By David W. Virtue
May 30, 2011
The Archbishop of Canterbury lost his serenity, recently, or, as we would say in the US, he lost his cool. The frightening thing is that academics and poets like Rowan Williams are not supposed to lose their composure in discussion; rather they are supposed to “reason together” until all parties find a way forward to compromise or, in the case of Dr. Williams, an Hegelian syntheses.
The besetting issue was who would be the next Bishop of Southwark, vacated late last year by retired Bishop Tom Butler. Rowan’s personal friend, Dean Jeffrey John was on the short list. John is openly gay living an allegedly celibate relationship with his long-term married partner and, therefore, not deemed eligible by Williams. (Are they still on speaking terms?)
According to a leaked memo from the now deceased Dean of Southwark, Colin Slee, a first class row broke open. A verbal donnybrook ensued between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu on one side, and the crown nomination committee on the other. It was downright ugly and nasty, according to the memo leaked to the Guardian newspaper.
Slee described Williams as shouting and losing his temper, which left several members of the crown nomination committee, responsible for the selection of bishops, in tears. IN TEARS from the meek and mild scholarly Rowan of the Poetic Force…
Slee also charged the church with hypocrisy, stating that there are several gay bishops “who have been less than candid about their domestic arrangements and who, in a conspiracy of silence, have been appointed to senior positions”. The memo warns, “This situation cannot endure. Exposure of the reality would be nuclear.”
Slee described the meeting, “We had two very horrible days in which I would say both archbishops behaved very badly. The meeting was not a fair consideration at all; they were intent on wrecking both Jeffrey John and Nick Holtam rector of St Martin-in-the-Fields in central London, whose wife was divorced many years ago.” Eventually Christopher Chessun, then an assistant bishop, was chosen.
Can you even imagine a discussion like this happening in the largest most dynamically evangelical Anglican Province of Nigeria or Uganda or Kenya or Rwanda or even in Southeast Asia or the Middle East? Would they even entertain the possibility of considering an openly homosexual Dean, who has lived a past life in homosexual sin, as a bishop?
We should not forget that early in his occupation of the See of Canterbury, Rowan persuaded Jeffrey John (apparently on bended knee) not to accept the bishopric of Reading in order to placate what he knew would be outrage and anger from the Global South if an openly gay man was elected bishop.
A VOL reader in England wrote at that time that then Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries said he would counter any opposition to Jeffery John becoming Bishop of Reading. Williams was not prepared to take such a risk. John was persuaded to step down to cries of outrage from the gay community.
Of the present situation in Southwark, he commented, “The speed with which opposition to the nomination gathered suggests to me that it had been started by somebody who knew of the nomination before it was officially announced. In the current circumstances I think it was wise of ++Rowan to seek expert legal advice before attending the Crown Nominations Commission meeting so he was better briefed to chair the meeting. Far from being reprehensible and duplicitous I regard this action as being prudent.” Fair enough.
Be that as it may, when Williams was confronted with the possibility of a gay man and or a man married to a divorcee, he opted against both, chosing a harmless third party (Chessun) whose resume, according to those in the know, was not nearly up to the level of the other two candidates. One newspaper ran the headline: Church of England tied in knots over allowing gay men to become bishops. The story went on to describe the leaders’ shouting matches and Williams as “bad tempered”. Politicians are allowed to shout at each other in Parliament where they can be as bad tempered as they like, but leading representatives of Christ on earth, in this case the leader of the Church of England and All Anglicanism loses it and people start crying. My God. What is the church coming too?
The odd thing is that Rowan Williams as leader loves to play mediator when he is negotiating the differences over sodomy between archbishops at primatial gatherings while moving solicitously between two rooms where each party sit trying to find some mythical middle ground. He never found it. Once in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at a Primates’ Meeting in closed session, he raised his voice and bullied the Anglican primates, trying to get his way. “I think all of them were shocked at his force and directness, and his willingness to confront them face-to-face individually,” wrote Bishop David Anderson at the AAC blog. “Certainly, if one of the other Primates used such tactics to bully others, Dr. Williams would adjust his beard and call them on it (very bad show.). When it is Dr. Williams doing the intimidating, well, that is entirely different.”
As a result of his inability to find a third way, middle ground, via media or Hegelian synthesis, we have, in effect, two communions, though few seem to recognize that fact. Will the new GAFCON/FCA office be a stone’s throw from Lambeth Palace? Will the occupant of that office (apparently it is not going to be CANA Bishop Martyn Minns) invite Rowan over for tea and crumpets to chat about the state of things? Don’t hold your breath.
So why was Williams so upset?
Here are some other possible answers.
1. Williams is mindful of the Windsor Report which put the blame squarely on ECUSA and New Westminster for breaching the bonds of Communion in the consecration of Gene Robinson and the move to local option on same-sex blessings. It calls for a moratorium, but offers no sanctions, beyond non-invitation, to those who do not comply with the moratorium.
2. Williams is mindful of Lambeth Conference 1998 Lambeth 1:10 and the consequences of violating what the vast majority of bishops voted – that marriage was sacred and between a man and a woman.
3. Williams did not want a memo or press release from Nigerian Archbishop Nicholas Okoh or Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda reminding him that an action making John the next Bishop of Southwark would be a clear violation of the Covenant and that he would be subject to disciplinary section 4 of that Covenant.
Not surprisingly, when news of the memo broke, the Church of England’s gay lobby went wild. Williams immediately got push back from (the Rev.) Colin Coward of Changing Attitude, the Church of England’s leading homosexual activist (he recently married his black African lover), accusing the HOB of cowardice, collusion, dishonesty, ignorance and stupidity over whether gay clergy should be chosen for promotion to bishoprics. He went on to accuse Williams of “utter dishonesty and false secrecy”.
Then Coward launched into a revelation of his own. He continued, “I could name a number of bishops who are gay, including several appointed in the last 12 months. I’m sitting here this morning wondering whether I should, knowing that to do so is not in accord with my Christian ethos.”
The nuclear button has been hit. The integrity and fidelity to God of every member of the House of Bishops and especially of both Archbishops, is now on the line, he wrote.
Coward made similar charges in 2009 in Alexandria, Egypt, when he told reporters that he knew of two Primates who were homosexuals. When challenged to name them by Dr. Chris Sugden and me, he got testy and refused to do so. This seems to be a standard strategy that Coward applies. He makes accusations. When asked to show and tell, he refuses.
Coward is not above blaming evangelicals for Williams’ prevarications. “The hierarchy of the Church of England are corrupting Christian truth and faith and integrity by allowing themselves to be manipulated and controlled by conservative evangelical and catholic forces and opinions which, the longer they are not confronted, will tear the Anglican Communion apart, not over gay clergy, but because lives are being destroyed for the sake of false belief.”
This is a huge lie. It is Coward and the Church of England’s homosexuals (and TEC’s) along with their refusal to be obedient to scripture that is destroying the Anglican Communion. It is why GAFCON/FCA exists. It is why there is a Jerusalem Declaration and why a Covenant will not hold the Anglican Communion together. It is why Primates of the Global South will never sit down again with Katharine Jefferts Schori or attend another Primates meeting. They will never be seen in the same room with her. The only time they will be seen on US soil is to announce the date for the next GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem or to converse with ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan.
To all intents and purposes, the communion, as we now know it, is over. The Southwark situation is just a sideshow to the Church of England’s growing call for inclusivity and diversity and the ultimate acceptance of sexual sin and a further distancing of itself from the Global South and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.