. . . Many participants believed that the indaba method, while not designed to achieve final decisions, was such a necessary aspect of understanding what the questions might be that they expressed the desire to see the method used more widely – and to continue among themselves the conversations begun in Canterbury. This is an important steer for the meetings of the Primates and the ACC which will be taking place in the first half of next year, and I shall be seeking to identify the resources we shall need in order to take forward some of the proposals about our structures and methods.
This is not exactly an express or forthright declaration of intent, but then Dr. Williams is known for his highly oblique way of expressing himself. In any event, the Rev. George Conger reports that these plans have evoked "private scorn" and "public criticism":
While the agenda and locale remain to be settled, the Bishop of Egypt, Dr Mouneer Anis, said he was proud to be able to host the conference. However, suggestions by the Archbishop of Canterbury that he would use the Indaba process to manage the Primates’ Meeting has prompted private scorn from the primates contacted by CEN, and public criticism from evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics unhappy with the ‘manipulation’ and management of the Indaba process at Lambeth.Fr Conger goes on to give details of how some bishops experienced directly a manipulation of the indaba process; some (e.g., Bishop Jack Iker of Ft. Worth) had difficulty getting their remarks included in the daily summaries, while others witnessed pre-scripted remarks, delivered from a sheet of "talking points" prepared for American bishops in advance, encountered no such difficulty.
The indaba groups at Lambeth each had forty bishops, and the number of all Primates who will be attending the meeting in Alexandria is less than that. So what Dr. Williams may have in mind is breaking the meeting down into much smaller groups. Whatever the official agenda may be (it is not yet announced), it is certain that the topics of discussion will include recent statements by several bishops in the United States and Canada that their dioceses are proceeding with developing liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions, contrary to the declared wishes of the Windsor Continuation Group at Lambeth. The Primates may also hear complaints from TEC about "border crossing" and interference from the Province of the Southern Cone, as well as demands in return that some form of discipline be meted out to TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada for their failures to follow the recommendations of the Windsor Report. And certainly the Primates will discuss the schedule for the reception and eventual adoption of the proposed Anglican Covenant.
For years now, there have been complaints from the conservative side that Rowan Williams is "spineless" or "wishy-washy," and that he is "indecisive" and "fails to exercise leadership" with regard to the issues that are breaking apart the Anglican Communion. There have also been complaints from the liberals that Dr. Williams abandoned, once he became Archbishop, the cause of gays and lesbians in the Church. He has managed to please almost no one with his conduct of Communion affairs, and as a result it appears to be breaking up in front of our eyes.
I have long felt that something was missing in these commonly expressed views of Rowan Williams. In the teaching sessions he gave leading up to Lambeth, he showed himself as a superb pastor, telling the assembled bishops exactly what they needed to hear in order to put aside the divisions that separated them. We already know that he is an equally superb theologian and spiritual writer. And the recent accounts of his courageous behavior at Ground Zero in New York on September 11, 2001 and following have only added more complexity to the picture: the man is no coward, and exhibited all the traits of spiritual leadership when the moment called for them.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised to come across a little-known piece written by the Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser, the Vicar of St. Mary's in Putney, a prolific writer and commentator on Church affairs, and a stalwart of the Church's liberal wing. The piece appears as a foreword to a book by Andrew Shanks about the Jewish-born philosopher Gillian Rose, who literally converted on her deathbed to the Church of England, just before cancer conquered her at the age of 47. The book is titled Against Innocence - Gillian Rose's Reception and Gift of Faith, and appeared earlier this year. Dr. Fraser explains how he and the author had originally set out to write the book jointly, but had come to a parting of the ways over the treatment to be given to Gillian Rose's philosophy. In the course of his remarks he describes how Ms. Rose's philosophy, and Andrew Shanks's treatment of it, also explain how Rowan Williams has managed the Anglican Communion. (According to Shanks, Williams "knew [Rose] well and was intellectually close to her"; he cites an article on her philosophy that Williams wrote in 1995.) Here is what Dr. Fraser has to say:
What follows [in this book] is a spirited defense of what one might call the theology of the peace negotiator or mediator. Simply put, the mediator pursues a theology that refuses to accept that a disagreement can ever reach a point where there is no benefit to be gained from further conversation. . . .
