Saturday, November 15, 2008

Understanding Rowan Williams for the First Time

Reports about the forthcoming Primates' Meeting, to be held in Alexandria, Egypt at the beginning of February 2009, mention that earlier the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, had expressed hopes to make use of the same small-group, indaba-style discussions that he used at the Lambeth Conference in 2008. In his pastoral letter to the bishops of the Anglican Communion following the conference, Dr. Williams stated:
. . . 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.     



  1. This is indeed an illuminating explication. It left me puzzled, though, in exactly what way Rowan Williams can claim to be "Catholic" (whether "Anglo-Catholic" or "Affirming Catholic") with any more historical or ecclesiological plausibility than, say, St. Gregory of Nyssa ECUSA parish in San Francisco.

    This kind of "Hegelianism" (or perhaps "para-Hegelianism) which you ascribe to him, seems to have nothing whatsoever in common with the Catholicism of the early Ecumenical Councils (say, the first seven), nothing in common with contenders for doctrinal orthodoxy such as Athanasius, Basil the Great, Cyril of Alexandria, Pope Leo the Great and all the rest -- nor, for that matter, with (if they are your "cup of tea") the English Reformers, the Caroline Divines and so forth. If anything (and I realize full well that historical analogies sometimes seem far-fetched), the attitude seems to have more in common with that of the great Gnostic teachers and heresiarchs such as Valentinus and Marcion who were not eager to break with their more "literal-minded" opponents and coreligionists, but rather had to be cast unwillingly out of the Church, along with their followers.

    In other words, the attitude towards "truth and communion" that you ascribe to the AbC seems to have nothing at all in common with real historic Catholic Christianity (or even Reformation Christianity), and seems to presuppose a rejection of it in the kind of thoroughgoing fashion that all but the most radical of 16th-Century Reformers declined to make. I marvel that so many people seem to be taken in by this "New Thing," and I wonder how much the kind of "social Erastianism" that I see as deeply embedded in the DNA of Anglicanism is connected with it.

    I refer those interested in this "Erastian DNA" concept to a book review that I wrote a decade ago, here:

  2. Dr. Tighe, thank you for that perceptive comment, and for the link to your book review. It is ironic that you perceive a connection between early Gnosticism and the philosophy of Rose and Williams as sketched out by Fraser. One of the chapters of the book is entitled "Against Modern Gnosticism." Andrew Shanks summarizes Rose's rather harsh critiques of Thomas Mann (in Joseph and His Brothers) and René Girard, "who, in their disenchantment with institutionalized religion, have more or less decided to replace it, as an education for the moral imagination, with the reading of serious novels, the watching of serious plays or films. The basic problem with this substitution is that, unlike institutionalized religion . . . it can never create a truly catholic ethos. To try and build a moral community on the basis of novels, plays and films is immediately to confine its membership to those who have the necessary education, and aptitude, to appreciate those novels, plays and films. In giving up on institutionalized religion one is not just rejecting a certain set of doctrines. One is closing down a whole space for serious conversation, with regard to the very deepest aspects of life, between people of every different social class."

    Shanks continues: "But, again, the point is that in order to hold that space open intellectuals have truly got to inhabit it. They must, to the very fullest possible extent, belong to it; look out at the world from inside it. It is not enough just to use religious ideas as terms of rhetoric, without such belonging [, as Mann does in Joseph and His Brothers, or as Rose thinks Girard does in his Des choses cacheés depuis la fondation du monde]." (Shanks disagrees with her interpretation of Girard.)

    I am not familiar with enough of Dr. Williams' writings to know if he agrees with Gillian Rose's strong stand against modern-day Gnosticism, but if you take Shanks's description of it as an apologia for Williams' role as a "peace negotiator", then it would seem to include a firm requirement that Christian Sittlichkeit, as Hegel calls it, not be abandoned for more secular ones.

  3. This is a remarkable theory. If true, it provides a concise explanation of how the Rowan Williams thinks, and how he is trying to do his job as leader of the AC. I still ask myself though: Whatever does it have to do with Christianity?

    From previous responses to posts on your blog, you will recall that I am partial to biblical analogies or incongruities. In this case, I am led to wonder what our Lord's response might have been if, following one of his lively exchanges with the Pharisees, it was suggested to him that he had a "stubborn desire for the sort of moral purity that refuses negotiation." Or how might history be different if Annas and Caiaphas had invited him in for an "indaba" session with the Sanhedrin that Passover night so long ago.

