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Rowan Williams’ fear of the mob

Rowan Williams’ fear of the mob

Editorial thoughts about Theo Hobson on Rowan Williams in The Guardian.

If Theo Hobson’s analysis is correct, then one can read Williams’ hostility to the Episcopal Church as not only grounded in anti-Americanism and his inherent suspicion of capitalism (something common to lefties of a certain age in England) but in what Hobson terms anti-liberalism.

The Episcopal Church may, if the author is correct, represent the logical consequence of what a church looks like in a society where ideas compete in an intellectual and social market-place.

His “communitarianism” is not the community of the town meeting and certainly not of the market place, but faith regulated by wise people–ahem, wise men!– who mediate the faith from the top. His idea is of a community where values are not so much shared among its people, but communicated to and corporately enforced through the structures of the church in concert with the state. Thus his sympathy for sharia law in the UK and with Pope Benedict’s anti-secular, anti-European tirades.

So, while it was permissable for him to speculate (as he later called it) about the permissibility of same-sex marriage as a mere bishop (even as ABW), he could not support it as Archbishop of Canterbury because for him such ideas can only be imposed from above by “the community” (aka the heirarchy). He really thinks that the centralized Anglican Communion run by a few wise men can make wiser decisions and do better theology (in his view) than a church where a grass-roots church live in concert and tension with Bishops who collegially teach an historic, biblical faith in a market-place of ideas.

His Anglican Covenant shows his bias: that change can only proceed at a pace determined by the most conservative archbishop and that only the community as mediated by Archbishops can determine who is in conformity and who is not.

It is why he tried to subvert the Women Bishops legislation with the “parishes can choose their own bishops” poison pill to satisfy those opposed to women’s ordination. It was not women he was opposed to…it was decision making by Synod where mere clergy and laity have a voice equal to–or at least in tension with–Bishops.

If Hobson’s understanding of Williams is correct, then the Episcopal Church is his worst nightmare. (And he is not so fond of the Scottish Episcopal Church nor the Church in New Zealand nor Wales nor Canada nor South Africa nor Brazil, to name a few more.)

In the end, Williams echoes the ancient Tory fear of the mob.

Read Hobson’s article here.


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Bill Carroll

The founders of our Republic hardly trusted the mob, and the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church do not envision direct democracy either, for good reason. Williams has made his mistakes, but he’s a good man in an impossible set of double binds, doing what he thinks his office requires of him. Am I glad that I am in the Episcopal Church and not the C of E? You bet. I like the way that we adapted to conditions in the new republic and allowed for greater roles for all orders of ministry in governance. But this article is rather silly. Remember that Richard Hooker is often counted among the ancestors of Tory thought. As we approach another election, I find myself wishing we had some Tory statesmen like Disraeli among us. And less pandering, on all sides, to the passions of the mob.

C. Wingate

One would think that the complicated political dance of the CofE is, by definition, what True Anglicanism(R) is like, and that the GAFCONites and the Americans both are therefore the deviants. Williams’s attitude towards both has generally read to me as “you are making my job harder,” which I think has been largely true. Likewise, I cannot reconcile the “we can do anything we want” ethic of communion participation with demanding “true leadership” of Cantuar. If that’s the mode of the communion one wants, then Cantuar’s only leadership responsibility is to England, and England doesn’t do things as we do, and there’s no cause to expect them to change, much as Labor might have it otherwise.


I see ++Williams as a failure of true leadership. By trying to be all things to all people, he became irrelevant to most. Principaled leadership requires resistance to those who seek to bully others, an insistence on civility, and a committment to ethical behavior, even when not convenient.

++Williams ought be very careful. The whole notion that parishes can choose their bishops is akin to gleefully setting fire to the neighbor’s townhome, only to discover that the fire has spread to one’s own residence.

Eric Bonetti

William R. MacKaye

I think Michael Russell is closer to correct than Kevin McGrane–it is the fundamentalist evangelical prelates of the Gafcon variety, not the Americans, who are the unAnglicans of the Communion. The American Episcopal Church was, after all, one of the founders of the Anglican Communion, along the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church of Ireland. I don’t understand Williams’s uninterest in the American church, but I’m not sold on the idea that he is antiliberal.

I do think he he has been more preoccupied with, concerned about, and intrigued by the African provinces of the Communion in his time as ABC, and I think he should have been. It would well behoove us Americans to strive to know far more than we do about those millions and millions of African fellow Anglicans, only a handful of whom are power-hungry prelates playing footsy with wealthy American rightwingers. It’s at the handful that we seem to direct all our attention.

With our increasingly rich theology of baptism, and our system of church governance, we Americans do have much to teach our fellow Anglicans. But we also have much to learn from those others about how the church can flourish and cultivate a profound spirituality without money.

Michael Russell

Since there was no Anglican Communion before our ancestor colonists made it happen, I think it is fairer to suggest that other provinces are likely the ones out of touch. This would be particularly true of provinces settled by evangelical fundamentalists.

We broadened leadership to include laity and clergy in governance and in the 19th century we defined the basis for church unity in the Chicago Quadrilateral. We dis-established the church and weaned it from government money.

We respected the Independence of other colonial churches as they were liberated from the empire and I think it is fair to say we led the way in moving towards indigenous leadership.

Women and gays in all dimensions of active Christian ministry are our latests gifts to the community of provinces, and really, if it is too much for them they should feel free to withdraw from the phenomenon we initiated. That includes Rowan.

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