(CEN) Andrew Goddard—The legacy of Rowan Williams to the Church of England

Posted by Kendall Harmon

On the evening of 4 January, as the BBC News led with a new “civil part- nered bishops” row, Rowan Williams must have powerfully experi enced how different life had become after stepping down as Archbishop of Canter- bury at the end of 2012. For over 10 years such stories were almost always tied to him and his views on sexuality and his leader- ship of the Church. Not any longer. Yet the story illustrates how much “unfinished business” remained as he left office and how fragile Anglican unity is. It therefore raises the question as to his legacy.

For the last six months I’ve attempted to look back over his primacy to offer an ini- tial tentative assessment of his tenure and legacy in Rowan Williams: His Legacy (Lion, 2013). It has been a fascinating and challenging task. I thought I had a fairly good idea of his ministry but quickly realised how little I knew and how wide it has been.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal- Anglican: AnalysisArchbishop of Canterbury --Rowan WilliamsAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)

13 Comments
Posted January 28, 2013 at 7:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Robert Lundy wrote:

A very gracious assessment

January 28, 10:39 am | [comment link]
2. dmitri wrote:

A good assessment of Rowan.  Thanks for posting something relatively reasoned and positive.

January 28, 12:22 pm | [comment link]
3. Sarah1 wrote:

There certainly will be extensive and lengthy efforts to fix Rowan Williams’ inevitable reputation as the man who failed to prevent the collapse of the Anglican Communion.

I expect many more such efforts—but I don’t think they will ultimately be effective.

January 28, 12:38 pm | [comment link]
4. Sarah1 wrote:

I should add, of course, that he not only failed to prevent the collapse, but actively aided and abetted it through gross incompetence, calculation and political scheming that had all the success of a Wile E Coyote plan, and general ham-fisted buffoonery.

His legacy as Archbishop of Canterbury is catastrophic, and the only thing his supporters, enablers, and collaborators can do at this point is to try to obscure it and cover it with a multitude of distractions and herrings.

January 28, 12:53 pm | [comment link]
5. St. Jimbob of the Apokalypse wrote:

Hey, at least he got the Anglican Ordinariate rolling (or, at least, the need for it). Can’t say he didn’t do his bit for Ecumenical relations..

January 28, 3:19 pm | [comment link]
6. paradoxymoron wrote:

humbug!

January 28, 3:25 pm | [comment link]
7. paradoxymoron wrote:

I believe the working title of this book was,
“Buggery and Humbuggery: The Legacy of Rowan Williams.”

January 28, 3:31 pm | [comment link]
8. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

FWIW, I agree with Sarah.  I admit that this is a welcome attempt at a balanced assessment of +RW’s tenure.  Andrew Goddard has been not only charitable (as aptly noted by #1), but this is an informative piece, that rightly calls attention to some neglected aspects of the man’s many-faceted ministry.

But if the chief responsibility of any leader at the top of some large and complex international organization is summed up in the famous maxim:  “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” (and I think it is), then I’m afraid that RW was a dismal and almost total failure in that crucial department.  Despite his brilliance as a scholar and theologian, he was an abysmal failure in his stewardship of the truth of the gospel and his twin role of guarding the unity of the Church.  The two tasks are inseparably connected, for without defending the truth of the gospel against all the perversions of it masquerading as legitimate alternative expressions of the gospel (not least, the so-called gospel of inclusivity), the Church will inevitably suffer confusion and the division that results from it. 

Most observers seem to think that RW’s overriding goal was to prevent the formal breakup of the Anglican Communion, and Andrew Goddard (like many) seems to give him some credit there.  But I think that reflects a superficial analysis.  Yes, he managed to forestall an open, official break in the established institutional structures of the AC at the international level by preventing the rogue provinces of the US and Canada from being disciplined in any meaningful way.  Rowan actively intervened to void the Primates’ plan for discipline that they had hatched in Tanzania, and later he even more odiously manipulated things to make sure that the Lambeth Conference in 2008 did nothing to condemn the reckless and heretical provinces in North America.  The cost, of course, was that over a fourth of the world’s bishops stayed away, and the GAFCON event emerged as a rival gathering. 

In effect, the legacy of RW amounted to a sneaky way of aiding one side of the Anglican Civil War (the liberal side he privately favored), while feigning neutrality.  Or to rephrase it, he may have prevented open conflict and direct confrontation over the issues at stake that might have resulted in real resolution, and instead forced the struggle to take place off stage (like some Greek dramas).  So what we got was a fruitless stalemate and a virtual Cold War, instead of allowing the conflict to be handled properly in a healthy way that truly achieved a lasting peace.  IOW, the kind of unity he managed to preserve was a false, superficial institutional unity that merely covered over the fact that no real theological unity existed.  He utterly betrayed the Doctrine and Discipline of Anglicanism, selling that precious birthright for a lousy bowl of institutional soup, keeping up the appearance of Anglican unity while in fact sabotaging the substance of that unity by his irresponsible and even deceitful actions.