  4. Topper, thank you for that comment. You bring us back to the main point---that we must never lose sight of our goal as a "Communion of Anglican Churches", which is to remain faithful to the truths which our Lord and Savior revealed to us.

    That being acknowledged, it remains that we are merely fallen humans. It is from such a condition that we (and not our Lord) are susceptible to that peculiar "moral purity that refuses negotiation." In that respect, unfortunately, we could be no better than the Pharisees who accosted Jesus, secure in their own "moral purity." One commenter on another blog has unwittingly (while at the same time deprecating the postmodernism of the sentiment) put his finger on the problem when he summarized the message as: "I want to be VERY slow to assume that I am entirely right, but equally VERY slow to assume that nothing is ever entirely wrong."

    The problem with this summary is that the word "nothing" should, to be accurate, have been replaced by its exact opposite, the word "anything": "I want to be VERY slow to assume that I am entirely right, but equally VERY slow to assume that anything is ever entirely wrong." Stated in that way, I believe it would express what Giles Fraser believes motivates Rowan Williams' actions as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Yes, compared with the faith of those who had immediate and direct contact with our Lord, it is freighted with all the confusions of modernity, but as Fraser elsewhere concedes, "things are what they are." We can no more escape postmodernism than Jesus could escape Pharisaism. They are two manifestations of the fallenness of us humans.

  5. Dear A.S.,

    Not so much that the scales were dropped from my eyes (because I have harbored deep misgivings about his can-kicking delaying tactics for a long time), but more that Fraser (and your excellent popularizing of Fraser's insights) have given deep theoretical substance to my unarticulated, subconscious disdain of his poor leadership during the Anglican crisis.

    The other key learning for me is that I now see +++Rowan as a prototype which aptly describes other spineless, peace-as-negotiator leaders (aka "peace-at-the-cost-of-dropping-your-trousers-and-compromising-truth leaders) in other domains of life. There are other "Rowans" out there!!! Isn't that scary?!!

    (The only area where I could endorse endless, directionless conversation are diplomats trying to avert nuclear war.)

    Also, I don't see a Scriptural basis for the ABC's style of peace-making. I just wouldn't buy the argument of "Blessed are the peace-makers" or the Gamaliel process of reception as justification for the compromise-at-any-cost leadership that +++Rowan is providing.

    Thanks for a great post.

  6. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your "Understanding Rowan Williams..." piece. It is helpful as I try to think through the painful reality in which we find ourselves in the Anglican world.

    A thought occurred to me as I digested the piece; and I offer it, not as an assertion or a point against, but in an attempt to understand more deeply. Is it possible that the stance of the "mediator" (and the concomitant theology) characterized by "peace is better than truth" is, itself, a form of "innocence"? Could it be that the "innocence" of the peace negotiator is a refusal to accept the notion that truth creates true unity, rather than "unity is a means by which truth is made visible?"

    Again, I want to stress that I am asking, not asserting or arguing against. I am simply asking whether or not the stance described in the piece needs to be subjected to its own critical principle - the critique of "innocence". Quite possibly, it could stand such a critique. I just need wiser souls than myself to help think this through.

  7. Thanks for the response to my posting. I have not read Shanks or Rose, but judging on the basis only of your citation what they seem to be speaking about is (from my perspective as an historian) an abstract distilled philosophico-religious "essence of Gnosticism" (or, perhaps better, "essence of the Gnostic sensibility") which, while it may not be inaccurate (just as Harold Bloom's labeling of American popular Christianity in his *The American Religion* [1991] as more Gnostic than historically orthodox Christian in its religious sensibility and outlook), has rather little to do with the original Gnostic teachers AS CHURCHMEN in their ecclesiatical context. Valentinus, after all, according one early account came close to being elected Bishop of Rome before his teachings caused him to be expelled from the Roman Church, and Marcion, the son of a bishop of Sinope and a man of great wealth, gave a huge sum of money to the Roman Church when he came to Rome to seek recognition of his ideas as orthodox -- money which was returned to him when he was excommunicated by the Roman Church. I am not sure that opposition to Gnosticism as a religious sensibility or outlook necessarily indicates an orthodox ecclesiology (whether based on the Fathers and Councils, or Reformation "insights").

