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.
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.