(Anglican Ink) Tom Sutcliffe on Rowan Williams time as ABC—Lost in the wilderness

Posted by Kendall Harmon

At the end of 2012 when he retires to Magdalene College, Cambridge Rowan Williams will have been Primate of All England for a decade. He did not need to retire until June 14, 2020. Various commentators after the announcement of his return to academe in a prestigious but largely honorary role described the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, primus inter pares of the Anglican Communion, as an “impossible job”. But, sadly, it is Rowan whose tenure of the job has made it seem so.

His term of office has been in many ways disastrous, and it is important to consider why that should be so. In different ways both he and his predecessor George Carey have destabilized rather than stimulated the Church of England. Carey’s poorly conceived and insensitive managerial reform of the central church institutions added to the bureaucratic governance and undermined the existing representative structures, while Williams’s search for a new control mechanism to over-ride the existing auto-cephalous provincial authority would have created more problems than it solved. Neither archbishop seemed to possess a well-grounded vision of where the established Church of England was or should be going. But Carey and Williams were outsiders with little or no experience as diocesan bishops in the CofE or of the political aspects of “establishment”.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal- Anglican: CommentaryArchbishop of Canterbury Anglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryEngland / UK

2 Comments
Posted April 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm

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1. MichaelA wrote:

“Neither archbishop [i.e. Carey or Williams] seemed to possess a well-grounded vision of where the established Church of England was or should be going. But Carey and Williams were outsiders with little or no experience as diocesan bishops in the CofE or of the political aspects of “establishment”.

The weakness in Mr Sutcliffe’s argument is that he bemoans the choosing of ABC’s that aren’t “establishment”, but fails to show that “establishment” ABCs would have done any better.  The rising size and influence of the Global South happened to become uncontainable at Lambeth 1998, and has been rampant ever since.  Whilst its hypothetical, I suggest that Robert Runcie or Donald Coggan would have had just as much difficulty coping with this as have George Carey and Rowan Williams, regardless of how “establishment” they may be.

“Neither, for instance, made much of an impression in the House of Lords. Robert Runcie, by contrast, whatever one thinks of his stance, was taken more than seriously when he questioned aspects of the Falklands adventure - so much so that Margaret Thatcher was determined to bypass the CofE episcopal establishment when she sought Runcie’s successor - which is partly how the Church finds itself now in a position where there is no obvious Canterbury candidate with clout and no remotely clear line of succession.”

Even if this were accurate, how does it support the idea that Runcie was a better fit for the job than Williams?  Runcie took on the Prime Minister on a leftist point of principle and succeed only in alienating her.  That is supposed to be a good thing?

“Church people have affection for Williams, respect even. He is not blamed for the disaster of his time at Canterbury, since he is only doing a job he was asked to do ...”

Yet that is precisely what Mr Sutcliffe does.  And who are “Church people”, for crying out loud, this monolithic block that are all of one mind about Rowan Williams?

“He has probably failed to hold the Anglican Communion together. Yet its angry splits seem less significant than he feared they might be, and may not be the break-up he strove to avoid.”

Given that the main opposition signalled at Jerusalem in 2008 and on several occasions since, that they do not want to break up the Anglican Communion, is this really an achievement of Rowan Williams?

“And that therefore his readiness to have homosexuals becoming deans as consolation prizes simply looks hypocritical, irrational and absurd to most people - who do not want to have their own Archbishop apparently kowtowing to evil prejudices seemingly endorsed by senior Anglican clerics in various (though not all) parts of Africa.”

“Most people”? Or most of the narrow cross-section of people that Mr Sutcliffe happens to hang out with? ;o)

“Anglicanism in its English heartland is as much our national heritage as Shakespeare. It does not of course mean the same to the whole English nation, but it is a rock in our culture - regardless of whether one is a non-conformist or an atheist. There was never before an Archbishop of Canterbury who seemed not to believe in that in his bones and in his heart. But Rowan is a Welshman and an intellectual, and believes in the Church of England as merely a part of a much larger historical accident.”

Substitute the word “taffy” for Rowan in that sentence and Mr Sutcliffe’s snobbery is on rude display.

“No other Archbishop would so readily have accepted the downgrading constitutionally implied by Gordon Brown’s decision as prime minister to abdicate the choice between two candidates for CofE bishoprics - including Rowan’s successor whoever he or she may be.”

??? Earlier in the piece, Mr Sutcliffe was complaining about the choice of ABC made by a British Prime Minsiter.  Now he complains that the choice is being given to the CofE.  I not only have no idea what Mr Sutcliffe really wants, but I am starting to wonder whether he does. 

“Rowan’s abandonment of Jeffrey John was by and large simply incomprehensible to most people - and indicative of weakness, misjudgment, abuse of power, and muddleheadedness.”

It was also indicative of Rowan being told by a number of clergy that he would have a walk-out on his hands if he went ahead.

“On his watch, and quite bizarrely, the country has contentedly embraced both civil partnerships and women priests - an uncontroversial and popular reform, though one that cannot be accepted by an important if numerically small part of the coalition of traditions which forms the established church.”

It is hardly “bizarre”: If the bishops and clergy of CofE do not give leadership, then of course the country will embrace all sorts of things.  As for “numerically small” - how do you work that out?  The orthodox clearly have a problem with adequate representation at the synodical and diocesan level, but that is a different issue.  The current Bishop of Southwark is forcefully demonstrating the way that appointments can be manipulated out of any proportion or relationship to actual numbers.

“Surely a man who had persuasively concluded that active homosexual relationships might be capable of being free from sin in the Christian sense owed it to the Church, and to the society that Church existed to serve, to contribute his further insights to the development and refinement of the Christian understanding of sexuality. I would not suggest it will be easy to reconcile the “Biblical” view on such matters with the long suppressed sensible insights of Epicurus as relayed by Lucretius in De rerum natura.”

Yes, Lucretius is very much in the Anglican tradition.  I am really starting to wonder if Mr Sutcliffe is on the same celestial body as the rest of us…

“The reason what some regard as “Biblical” teaching on sexuality has to be refined now is that the Church (above all the Roman Catholic church) has been revealed to have such a long and still unresolved history of practising abuse, that traditional teaching about sexuality, whether drawn from the Bible or from Tradition, is widely held to be contemptible.”

Right, and christians have been involved in murder from time to time during the Church’s long history.  I do not however hear Mr Sutcliffe suggesting that “traditional teaching about murder” can no longer stand.  That’s the nasty thing about logic - it applies even if you are from the “establishment”.

And on and on it goes.  A plethora of contributions and non-sequiturs.  I never got to the end of the article - good luck to anyone who can.

April 30, 12:16 am | [comment link]
2. driver8 wrote:

1. There is a sort of Little Englander mentality present in the piece that is risible when viewed from outside England.

2. It’s perspectives are entirely political - theology and Scripture is simply irrelevant to the judgments being made.

3. There is a slight feel of “a woman scorned”. Archbishop Rowan failed because he wasn’t simply the Affirming Catholic that his liberal friends thought he was.

April 30, 2:16 am | [comment link]


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