    I am not sure that I would press the "Gnosticism charge" against the AbC and Aff. Cats too far, although I do see parallels in their ecclesiological thinking and practical actions, and certainly in their "inclusive" sexual ethics (which seems to judge "the Christian Tradition" on the basis of considerations external to it, much as the original Gnostics did in their time). My indictment of modern liberal and "moderate" Anglicanism would run much more along the lines of its "Erastian DNA" (as I explained in my review). I have to acknowledge that the seeds of my thoughts on this matter were planted in my mind some years ago by Fr. Geoffrey Kirk of FIF/UK, when he wrote of the Church of England as "the Established Church" and ECUSA as "the Church of the Establishment" and suggested that the latter was as much under the "sway" of liberal bien-pensant "establishment" public opinion as the Church of England had ever been to the "doctrinal magisterium" of the Crown. I would find it difficult to ascribe any clear or definite Gnostic ideas to the AbC, but on the other hand it seems impossible to characterize an ecclesiology of "keep the dialogue going, and above all exclude nobody" as Catholic in any meaningful historical sense (unless one should play the rather childish game of equating "catholic" with "universal" and on that basis relativizing or marginalizing real historic Catholicism, while ignoring that the original meaning of kath'holon or kata ten holon in an ecclesiastical context meant "according to the whole," that is, the "Catholic Church" was that body or sect of Christians that professed the Faith in its wholeness or fullness, rather than in mangled, distorted or diminished form, as was alleged against the Gnostics then, and the liberals and Aff. Cats now).

    I developed my ideas expressed in that linked article a bit further in a later one, here:

    although I am sad to see that it will cost you $1.50 to read it.

  8. I would suggest the in the Roman Catholic Church there is another eminent representative for this sort of theology.
    This is Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, my ArchBishop for many years here in Milano, and ++Williams's good friend: since his retirement, he has been particularly insistent in pointing out the wrong (in his opinion) path followed by every Pope since VaticanII (and much more before it, of course).
    Their alleged mistake would be to dictate absolutes, whereas - at least in the complex reality such the one emerging in the last centuries - no one is allowed to indicate absolute truths, not even in matters pertaining to moral or faith: the rule should be that a well formed (meaning, educated) conscience must be let free to follow whatever path one's deem appropriate.
    The correct pastoral, in such view, is that of dialogue, where everybody is ready to accept the partial truth of the other's point of view.
    This way, our Cardinal is able both to propose learned lessons in the traditional spirit and to put in question basic tenets of the Catholic faith, such as the dogmas in their binding normativeness, or various moral issues (typically in some specific cases).
    Needless to say, he enjoys widespreed appreciation both in the media and in many Catholic circles: he's learned, open, hieratic. He never clearly stands up in defense of the Catholic teaching; neither he stands openly up for other views, even if he actually dialogues only with intellectuals on the left, and practically always ends with a tacit ambiguous approval for them, in some aspect.
    The final lesson the people perceives is that what the Church says is very secondary, and one can be a good (better) Christian following his own adult decision.

  9. Paolo, thank you for that contribution to the dialog. And Dr. Tighe, thank you for going still more deeply into your concerns with the "theology of the peace negotiator." It sounds as though you two (Paolo and Dr. Tighe)---or perhaps Dr. Tighe and the Cardinal himself---might have much to say to each other.

    Kip Ashmore, I especially want to thank you for stopping by and offering your reactions to the post. You ask:

    "Is it possible that the stance of the 'mediator' (and the concomitant theology) characterized by 'peace is better than truth' is, itself, a form of 'innocence'? Could it be that the 'innocence' of the peace negotiator is a refusal to accept the notion that truth creates true unity, rather than 'unity is a means by which truth is made visible?'"

    At this point I know nothing more of the "theology of the peace negotiator" than what I have read in Andrew Shanks's book, and Giles Fraser's foreword to it. One possible reply to your question that Dr. Williams might make, I suppose, is this: "My belief that 'unity is a means by which the truth is made visible' is a pragmatic, and not an ideological, tenet of my theology. In holding that belief, I simply allow the truth to crystallize out of the discussion by never throwing any part of it away. In doing so I am accepting the fact that what appear to be contrary opposites can in fact be embraced for the purposes of moving beyond their individual statements to a higher level of the truth that contains elements of both. In that way, what you are calling the 'truth' could be said to be creating the unity that results, rather than the other way around."

    Note that Giles Fraser himself makes somewhat the same criticism which you make when he writes (as I quoted in the post):

    "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."

  10. Paolo: "He never clearly stands up in defense of the Catholic teaching; neither he stands openly up for other views, even if he actually dialogues only with intellectuals on the left, and practically always ends with a tacit ambiguous approval for them, in some aspect.