Sound familiar? Dr. Fraser, who teaches philosophy himself, continues:
. . . Put a different way, it is a refusal to accept that two seemingly irreconcilable positions are indeed irreconcilable. The mediator is the supreme pragmatist, employing all the philosophical strategies up his or her sleeve to keep opponents round the table, to keep them talking.The philosophical substructure of this theology of mediatory conversation is Hegelian; indeed, I would want to call it dialectical---though the three thinkers that matter most in this book, Shanks, Rose and Rowan Williams (all Hegelians of sorts), refuse to equate the drivers of Hegel's thought with the crab-like progress of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Instead, Williams perfectly describes the Hegelianism of the mediating peace negotiator when he writes: 'Reflection requires that the plain opposition of positive and negative be left behind. Thinking is not content with the abstraction of mutual exclusivities, but struggles to conceive of a structured wholeness nuanced enough to contain what appeared to be contradictories.'As it turns out, this 'struggle to conceive of a structural wholeness nuanced enough to contain what appeared to be contradictories' is a pretty accurate summary of the Archbishop's strategy in dealing with the warring parties of contemporary Anglicanism. Indeed, rarely has there been a more convinced exponent of the theology of the peace negotiator than Rowan Williams. . . . [W]hat Andrew Shanks has produced is a brilliant and subtle apologia for the Archbishop of Canterbury's strategy in dealing with the culture wars in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality.
Dr. Fraser was not at Lambeth this summer, and he wrote his foreword well before that Conference took place. But he foretells precisely the frustration engendered there by the (indaba-inspired) processes of the peace negotiator:
Of course, there are various strategies for peace negotiations, some more effective than others. Much of the time, particularly in the Church, it simply means a process whereby people with competing visions are shut away in a room with a flipchart and a facilitator. Mostly, this doesn't produce any significant meeting of minds. Rather, it produces a lot of angry and frustrated Christians who feel they have wasted their time in a directionless quagmire of well-meaning but pointless conversation. . . .
It is the more remarkable, therefore, that Dr. Fraser indicates that Dr. Williams understands well that there is more to the process than just the ensuing frustration with it:
. . . In contrast, the sort of peace negotiation suggested by Rose and Shanks has a definite strategy: it attempts to dismantle our desire for innocence. [My note: remember that the title of Shanks's book is Against Innocence.] For what is recognized by the true mediator is that innocence---or the 'longing to be utterly sure of our rightness', as Williams puts it---is exactly the motivation that leads people to reject compromise and continue with the theological fisticuffs. Thus the target for much of the theology in this book is the stubborn desire for the sort of moral purity that refuses negotiation. For the mediator it is better to inhabit the uncomfortable world of compromise, even if this suggests the possibility of betraying one's deepest convictions. Better that than the cheap innocence premised upon the refusal to entertain negotiation, conversation, or compromise.
I have added the above italics, because by the time I got to those words, it was as though scale had fallen from my eyes, and they were wide open. The inner mind of Rowan Williams was being explained to me in a way that nothing else I had ever read about him had done. Dr. Fraser clinched it for me with his next paragraph, where I have again added the emphases:
To put it at its starkest: peace is better than truth. Of course, this is not a description that advocates of this position would recognize. In typically Hegelian fashion, they reject the suggestion that peace and truth stand in opposition to one another. This is why, when the Archbishop is charged with sacrificing truth for unity, as he often is, his comeback has consistently been that unity is a means by which truth is made visible, that we come to truth through the process of uniting conversation. In other words the 'struggle to conceive of a structural wholeness nuanced enough to contain what appeared to be contradictories' applies even to the apparent antithesis of truth and peace.
