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The tragedy of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury

The tragedy of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury

Andrew Gerns, who does the Friday news on The Lead, comments at his blog on an article in the Weekly Standard,by Joseph Bottum, titled with the alarmist The End of Canterbury: will the sun set on the Anglican Communion?

Early in the essay there is a decent, if rather conventional, analysis of Anglicanism today.

Then he drives off an ideological deep-end, and in the process misses the point of the importance of Anglicanism to Christianity and our essential witness to the world. Along the way, he missed the disappointment if not the outright tragedy that has been Williams’ tenure as Archbishop.

The problem with Rowan is not that Africa is an “anchor” and that the Church of England and the Episcopal Church is somehow at once pro-Muslim and pro-gay, and that the African church will march away in its theological purity. The problem is that Rowan did not use his innate voice.

Africa itself shows off the tensions and possibility within Anglicanism. The Continent that contains both Tutu and Orombi is also the Church that shares both approaches to Christianity. The Anglican Communion contains both Katharine Jefferts Schori and NT Wright. The Episcopal Church itself contains both Gene Robinson and Mark Lawrence.

The tragedy–and disappointment–that is Rowan Williams is that he chose not use his best possible tool in leading this impossibly diverse Anglican Communion. He chose not to use his own voice.

We all know that Williams wrote eloquently as both a priest and theologian, and even as Archbishop of Wales, for the full inclusion of gays into the life of the church including their ability to marry–or at least have some kind of civil and ecclessiasitcal analog to marriage–and that not only did he put these opinions aside, he has worked very hard to be certain that these views will never come to pass.

Bottum reveals a fact that I had forgotten, and I will bet many progressives did not know, that when he became Archbishop of Canterbury, he resigned his membership in the a group called The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

It turns out that Williams himself encapsulated both the comprehensiveness and the tension that is Anglicanism.


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Everett Lees

Anglicanism is a gift to the church and to the world. I agree that blaming +++Rowan is unfair, how can one person be expected to hold the church together. He has angered the Africans because he wasn’t strong enough, he angered the Americans because he was to strong. I think Rowan’s fault lies in that he actually believes what he says. His vision of the church as a place where we are rooted in the the sacrificial love of Christ is frankly something I have seen little of. Everyone is interested in being right and not being a witness. We can celebrate our diversity all we want but if there is no one left who are we being diverse with? A smaller number of people who already think like us?

F.Harry Stowe

Since the mid-sixteenth century. But, while we can’t blame this mess on Williams, we can regret how little he took adv ant age of opportunities to ameliorate it and how often he used it to forward his unAnglican project of primacy.

Tim Sean

The Anglican Communion is severing and will continue to do so, it’s just a matter from which direction it shall continue to devolve; either with those Global South Churches increasingly moving away OR with the western churches increasingly being pushed out.

It’s frustrating when I hear folks suggesting that one person, one archbishop, would have the ability to turn the tide that has been building for such avery long time (since the mid-19th Century?). I mean for crying out loud, how many have had to facilitate much smaller and less complciated conflicts in your local parishes only for them to undulate between resolution and a convoluted mess? If the Holy Spirit cannot keep this Church together then why do people keep thinking Rowan should be able to do it? To expect such a thing from any archbishop is a tragedy that we can add to our list.

I’m saddened, too, that the Anglican Project may not survive. I think its ethos has a great deal to contrubite not just to Christendom but to a global culture grappling with pluralism. But the LAST person I’m going to blame (and I don’t sense that Gerns is suggesting this) is Rowan Williams.

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