Is that too harsh?  Well, others may disagree, but I don’t think so.  Now to be more charitable, I think he had the best of intentions, and did the best job he could as ABoC.  But that only underlines the fact that he was grossly ill-suited for the heavy demands of the position.  We’ve had other scholarly professor types as ABoC in the past.  One of my favorites was Michael Ramsay, another Anglo-Catholic, but emphatically not of the notorious “Affirming Catholic” variety.  However, Ramsay had also spent time in the trenches doing parish ministry and hadn’t been locked up in an academic ivory tower.  RW had been a bishop in Wales, but never a parish priest, and the disastrous way he exercised his stewardship of his high office showed that he should never have left academia.

However, in closing, I will grant that it’s all too easy to make a scapegoat out of the hapless Rowan Williams.  The severe problems that erupted so forcefully among us Anglicans in the last decade have revealed (to my mind anyway) that the fundamental problems with the Anglican world today aren’t merely personal but systemic.  The whole Anglican system is fundamentally flawed, especially at the international level where it is virtually impossible to impose meaningful discipline on a wayward province like TEC.  The whole Covenant idea was a case of “Too Little, Too Late.”  Much more drastic action was (and is) required.  But RW wasn’t the only senior Anglican leader who just didn’t have the stomach for it.

David Handy+

January 28, 4:18 pm | [comment link]
9. dmitri wrote:

David Handy.  Do you have hopes that Bp Justin Welby will be much more successful?

January 28, 9:59 pm | [comment link]
10. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

#9.  Thanks for asking.

Alas, not much hope.  That’s not because I doubt his earned reputation for diplomacy and his skills as a negotiator and mediator.  Rather, it’s because of my fundamental assessment that the nature of the intractable problems we’ve been having withing worldwide Anglicanism are not merely personal, but systemic.  No matter who fills the role of ABoC, it is currently impossible for him to resolve the sharp conflicts that have torn the Communion apart.

IOW, the basic problem is that we are dealing with two totally incompatible and mutually exclusive gospels and worldviews that are striving for supremacy within Anglicanism.  And only one of them is biblical and acceptable.  That’s the bottom line.  It’s a law of nature: No one can get oil and water to mix.  Not Rowan Williams, nor Justin Welby.  No one.  No matter how long and hard you shake a container with both oil and water in it, they will inevitably and quickly separate once you stop shaking.

The refusal of +RW, and many other Anglican leaders, to face that harsh reality, is the real problem.  They keep desperately wanting to believe that sexual morality is a Romans 14 type issue where differences of opinion outgh to be tolerated.  But the FACT remains that it is not so.  The teaching of Scripture and Tradition is completely clear and consistent when it comes to sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman.  There are only two options for Christians, complete abstinence and unmitiaged monogamy.  That’s it.  No exceptions.  Zip.  Zilch.  None.

But of course, sexual behavior is only the tip of the iceberg.  It’s the universalism and relativism implicit (and often quite explicit) in the agenda of our liberal foes that is the real problem.

No one can build a bridge across an unbridgeable gap like the Grand Canyon or the Atlantic Ocean.  And that includes Justin Welby.  What we need is rather someone like the great prophet Elijah of old, who stood before the assembly of israel on Mt. Carmel and issued his immortal challenge for the people to make their fateful choice.  “How long will you go on limping between two opinions?  If Ba’al be God, follow him.  But if the LORD be God, follow him!”  That is the kind of bold leadership that’s needed today.

People will complain:  But that’s so polarizing!  That’s so divisive!

Yes it is.  But that’s how Paul treated the Judaizers.  It’s how Irenaeus treated the Gnostics.  It’s how Athanasius treated the Arians.  It’s how Augustine treated the Pelagians…

David Handy+

January 29, 10:22 am | [comment link]
11. SC blu cat lady wrote:

Would it be presumptuous of me to write that I sense that same spirit of Elijah’s bold leadership in one David Handy+?  Once again David+ tells it like it really is- unbridgeable theological chasm and all.

January 29, 2:10 pm | [comment link]
12. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

#11,

Thanks for your kind words, but alas, I can’t claim the mantle of Elijah.  I believe Elisha and John the Baptist have that honor.  However, among our contemporaries, your own bishop, the fearless +Mark Lawrence, at least exemplifies a similar indomitable spirit to the great prophets of old.  And he’s much, much more pastoral than I am.

Gratefully,
David Handy+

January 29, 5:25 pm | [comment link]
13. MichaelA wrote:

“But if the chief responsibility of any leader at the top of some large and complex international organization is summed up in the famous maxim:  “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” (and I think it is), then I’m afraid that RW was a dismal and almost total failure in that crucial department.”

I think Fr Handy at #8 nails it.  Of course there are many positive things that can be said about ++Rowan Williams - he was an erudite, cultured and good man.  But his *primary* job was to lead the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, and at that he seems mainly to have failed. 

The authorship of the article is telling - Andrew Goddard is likely to be very pleased with ++Williams’ style and achievements.  If nothing else, that says a great deal about Andrew Goddard.

January 29, 6:06 pm | [comment link]
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