By Jim Naughton
Archbishop Rowan Williams met the press this morning in a facility know as the Missing Link building, and unlike Saturday’s “interview” with Tom Wright, I did not make that up. He answered one of the key questions put to him with great clarity, another with evasion, and a third with intriguing nuance.
The first question Williams faced after some brief opening remarks was what message he would send to the conservative bishops who have boycotted the conference, and is their absence a sign that the Communion will soon splinter.
To the first part of the question Williams responded: “We’re sorry you’re not here.” He said the presence of Archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Henry Orombi of Uganda and others would have been “a healing and helpful thing,” but “also a difficult thing.”
To the second part of the question he uttered what might be the sound bite of the day: “If this is the end of the Anglican Communion, I don’t think anybody has told most of the people here.”
Asked why ecumenical visitors from churches that have significant theological differences with the Anglican Communion were invited as “full participants” in the conference while Bishop Gene Robinson was excluded, Williams offered an answer I am still trying to parse. My own notes are readable, but incomprehensible, and even after listening to a taped recording of the press conference, I am still not sure I have it right, but Williams seems to be arguing that bishops not only represent their diocese, but participate in a worldwide “fellowship,” that Gene’s membership in that fellowship is “questionable” for reasons that Williams did not elaborate upon, and that he had been excluded for those unexpressed reasons.
I am left wondering why being a gay bishop in a monogamous relationship calls one’s role in the global fellowship into question, while being a rampaging bigot in the mold of Archbishop Akinola does not.
Williams addressed my concern obliquely in response to a question about sexual morality. He said he viewed as immoral “any relationship which is outside of a public covenant of mutual support and love in the presence of God.” There seemed to be room in that formulation for gay marriage, even after Williams offered further nuance: “I don’t believe that sex outside of marriage is as God purposes it.” But then Williams added that as far as same-sex marriage was concerned, he stood behind previous Lambeth Conference resolutions on the issue “as archbishop.” I took him to mean that he was speaking as an office holder, rather than an individual.
Williams also gave a detailed explanation of his reasoning for inviting bishops who participated in Robinson’s consecration, but not Robinson himself. He mentioned that some consecrators had retired, and that others (I can only think of one off the top of my head) said they regretted their participation, before getting to the heart of his answer. The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops “corporately” had “requested forgiveness,” he said. He had put that response to the Communion, and the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council and “more than 50 percent” of the provinces had said that it was “probably all right.”
Williams also defended the format of the current conference, pointing out that previous conferences, constructed in a more parliamentary fashion hadn’t resolved the Communion’s problems. He said he hoped to persuade the leaders of the conservatives’ GAFCON movement to engage in the process of creating an Anglican covenant by continuing to “make the case.” He also said the Church of England had “unfinished business” to tend to regarding provisions for conservatives who object to the recently approved ordination of female bishops, adding that as many people were “grieved” by the decision as were “elated.” Despite that controversy, however, he said he did not think the Church of England entered the conference as “a bleeding, wounded animal with arrows in its side,” because so many bishops had participated in the pre-conference hospitality initiative and gotten to know members of the British churches.
Addendum: Listen to the press conference (Duration: 35:00 | File Size: 32.0MB)
Episcopal Life Online has some video of the press conference here.