or both sides, so there is reason for optimism in that.

March 16, 2012

Being an academic, liberal like most of them, he attempted to resolve trouble in the Communion the way one might in academia, with colloquia and dithering. It didn’t work, since both sides, the “progressives” and the more traditional groups, held their opinions sincerely and deeply.

March 16, 2012

Well, I have sympathy for the man. Yes, it would have been wonderful if a conservative leader who would enforce decisions was chosen, but you over on the other side of the Atlantic really don’t have the idea of how the Church of England works.

It has been carefully – from both within and without – managed so that any real authority for making decisions lies in the hands of the secular authorities, which does not mean the Queen (despite her status as Head of the Church) but the Privy Council and various bodies in Parliament, and as Chesterton pointed out back when they were revising the Book of Common Prayer in 1928, this means that non-Christians, atheists, Dissenters, Catholics, Jews, Broad Church, Low Church, High Church, no-particular-faith-but-socially-Anglican and everyone else gets to vote on how the changes to the Church are made.

Remember the story about Jeffrey Johns possibly going to court under the Equality Act to sue because he hadn’t been made a bishop? Just think about the fact that such a story could get off the ground in the first place; even in America, with the RC bishops standing up to the Administration, as of yet no court would interfere in denominational matters to say X should and must be made a bishop. But it’s different in England precisely because it’s the State Church and because of Establishment.

For about two centuries, the English prided themselves on Anglicanism being a matter of tolerance and private religion being just that – private. It didn’t matter what you really believed, as long as you followed the forms. Given all that, an Archbishop of Canterbury who attempted to impose discipline would be either ignored, laughed at, or – if he went through with any warnings of withdrawing facilities of errant clergy – he would be brought to court.

As in the case of Bishop Colenso of Natal back in 1897; the bishop of Cape Town, representing the South African bishops, attempted to depose him and consecrated a rival bishop of Natal. Did Colenso appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury? No, he “appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. The Privy Council eventually decided that the Bishop of Cape Town had no coercive jurisdiction and no authority to interfere with the Bishop of Natal. In view of this finding of ultra vires there was no opinion given upon the allegations of heresy made against Colenso” and “an attempt to deprive him of his episcopal income and the control of the cathedral in Pietermaritzburg was frustrated by another court ruling. Colenso, encouraged by a handsome testimonial raised in England to which many clergymen subscribed, returned to his diocese.”

See the way the attempt to draw up an Anglican Covenant was frustrated, not just by TEC, but by widespread disapproval of any attempt to give it teeth? A national church can go off and do what it likes, and since it is not under English law, the Archbishop can only appeal and advise; he certainly can’t depose or start a heresy trial. Imagine the reaction of the media and the chattering classes to the very notion of a bishop being tried for heresy? How mediaeval! How déclassé! How Romish!

I think he is more suited to being an academic and a theologian, but he did try to be pastoral, and I do believe he was sincere in acknowledging the theological arguments of the traditional side. As to whatever letter he may have written in support of gay rights, I think he realised that theologians have more room to manoeuvre in what they explore as permissible, but the bishops possess the teaching office of the church and cannot innovate, and that’s why he disappointed the progressives who expected him to start implementing all kinds of radical polity.

I’m sorry in anticipation for whoever his successor is going to be, because trying to steer the Church of England and Wales, not to mention the Anglican Communion, is like trying to herd cats.

March 16, 2012

Those who sit on the fence are the friends of no one but themselves, and eventually all they accomplish is a self inflicited sore behind. In trying to please everybody, they finish up pleasing no one. Indecisiveness is not a virtue and is certainly not an attribute of leadership!

March 16, 2012

Norfolk State?


Wait. What was this thread about?

Dale Matson
March 16, 2012

My rant started here at MCJ and ended here:

Christopher Johnson
March 16, 2012

St. Louis University won, Alfonso, which nobody here expected to happen(least of all me; I was sure that the Billikens would be one and done) so it’s officially surreal around this town again. Nowhere near the 1999-2000 Rams season or even last year’s World Series but it’s up there.

Elaine Krewer
March 17, 2012

“Norfolk State? Ouch.”