    #1. Paolo, that was an excellent contribution.

    #2. No offense, but the good Cardinal sounds rather like Neville Chamberlain (and all the bad connotations that Neville's name conjures up.)

    "The final lesson the people perceives is that what the Church says is very secondary, and one can be a good (better) Christian following his own adult decision."

    Vatican II "primacy of conscience"?

    I've always wondered if that genuinely sat well with the Magisterium.

  11. Thank you for your thoughtful response to my comment. Yes, I agree with what you say, and I appreciate the complexity of the problem. What I was trying to encapsulate was the absurdity of the conflict "management" (I cannot use the word "resolution") approach described in your excellent post, which appears conspicuously bad in the case of a major Christian leader supposedly enlightened by a clear biblical standard of what truth, and THE truth, is!

    I think the futility of the approach is thrown into sharp relief by contrasting it with the known words and actions of our Lord himself which, while I grant we (as sinners) cannot fully follow them, must nevertheless remain normative for Christians. Surely we should always be trying to do what Jesus did?

    Admittedly, in postmodernism, we meet a problem not encountered in Pharisaism, i.e., the denial of universal truth. While the logical contradictions inherent in postmodernism make it obvious nonsense, it remains critically important because of the strong hold that postmodern ideas have on many (especially young) people. And, you are quite right, as Christians we have to meet people where they are.

    How then should we approach them? I think it depends on the context. At the most recent "New Wineskins" conference at Ridgecrest NC, in April 2007, Peter Moore (former Dean and President of TESM) gave a talk about the bible and postmodernism ( One of his suggestions for sharing the gospel with postmodern people, was the need to incorporate the "multiple truth" subtext of postmodern thought into evangelism, and to initially present the Christian "story" as one that is worthy of consideration alongside many other "stories." Then, subsequently, the bible should be allowed to speak for itself, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring the conviction that there is, in fact, only one eternal universal truth.

    Note that, in making this type of approach, there is never any real denial of the rightness and uniqueness of Christian truth. The only purpose in seemingly subordinating the Christian gospel to the role of one truth among many equally valid "truths," is to give it a hearing.

    This is very different from the attempt to reconcile radically different world views in the councils of church leaders, which is the backdrop to your post. Yet it is in this high forum, if what your piece says is correct, that truth should (really) be sacrificed for the sake of peace!

    Of course, the words "the struggle to conceive of a structural wholeness nuanced enough to contain what appeared to be contradictories" indicate a wholly illusory objective. The lie is given by the words "appeared to be." Just as two truths can never contradict each other, two contradictory things can never coexist. Attempts to evade this logical impasse can only result in the compromise of essential principles on one or both sides, or in the frustration, disappointment, and ranking or final separation of the parties involved. This is what your post indicates, and what I hope the ABC will learn sooner, rather than later.

  12. I appreciate this articulation of Archbishop Williams' thought. It isn't a shock to me, but it clarifies a lot.

    Regarding your conclusions, though: I find it hard to imagine that the ACC would decide that any Covenant could be affirmed by dioceses choosing independently for the potential violence that would do to the Church of England itself. Indeed, the statement from the response of the COE House of Bishops to the Covenant process included an expectation that "each province would need to affirm any Covenant through its constitutional processes," a statement that might not be binding on ACC but must surely be influential. With questions outstanding, too, as to how accession to or acceptance of a supra-provincial covenant might affect the Church "by law established," (for example, would it, like revision of the Book of Common Prayer, require an act of Parliament?), I think in fact much is up in the air about how long it would take many provinces, including COE, to respond to, much less accept, a final draft.

    Much will be read in, and probably read into, a delay by the 2009 General Convention for closer consideration of a Covenant with determination in 2012. However, I think that the Episcopal Church will hardly be the only province that will wish to proceed carefully in its constitutional processes regarding a Covenant.

  13. Thanks for bothering to wonder what in the world goes on in Rowan Williams' mind. I still do not know for sure.

    Meanwhile, also, thanks for the poster who so readily described the bait and switch strategy of TESM styled evangelism. I think used car sales people and other modern marketers have been clued into this ploy for quite a long time. I always suspected that was what TESM style believers were doing, without quite believing my eyes and ears as I have sampled this type of outreach over the years. I grew up in USA Bible Belt, and even then it took me a few years to see and understand what the bait and switch witness was actually pulling on me and other folks. I also checked out a cable channel program put on by Autralia's Way of the Master which basically tries to teach various angles on a similar looking, bait and switch sequence of seeking converts.

