A Note on Just How Feckless a Leader is Rowan Williams
By now most of us have come to expect weak-as-dishwater statements from Rowan Williams at the most crucial moments for the Anglican Communion. From the election of Gene Robinson, through all the contortions over the Windsor Report, to Dromantine, GenCon 2006, Dar, New Orleans, GenCon 2009, the endless list of canonical abuses by Katherine Schori, the equally endless list of finger-in-the-eye actions by TEC bishops and dioceses regarding gay blessings and gay ordinations… at each juncture where strong, morally unambiguous and decisive leadership is needed, Rowan Williams routine, reliably, and spectacularly fails to deliver.
His Grace has deigned to make a statement, and you can find it here, but I won’t quote it in my post because the point here is not the words in the statement, although being perfectly useless they do in fact underscore my main point, which is this:
Rowan Williams is a failure as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Whether it can accurately be said that because he is a failure, the communion too will ultimately fail, is debatable and ultimately beside the point. Williams himself, though, is an utter failure, as shown once again not in the actual words of his statement on Glasspool, but in the way the statement was released.
As of this writing, you won’t find Williams’ statement on his official website, or any official website run by the Anglican Communion. That’s because Lambeth Palace is providing the statement only to those who contact them and specifically request it.
So now in addition to the tired old routine of knowing - not expecting, but knowing - that the actual words will be obtuse and ultimately of no import, we now have the added absurdity of having to ask for those obtuse and ultimately worthless words.
Which brings me to my next point:
I’m well aware that there is a crisis of power and authority in the Anglican Communion, even if Dr. Williams is not. I have said for years that the main cause of the communion’s troubles is not gay activists or a knot of syncretists having taken over the national church’s leadership, but the fact that nobody in the Anglican Communion knows exactly who’s in charge of what. Gather together the most knowledgeable, the most interested, the most sympathetic theologians, scholars, bishops and experts in the entire communion, from across it broad theological/political/ecclesial spectrum, and they will be unable to agree on exactly who’s in charge of the bigger questions about what is and is not acceptable behavior in the communion, what is to be done about a member province or diocese that exceeds those bounds, exactly how it is to be accomplished, and exactly who makes those decisions. Sadly, the Communion as it’s structured now reflects a naive wish on the part of its members - that everyone will broadly agree on these things, and that everyone can be trusted to behave accordingly.
But as I’ve written many times, in a communion governed entirely by trust, its order and coherence - indeed, its Christian witness to the world - is only as good as its most corrupt member is trustworthy… and when that member is the Episcopal Church, the bar of order and coherence isn’t merely lowered, it’s broken, chopped into pieces, burned and its ashes scattered to the wind.
Whenever Williams issues his useless statements, those who would defend him point to the deficiencies in the communion’s governing structure as if to say, “Well what do you expect? What do you want him to say? He can’t decree that thus-and-such be done; he doesn’t have the authority!”
That may be true, but it doesn’t relieve Williams of the responsibility to make clear what he thinks should happen. In fact, a good case can be made that the poorer the system of government, the greater the responsibility is of those entrusted with moral leadership to be forceful and clear in their statements and recommendations. Under threat of the gravest of consequences, men like Solzhenitsyn make it clear where their moral compasses point. While it’s hard not to laugh out loud when comparing Rowan Williams to Solzhenitsyn, it should at least serve to illustrate with crystal clarity the leadership vacuum that how exists in the See of Canterbury.
There is nothing stopping Rowan Williams from making clear what he really believes about the morality of consecrating unrepentant sinners to the office of bishop. There is nothing stopping him from declaring where he stands on the matter of homosexual behavior in the context of Scripture. There is nothing stopping him from making it clear what he thinks should happen to the Episcopal Church for its actions in so conclusively rejecting the wishes of the rest of the communion. It doesn’t matter that there is no official mechanism by which a province may be disciplined or ejected; Williams is free to let us know where he stands on all of these matters, from the larger questions of Christian sexual morality to the smaller ones of the mechanisms by which order might be kept.
His failure to make these clear statements - over a period of years and more incidents than any of us care to recount - indicates either that he lacks the courage, or he in fact has no opinion, and I’m not sure which one is worse.
But on we go, waiting to see what he says next, and whatever it is, being secure in the knowledge that we’ll be able to add it to the long list of punch lines to this interminable joke.
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