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