Next, Dr. Fraser makes it all very personal. He recounts his own anger and disappointment with Rowan Williams in the case of Jeffrey John, the gay priest who was rejected as the Bishop of Reading. Because Williams had abstained from the vote for Resolution 1.10 at Lambeth, and had promised, in an open letter to gay Christians written afterward, to "work for [their] full inclusion in the life of the Church", Dr. Fraser and all the other supporters of the cause felt a huge betrayal when, as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Williams prevailed upon the Rev. John to refuse the appointment. (A complete history, documented with links, of Dr. Williams' positions on gays in the Church may be downloaded here.) And then Dr. Fraser explains (again, I have added the emphasis):
And it is here, just as I have worked myself up into a lather of righteous indignation, that the 'against innocence' theology gets to work. For the mediator offers the suggestion that the indignation I have expressed is really a form of self-righteousness---more about me than it is about anything else. Moreover, it protects my own moral innocence by blinkering me to the full consequences of my position. The innocence of the angry activist is a refusal to accept that even the noblest cause can have unwanted and deeply unfortunate consequences. The mediator has a point: things are as they are. It is some of the poorest people in the world who will suffer most from the collapse of the Anglican Communion. Which is why Rowan Williams is prepared to bracket out his own progressive instincts on human sexuality---what I earlier referred to as a betrayal. From Shanks's perspective, it is not at all a betrayal, but something generous and self-sacrificial. The Archbishop has given up a false show of innocence in order to negotiate peace. On this reading, his handling of the gay crisis is a heroic act of the supreme mediator prepared fully to face the tragic reality of division. In contrast, the activist is playing 'let's pretend', refusing to accept that others suffer for his/her self-righteousness, and unwilling to give up reputation in order to seek some sort of settlement. It's a pretty hefty charge.
Yes, it is a hefty charge. And it is a valuable insight into what motivates Rowan Williams to keep the conversations and dialogues going, never to declare an end, and never to accept any ultimatums from whatever direction. In the next paragraph, Dr. Fraser returns to a summary of the philosophy of Gillian Rose, but by now you should understand that it is also the philosophy and viewpoint of Rowan Williams:
Rose's work is an encouragement to pay attention to the philosophical condition of human fallenness. Human beings are haunted by complexity, compromised by mixed motives, and debased by threads of complicity with cruelty and untruthfulness. We constantly seek to represent ourselves with various fictions of our own innocence---the innocence of the activist, of the silent or prayerful, of the victim---thus failing to recognize that we all own shares in the ways of the world. This isn't so much a counsel of despair: rather, it's a fearlessly honest description of what it takes to love our neighbor.
(Emphasis again my own.) Dr. Fraser is almost finished. But he adds one more insight, which is relevant to what is happening today in regard to the proposal for an Anglican Covenant---which Dr. Williams strongly supports:
There is one further thing that Rowan Williams's approach to peace negotiation owes to Rose's general philosophy and that is its insistence on the importance of law in the formation of public ethics. For Rose, the significance of law grows out of an attack upon postmodernity which, she argues, represents an abandonment of the public sphere. It's a fascinating line of thought. The Holocaust so traumatized western culture---and especially and obviously the work of Jewish intellectuals who were prominent in the creation of postmodern ethics---that ethicists of the mid-part of the twentieth century attempted, almost subconsciously, to construct an ethics without any reference whatsoever to the actual necessity for violence or force. It was an understandable reaction to the violence of the death camps and, in its way, another manifestation of the desire for innocence. . . .Rose notes that this refusal of practical ethics by Jewish thinkers is especially ironic given the centrality of law in Jewish religious thought. For, according to Rose, it is to the ethics of law that we must look first in order to see our way past the unhelpful innocence of the postmodern ethical cul-de-sac. It is through the application of just law that ethics is made substantial and real. . . .This, I suspect, is one of the intellectual tributaries that has led Rowan Williams to place so much emphasis on covenant as the answer to the problems of the Communion. Good law suffers a safe space for different view points to learn from each other. As Williams once put it in a lecture to the Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations in Cambridge: 'Covenant promises one world, not a totalising conformity enforced by central power, but a mutual recognition of the debt of honor and love, and a search for ways in which the good of each and the good of all may coincide.'
I have to thank Dr. Fraser for a very useful key with which to unlock some of the enigma which Rowan Williams has heretofore presented to me: the words "peace negotiator" will now be always associated in my mind with what he says and does---and does not do. For Dr. Williams, there is nothing unbalanced about a Church in which two opposite sides are constantly struggling to have their views prevail. Just as no one side is entirely in the right, so no one side is ever entirely in the wrong. In his belief, it is only through constant communication and dialogue that unity can be achieved---a unity which neither side today may be able to conceive or envision what it will be like when they eventually get there. To cease the discussion, to walk away from the table, would be to allow one's moral innocence to take priority over our Lord's commandment "to love one another as you have loved me."