Obama must have jinxed both Mizzou (which he picked as a Final Four team) and Memphis. He got ALL of his Final Four picks wrong last year, so even in the sports world his endorsement seems to be the kiss of death.

March 17, 2012

And here I avoided posting about MIzzou out of kindness. But the St. Louis win was good. And I’m worried, because Obama picked UNC to win it all. Here in Tarheel country everyone was thrilled to see Duke go down. There were lots of people in the stands in Carolina blue shirts cheering for Lehigh, and no doubt lots of Duke fans cheering for Vermont. A Lehigh player was quoted as saying he’d never seen anything like it.

Anne B.
March 17, 2012

Fuinseiog, thanks so much for that bit of history (I’d heard about Colenso, but never enough to figure out what was going on) and your explanation of of how the CofE works. The hazards of the intermingling of Church and State are made much clearer now.

I wonder what those clergymen’s daughters, Jane Austen and Dorothy Sayers, would have to say about all this.

[…] Post You’ll Need To Read… Posted on March 17, 2012 by Thomas L. McDonaldShare… is from Christopher Johnson of Midwest Conservative Journal.Rowan Williams’ greatest and most unappreciated virtue is this: good liberal that he is, he […]

Michael D
March 17, 2012

Not really the end of an era. That job position has been effectively vacant for years now. Maybe the beginning of something, though.

March 17, 2012

Michael D, we can hope for a better Archbishop, and so I do; but I don’t expect one. I pray God will prove me wrong. He does that fairly often.

Steve L.
March 17, 2012

Since we can’t watch for a puff of smoke this proceedure will ensure England’s gallop from its roots will see a pseudo-christian in the post.

I suspect we will have to put up with the Dark Satanic Mills for a while longer.

March 17, 2012

The fate, future and health of traditional Anglicanism may lie in a new Council…not the Privy Council.

Now is the time for the God-fearing among the Primates to meet and speak up.

If the (orthodox) Primates can form a Counciliar form of governance and a set of Anglican canons, (strict and specific) disciplines that conform to the Anglican Formulary and Scripture, then the beautiful true Anglicanism will prevail and thrive.

Then they can ignore herself and her sexual-orientation religion of North America and the West.

Trying to continue with Canterbury as its center, with such people as Fuinseoig lists above having the final say who heads Anglicanism, is untenable from a spiritual and Scriptural standpoint. The conflict will continue in perpetuity.

Fact is, it is for Priests and Prophets to anoint, warn, prophesy over, shout in the faces and shake their righteous fists at Kings and Emperors, not vice versa. The Church is above the Kingdom, not vice versa. The tables have been wrongly turned off and on, by popes and bishops since Constantine, and in England it was formalized. There was a dreadful price paid for protection and patronage of the secular potentate.

March 17, 2012

My main concern is you running out of Kimchi. I beg you don’t let that happen.
Kimchi is a true joy.

Robb Kimchi lover since my Korean tour in the mid 60s.

Don Janousek
March 17, 2012


If you are going to mark the departure of Mr. Williams, forget the kimchi. A jar of Korean “night soil” would be more appropriate.

By the way, where do you get your balut in Webster Groves? A Filipino delicacy which is a boiled, fertilized duck egg which is then buried in the ground for seventeen days so it will rot and become really tasty. The ones with a partially-formed beak are really mmmmmmmm! Goes great with aged kimchi.

Spent almost two years in the Philippines, but never sampled it. Isn’t there a place on Lockwood that sells it? Do let me know.

March 18, 2012

Was in Korea when the war started… my father was an army pilot sent to train the SKorea military.

So I know about Kimchi.

It is a natural girl repellent, just saying.

[…] no longer an option.  Not invite the North Americans to the Lambeth Conference?    As I said down here, letting the US and Canadian bishops come to Lambeth(even letting Gene Robinson in) would not have […]

[…] End of an Era – Christopher Johnson, The MCJ […]

March 24, 2012

Ah, Kimchi, how could I forget? For the first six months I was stationed in Korea I couldn’t walk into a department store without my eyes watering up and I’d have to get out of there. All it would take was my houseboy to pick up my boots at the bottomn of my bunk and I would wake up out of a dead sleep – and I slept on the top bunk!!

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