The wrong thing? In the eyes of Colin Coward, Director of the aptly named organization Changing Attitude, ++Rowan has betrayed him both personally, as his former teacher, as well as generically, on behalf of gays and lesbians everywhere:
“I am sure he is still the man I knew as being inclusive. I think he must be torn about inside.”He added: “The part of me that knows Rowan as a friend still values him as a friend. But another part of me is incredibly disappointed. I feel betrayed and let down.”
And in the eyes of traditional Anglicans, and even other denominations, ++Rowan has once again failed to take decisive disciplinary action against the wayward Episcopal Church (USA), which is constantly testing the limits of his resolve. In the words of Dr. Albert Mohler, President of one of the largest seminaries in Christendom:
In a statement released after the election of Rev. Glasspool as bishop, Archbishop Williams stated that her election "raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole." He concluded by stating: "The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold."
That is the language of a man who -- judging by his words -- is far more committed to affection than to truth. His continuing calls for "gracious restraint" have only earned him the anger of both liberals and conservatives. The liberals are frustrated, to say the least, that Williams appears to lack the courage of his own convictions. Conservatives see his continual refusal to act against the rebellious Episcopal Church as evidence that he does hold those convictions, but is simply biding his time.
"Far more committed to affection than to truth." And yet, the Rev. Colin Coward seems to accuse His Grace of a betrayal of affection, of mutual personal regard once shared in a teacher-student relationship. How can this be?
We see in this sad contrast of opposing viewpoints a profound misunderstanding -- a failure on the one hand to distinguish between the man and the position, and a failure on the other to distinguish between the position and the man. Please allow me to explain.
For the Rev. Coward and his gay and lesbian colleagues, there is a sense of betrayal only because they believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury is no different, in capabilities or beliefs, from the brilliant liberal Welsh theologian whom they encountered as Dr. Rowan Williams. Upon his elevation to the see of St. Augustine, in their view, he should have encountered no difficulty in maintaining exactly the same liberal worldview which he enjoyed displaying in the academic world from which he came. The author of so profound -- and simultaneously graceful and polished -- an essay as The Body's Grace could not possibly have it in him to uphold the offensively manipulated Anglican "consensus" embodied in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.
At the same time, however, those from the traditional Anglican mold see in Dr. Rowan Williams precisely that waffling liberal, that ivory-tower academic who is unable to take a firm stand against anything, let alone against a flagrant flouting of Scripture -- like that presented when a supposed branch of the one, universal, holy, catholic and apostolic Church sees fit to consecrate an openly practicing homosexual to episcopal rank. The author of so liberal -- and experimentally discursive -- an academic diversion as The Body's Grace could not possibly have it in him to lay down the law to the very Episcopalians who dared to take him up on what he wrote. Can you not see how these words must have resonated with Anglicans in same-sex relationships everywhere?
The whole story of creation, incarnation and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ's body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God's giving that God's self makes in the life of the trinity. We are created so that we may be caught up in this; so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God.
The life of the Christian community has as its rationale - if not invariably its practical reality - the task of teaching us this: so ordering our relations that human beings may see themselves as desired, as the occasion of joy. . .
How can anyone who wrote those words -- that the "life of the Christian community . . . [consists in] so ordering our relations that human beings may see themselves as desired, as the occasion for joy" -- possibly be antithetical to the idea of a partnered lesbian bishop? And how could anyone who wrote those words at the same time be expected to crack down on those who would tear the fabric of the Communion by presuming to elect a partnered lesbian as a bishop?