    Pretending you are listening to a range of modern views or whatever, while actually holding the views and the people in secret contempt is not what I would preach as a real Way of Jesus. But it does go on, in Jesus name, it seems.

    When, I wonder, will conservative believers ever really dig in, to do their considerable modern homework? Now, to be fair, even modern physicists are still digesting the huge shifts that have happened - fed mainly it seems by subatomic/quantum and large-distance astronomical physics. But at least the physicists admit they do not have a unified field any more, for the time being. And most physicists are quite right - it is not reality that has shifted, but the positions and tools through which we describe, test hypotheses, and understand that reality. The most likely position to occupy is not that suddenly quarks leaped into existence once we started looking for them, though maybe they do in some ways, but that reality has always been reality.

    The parallel is of course, God is still and always has been God. Jesus, Jesus.

    I think our believer understandings are shifting now, in ways that we have not probably seen since the first century church, CE. Just my best provisional discernment. If true, the shift cannot happily be contempted out of real existence. No doubt, we shall eventually see a bit about that one.

    Few conservative believers I have met so far even admit that the shift has happened, let alone show signs of struggling to digest its implications for hermeneutics and method. Even less, do I find traditionalistic believers who bother to anticipate the similar shift emerging in biology and the human or life sciences, let alone, yet again, showing much intellectual effort to try out how working things through might go.

    Meanwhile, of course, the automatic self-positionings of most traditionalistic believers continues to occasion problems, bait and switch habits, or not. Particularly up for grabs is their traditionalistic habit of positioning themselves - usually as especially biblical (a special, presuppositional, closed, eternal revelation truth). Then add to that the problems of their self-positioning of themselves as most especially saved - besides and usually above, all the rest of us no matter what. Then add to both of those, the typical traditionalistic believer habits of presuming that they do so rest in place, for reasons of nothing but utter and self-less love.

    Whew. All a bit much, as self-proclaimed believer positionings go.

    How traditionalists like this, or Rowan Williams for that matter - are going to rely on such heavy-lifting traditional stone covenant materials to build a new, fair, open-minded, welcoming, and above all peaceful space to which all the rest of us may not only be freely invited but expected to show up with dancing shoes on, intellectually? It boggles.

    I guess the unfolding covenant will demonstrate how, and if, the construction of such a space is practically possible these days - using nothing but traditionalistic and conservative materials? The utter contempt on the Anglican rights for so much - queer folks, women, secular humanists, modernity, education, democracy, human rights issues, the Enlightenment Era, ... the list goes on and on and on - seems not to bode well for engendering the best space to be formed from the wisest possible new Anglican covenant.

    I would enjoy such Anglican spaces as a progressive believer, not least because digesting the flood of new sciences is a much more compelling intellectual agenda for me as a believer than constantly responding to TESM and other folks on the various Anglican rights.

    Responding to the Anglican and other religious rights just is not all that productive, all that often - for me as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, Risen Lord.

    I can rehearse all manner of flat earth questions and dilemmas, but it is pretty much a dry river bed exercise, because various new data domains have powerfully repositioned me, and thus my questions and my pilgrimage have changed, too. The Anglican rights are very busy with agendas I cannot help but regard as probably sidelines. I do not think I need to be saved from modernity as such, as if some special traditionalistic biblical church life space existed wherein I could seek not only a special safety, but a special truth, too. Nor do I need to be rescued from global diversity, problematic as our differences can seem to be in hot button areas. Nor do I wish to be shifted away from modern western democratic citizenship, in favor of say something that looks and smells and feels and weighs out, rather akin to the old divine right of kings, transposed still upon global church life.

    These dilemmas and struggles are sidelines, not the main salvation show for me as a follower, worshipper, witness, and servant of Jesus of Nazareth, Risen Lord.

    Rowan still looks like he is busy anticipating a covenant space that will mainly make the most traditionalistic Anglican believers happy. That far right towards traditionlisms only seems to predict that disarmament and weaponizing will be difficult to slow down, let alone declare out of bounds. The laundry list is very long - as are the targets many. We can list secular humanists, queer folks, women, human rights activities, and too many others, automatically tagged by the traditionalistic Anglicans as nothing but outsider fools.

    This is not a new, wise, and above all deeply alluring - global Anglican space.

    Hopefully, Rowan and the covenant may surprise me in my worst expectations.