Inevitable! Untenable! Rowan Williams and his letters

There is rather more fallout from the revelation that the Archbishop of Canterbury holds a position on gay relationships that we already knew he held but had never seen him state so clearly than seems entirely necessary. People are telling Ruth Gledhill that a split in the Communion is now "inevitable," and Steve Doughty of the Daily Mail that Williams' position is now "untenable."

At moments such as these, a seasoned gambler would bet on evitability in the first instance and tenability in the second because whether this is a put up job or not, it sure looks like one, and people will begin to see that.

Comments (9)

My comments seem not to be getting through ... trying another ....

To get some perspective on where ++Rowan actually now stands, it might be helpful to read this 2006 interview (in which ++Rowan makes it clear that he has moved back from his earlier position):

In short, like his stance or not (and I don't like it), ++Rowan isn't be hypocritical. He no longer adheres to the position he advocated in his letters.

I am familiar with this interview, William. But I don't think it says what you think it says. Williams distanced himself from his essay The Body's Grace (of 1989) but the letters in quesiton were written much more recently. He doesn't like the way TEC did what it did, but there is nothing in here that says he disagrees with the conclusion on which our actions were based.

Williams's problem is that he wants the "theological work" (on the possibility of holy, committed Lesbian/Gay relationships) to be done first, then deal with the actual human beings later.

Throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Americas, Gay people cry in anguish to God, but Rowan only cares about his abstractions. He's like the priest who crossed the Samaria Road to avoid the beaten, robbed victim.

I think +Rowan (don't much like the ++, especially for a bishop who wears black instead of purple...hmmm) is trying to take a long historical perspective. I heard him say that we (the whole church) seem to have forgotten that it took 60 years for the church to accept Nicaea. What I think he's forgotten in that reminder is that Nicaea (like electing Gene Robinson and Diocese of New Westminster's readiness to bless committed same-sex relationships) happened before the controversy. Nothing significant and difficult has ever happened in the church because we talked it through peacefully and irenically beginning to end. Pioneers have been there, again and again, acting as they believed the Spirit moved them and then taking heat from the church.


My view is that Rowan's loyalty to the Church trumps his own personal theology - this is what he's trying to get across to TEC. He's done it himself, he seems to be saying to the leadership of TEC and seems to expect TEC to follow his example and place loyalty to the Church above everything else.

I also think that he's in a very different role as Archbishop of Canterbury than he was as a bishop or a theologian. I happen to hold a private belief that it's unnecessary to be ordained to celebrate the Lord's Supper. That being said, though, I understand that this view is not the tradition or practice of not only TEC but of the worldwide Anglican Communion - except perhaps in some small parts of Australia. So while I might hold that view privately and I might even write letters to Jim about it since I do feel rather strongly about it - if I were to be in bishops' shoes rather than my own I'd be inclined to support the clerical view rather than my lay view on that topic. That would be the responsible view and would reflect the traditional teaching of the Church.

That is what I think Rowan has done - he may hold a private view as I do about Lay Presiding but it's not appropriate to spout that view when one is in a place of representing the whole church not just our own private views.

Now we may quarrel with that - but I think that's what I understand Rowan to be saying at the final press conference and since he's done it he expects TEC to follow his example.

-Mary Ailes

Rowan, the great theologian, the deep thinker, writer of poetry and theology - has just been shown to be saying the same thing that Integrity and Claiming the Blessing and others have been trying to say all along - there is a theology of blessing same sex relationships - and it is grounded in Anglican theology. Thanks Archie Ro!

Perhaps, Mary; but then perhaps he should have declined the honor.

I tend to think that for Archbishop Williams the ecclesiology, the idea that the Anglican Communion might be restructured to be recognizable as a "church" by Rome, is simply a more important issue; and that issues of sexuality and/or Biblical interpretation are simply symptoms of an ecclesial institution inadequately connected. I think he wants his office to beheld as primatial in a way more like Constantinople, or at least Antioch or Alexandria - not so jurisdictional as Rome, but with more authority than primus inter pares in our current structure. I say "his office" because I can imagine him believing it won't be realized during his tenure, but will come, if only the Windsor Process and the Covenant Process are able to play out as he hopes.

So in his commitment to - not a Roman communion, but perhaps a Romanesque one - he sees these issues of Biblical authority, theological anthropology, and prophetic justice as justifications for his commitment, instead of issues in their own right.


I see the evidence you point to and worry about it. I also see Rowan as a liberal bishop who is significantly less attached to his personal authority than some of our liberal bishops in the U.S. Two intriguing little markers- literally that he wears black instead of purple, and that on a parish visitation (one he made in a parish I happened to be visiting that Sunday when in England) he preached and had the vicar preside.

I do see him apparently pushing for church-like ordering of our gloriously disordered communion, and I agree that success on that front would be costly to our church's actual integrity. But I also see someone who is trying to practice collegiality and humility, two significant goals to which some of our own bishops only pay lip service.

I read Gledhill's piece in the Times (first read about it over at TA) and it's what my dear, departed (may she rest in piece) Mother would have called 'yellow journalism.' - Jay Vos

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