I am grateful as well for the insights which Dr. Fraser has brought to the current situation in the Anglican Communion. (I wish only that he had been able to publish his foreword as a separate article in order to give it wider circulation.) But as a canon lawyer, I cannot help but emphasize his (and Gillian Rose's) assertion that "Good law suffers a safe space for different viewpoints to learn from each other." And just what makes for "good law"? Assuming an underlying democratic process, it can only be these two things: first, the law that we have is scrupulously observed, by all who are subject to it at all times; and second, that changes to the law that we have are made only in accordance with the procedures specified by the law itself.
Just as the life of the Church is not advanced by a self-righteous insistence on demands needed to protect one's own moral innocence, so the life of the Church is not advanced by the violation of its canons, or by bringing the strategies and tactics of civil disobedience into its deliberations. This is a church, and not a state. In the state, the people are sovereign, but in the church it is God who is sovereign. There have never been, and never can be, any "civil rights" that one can demand of God.
The proposed Anglican Covenant, if adopted in accordance with the procedures of the Anglican Communion, will thereby become and form the heart of that "good law which suffers a safe space for different viewpoints to learn from each other." Dioceses which leave one province for another, as the Diocese of Fort Worth did today, have not left the Anglican Communion. They will still have a voice and a vote in the process of adopting the Covenant.
The forthcoming formation of a new North American province, however, introduces a note of uncertainty into the picture. That province, when formed, will not automatically be part of the Anglican Communion. The question will present itself, by the time of the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in May 2009, whether---and if so, how---the dioceses who are in that province may sign onto the Covenant. If it is ruled that provinces are simply administrative units into which dioceses are organized, and that it is the dioceses that constitute the Anglican Communion, then it will not matter whether the Constitution of the ACC has been amended by then to recognize the new North American province. Each diocese can then decide on its own whether or not to stay in the Anglican Communion as defined by the Covenant.
Here is what the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, who is a member of the Covenant Design Group, had to say earlier on the question of allowing dioceses to sign even if their province did not:
This question is an important one that requires further consideration and response. That a diocese (and even a parish) might not agree with its province's decision regarding the Covenant is clearly a situation that must be envisioned as likely in certain circumstances; and it is one that a covenantal communion within an episcopally-ordered set of churches like Anglicanism must resolve coherently. In principle, such a diocese will and must be recognized as being as a full part of the Anglican Communion; but how that can and will be played out in terms of local polity is still undefined and demands the attention of all Anglican churches.
It remains to be seen what position the General Convention of The Episcopal Church will adopt towards the Covenant when it meets at Anaheim next July. In her typical autocratic fashion, the current Presiding Bishop has announced in advance that she is opposed to any consideration of the Covenant at General Convention. Fortunately, however, her powers are not yet such that she alone can prevent a resolution from reaching the floor.
Thus it will be very interesting to watch what may literally be the Armageddon of The Episcopal Church next July. The opposition to the Covenant by the leadership at 815 can only stem from a belief that its adoption will interfere in some way with the program of social justice to which they have dedicated themselves. If individual dioceses in The Episcopal Church are permitted to sign onto the Covenant separately, that result will spell the end of the current hegemony represented by the three digits 815. So they will be unalterably opposed to allowing such a procedure within the Episcopal Church.
But 815 does not control the ACC, although it may command considerable support there. It is conceivable that, over concerted opposition, the ACC will propose that the Covenant be adopted by the vote of individual dioceses. If it does that in May, watch for a proposal at General Convention in July to make it uncanonical in some fashion for individual dioceses within The Episcopal Church so to act.
This will lead to the Armageddon of which I spoke. Individual dioceses will be forced to choose between remaining in the Anglican Communion, or remaining in The Episcopal Church. It may well be that a number of dioceses will choose the former, and the Episcopal Church will have more lawsuits on its hands. Those dioceses who have already left will have no problem, whether the new American province has been recognized or not.
But if the will of 815 prevails and the vote on the Covenant is required by provinces, then Armageddon will be postponed for at least three more years, and those dioceses that left will have to wait until their new province is recognized. If TEC votes down the Covenant at General Convention 2012, the door will then be open for the new American province to take its place in the Anglican Communion.
Either way, we are in for a rough ride. In watching how the Archbishop of Canterbury manages the situation, and will probably choose to have a Communion with (as he has already indicated) several "tiers" of membership rather than no Communion at all, it is very helpful to have the understanding of him which Giles Fraser so thoughtfully has provided.