In an essay for USA Today, Diana Butler Bass says the dilemmas that Rowan Williams faced as Archbishop of Canterbury are a sign of the times, but not in the way that most people think.
Williams demonstrated how wide the breach has become between spirituality and religion. His tenure proved that religious institutions — as they currently exist — fail when they refuse to engage the new pattern of faith. The gap between spirit and institution is not only problematic for religious organizations. The gap exists in business, where work and craft have been replaced by venture capital and profitability; in politics, where the common good and democracy are crushed by partisanship and corporate money; in education, where critical thought and the humanities are sacrificed to test scores.
The Anglican crisis is not about Williams or even religion. It is about the drive for meaningful connection and community and a better, more just, and more peaceful world as institutions of church, state and economy seem increasingly unresponsive to these desires. It is about the gap between a new spirit and institutions that have lost their way. Only leaders who can bridge this gap and transform their institutions will succeed in this emerging cultural economy.
The archbishop will return to teaching — a good choice. In our times, spiritual renewal is taking place among friends, in conversation, with trust and through mutual learning. A new thing is happening on the streets, in coffee houses, in local faith communities, and in movements of justice and social change. Far from demands of institutional religion, Rowan Williams will find a new kind of faith is being born.
How should religious institutions engage what Bass calls “the new pattern of faith?”