This is not really a paradox; there is no contradiction here. What Dr. Williams may have written and held intellectually as an academic has precious little to bear on what the Archbishop of Canterbury can and may do as the titular head of the Anglican Communion. It is as unreasonable to expect that, once appointed, the Archbishop would continue to play the academic as it is to expect that, once appointed, the academic would suddenly assume the mantle of a metropolitan -- and become the Pope, as it were, of the Anglican Communion.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury, ++Rowan Williams is the "first among equals" -- speaking with respect to the bishops of the various Churches in the Anglican Communion, who assemble every ten years or so for the Lambeth Conference. Those paradoxical words express perfectly both the roles of leadership and of subservience embodied in the post. The Archbishop invites other bishops to Lambeth; he does not command their presence there (as was evident when nearly 300 bishops of the Global South spurned their invitations to the most recent Conference). His power, as it were, lies in failing to act, by not sending an invitation (as in the case of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson), and thus is completely contrary to the traditional manner in which a power is exercised.
At the same time, as Archbishop of Canterbury, ++Rowan Williams is responsible for upholding the consensus of the bishops gathered from time to time at Lambeth -- the ephemeral "mind of the Communion", to which he alluded in his statement quoted above. But this responsibility is just as much circumscribed by his inability to command -- to act like a traditional metropolitan -- in respect to the Communion as a whole. All he can do is remain faithful to that consensus as most recently expressed. To betray it by failing to remind his fellow bishops of what they decided -- or, what would be worse, by acting as though they had never decided it at all -- would be to leave the Communion rudderless, or expressed in my earlier language, as a group of equals without a first.
There can be no doubt in my mind that ++Rowan Williams understands his role perfectly -- indeed, perhaps, all too well. In the homilies he gave to the bishops gathered at Lambeth, he said everything that needed saying about the role of a bishop in the Church (see my posts on those talks here and here for the details). It is not his fault that not one bishop since has appeared to absorb his lessons at Lambeth. (At least, I have yet to hear any bishop in the Communion come to his defense; they all seem to prefer either to attack, to carp and criticize, or to remain silent. Perhaps the indaba groups, by giving lip service to a form of superficial -- but ultimately unachievable -- "equality", worked at odds with Dr. Williams' emphasis on the role of a bishop as diakonos to all, and undid all the good of the homilies.)
Now the very limitations upon the Archbishop's abilities -- embodied in the phrase that he is the "first among equals" -- may at the same time be his undoing, if certain factions are willing and cynical enough to exploit those limitations. One who respects equality by allowing others of equal rank to occupy their own spheres runs always the risk that those others may not reciprocate with equal restraint. Thus when Presiding Bishop Griswold signed the October 2003 communique from Lambeth, as a Primate of the Communion, he was acting as an equal in a meeting of equals. But when, just weeks later, he chose to officiate at the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as bishop, Frank Griswold was arrogating to himself the function of a metropolitan -- and to hell with his "equals". If he could decide that the polity of the Episcopal Church (USA) required that he proceed with Bishop Robinson's consecration -- and only he could make that decision under its polity, for if he had declined out of deference to the October 2003 communique, no one could have countermanded him -- then he could do so only in disregard of his status as an equal at Lambeth, who in the very act of voting on Resolution 1.10 implicitly agreed to subject his status as Primate to their assembled consensus, as determined by the ballot on its adoption.
Thus ++Rowan played true to his role as Archbishop of Canterbury, while Bishop Griswold, enthusiastically supported by the same-sex activists in ECUSA, arrogated to himself the right to act in derogation of the bishops of Lambeth. Both did so despite the scorn which each thereby called upon his decision -- although the collective scorn heaped upon ++Rowan has never ceased, while that allocated to Presiding Bishop Griswold ended with his retirement. By remaining on the stage, and what is more by remaining steadfastly true to the limitations of his position, Archbishop Rowan has remained the sole target on which both sides could vent their anger. Hence he is in the impossible part of a "first among equals" who is now seen as neither "first" nor "equal".
Meanwhile, back at ECUSA, the Most Reverend Frank Griswold has given place to the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori. If Bishop Griswold arrogated to himself the right to act in derogation of his colleagues at Lambeth, Bishop Jefferts Schori seized the opportunity to so to act even before she had ever gone to Lambeth and met her equals. What is more, she has from the outset of her term in office presumed to act in derogation of her own equals in her own Church. The result has been a double usurpation of authority: where ++Griswold claimed only the right to consecrate a duly elected bishop in defiance of the advice of Resolution 1.10, ++Jefferts Schori has not only announced that she will do the same if the requisite consents for Canon Glasspool are received, but she also has made herself the sole arbiter of whether a bishop who transfers to another Church in the Anglican Communion thereby renounces his orders.
In presuming to claim that the Right Reverend Henry Scriven so renounced his orders in transferring from the Diocese of Pittsburgh to the Diocese of Oxford, and in recently declaring that the Right Reverend Keith Ackerman had done the same in resigning the Diocese of Quincy and going to work under the Bishop of Bolivia, the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA has effectively declared that she alone will be the judge of who can become, and who can remain, a bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA) -- regardless of what her equals in the Communion may believe. They are, to that extent, no longer her equals, but only bishops to be tolerated if they stay out of her way, to be ignored if they presume to disagree, and to be denounced and punished by any means possible if they try to hinder or interfere.
When one bishop so distorts the polity of the Communion as to claim the power to decide status without regard to the opinion -- nay, the full consensus -- of the other bishops in the Anglican Communion, what we have is no longer a Communion, but an autarchy. The tragedy is that the Anglican Communion was never designed to cope with such a development. Henry VIII may have replaced the Pope as the head of the Church of England, but neither Henry nor any other English monarch ever claimed supreme authority over any other church. As the colonial branches of the Church of England evolved into the separate churches of the Communion, there of necessity arose the relationship of all Anglican bishops as equals, with the Archbishop of Canterbury being regarded, out of historical deference, as the first among equals.
Now we have the Archbishop of Canterbury still accorded deference as a first, but only when the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA decides that she may defer to him in her own interest. For all the rest of the time, she regards herself as a first whose sphere is, in its international extent, superior to that even of Canterbury's, and as more than equal to anyone else's. What deference did she decide to show in the face of the Archbishop's cautionary advice to the General Convention at Anaheim? None whatsoever. And what deference will she show to his warning with regard to proceeding with taking order for the consecration of Bishop Glasspool, if the latter is confirmed? Again, none whatsoever.
This curmudgeon finds it ironic, to say the least, that the one who takes all the heat for the Presiding Bishop's intransigency is the Archbishop of Canterbury. As a first among equals, his "power" consists only in what he can decide not to do. While others in his place might have (not) done more, and refused to extend invitations to Lambeth to all of the bishops in ECUSA, Dr. Williams chose to try to be the peacemaker, and withheld his invitation only from Bishop Robinson, and those whom his predecessor had chosen not to recognize. One may disagree with the extent of his inaction, but it remains true that he can wield power only by not acting -- and that is a very limited kind of power.
The Presiding Bishop of ECUSA, in contrast, wields her power by consecrating, deposing and declaring renunciations -- all affirmative actions. When it comes to comparing power, therefore, she has the ability to win hands down -- if she chooses to take things that far. A bishop with more experience behind her, when elevated to a position of representing her whole Church to the Communion at large, might well be envisioned as wanting to be more deferential to her Anglican colleagues before presuming to act as though their views made no difference. But that is not the way of Katharine Jefferts Schori.
We have thus the best of Archbishops, and the worst of Presiding Bishops. It is the best of times, and the worst of times. This blog is all about "the trials and tribulations of being in the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Communion at the same time." I shall continue to root for ++Rowan's power of not acting, as the best means of absorbing the blows and outlasting the wounds inflicted by the contumacy of ++Katharine. I am not an apologist for him; both ++Rowan and I know that "help is in the name of the Lord." The more that ++Katharine leads ECUSA down its path of isolation and irrelevancy, the less difficulty there is in seeing the path that is left for ++Rowan: the one that keeps as many together as long as possible, until those who are driving the Communion apart have finally achieved the fulfillment of their self-chosen destiny. For ++Rowan to attempt to impose that destiny on them before they themselves have irrevocably chosen it would be to undermine the very essence of his part in the drama, as the first among equals.