Archbishop doesn't like the political bits

Ruth Gledhill has a short post whose significance is in its title rather than its content: Rowan: ‘I like my job – except the political bits.’ For the evidence for this title she links to her article today in The Times, about how the Archbishop of Canterbury was interviewed by three teenagers for a youth magazine. She reports that

he enjoys his job – “at least the non-political side of things.” This is because he is passionate about the environment and likes meeting people.

But I was encouraged by these words of Archbishop Williams, in the same interview:

I have no problem with gay clergy who aren’t in relationships, although there are savage arguments about the issue you might have heard about. Our jobs mean we have to adhere to the Bible, gay clergy who don’t act upon their sexual preferences do, clergy in practicing [sic, even in The Times] homosexual relationships don’t. This major question doesn’t have a quick fix solution and I imagine will be debated for many years to come.

Well said, Your Grace. But if that is really what you believe, why don’t you take a stronger line in upholding these standards? Why do you allow your staff to put out contradictory statements about your attitude to the recent activities of the Province of the Southern Cone? Why do you allow yourself to be manipulated by those bishops of the Anglican Communion who reject the whole idea that clergy “have to adhere to the Bible”? Why did you lead a eucharist for clergy who are not adhering to it? Why do you allow your own diocesan bishops to be patrons of an organisation campaigning against adhering to it?

Could this be because you not only don’t like “the political bits” of your job but are neglecting them, or do not have what it takes for this great challenge? Like it or not, the main job of an Archbishop of Canterbury is political. It is not just a matter of meeting people and caring for the environment. It is walking a political tightrope, to try to keep the Anglican Communion together in a time of great crisis.

If you don’t like this job and are not capable of doing it well, Your Grace, you should resign. Perhaps you could accept instead a relatively quiet bishopric where you can be “just very sweet and cuddly”, as Ruth Gledhill puts it, and enjoy meeting people, and the political bits will be like something out of Trollope (Anthony, or perhaps Joanna) rather than what you are currently struggling with.

Then we can appoint instead an Archbishop who does like political bits, and is not afraid to be seen to take a decisive lead. A good candidate might be John Sentamu, the Ugandan Archbishop of York, who certainly seems to enjoy courting political controversy, although I wonder if they would enthrone him in Canterbury if he is still refusing to wear a dog collar. Here is a man who should be able to unite the Anglican communion if anyone can.

I was interested to read here that

Rowan Williams is unable to drive.

But in 2002 he was put in the driving seat of the Anglican Communion. And since then the Communion seems to have been accelerating out of control towards a cliff edge. At a time like this an expert driver is needed.

37 thoughts on “Archbishop doesn't like the political bits

  1. But Peter there is no way to unite those who believe the Bible and those who choose to ignore it.

    As I have already said elsewhere on this blog, the sooner the split happens and is excepted the healthier things will be.

    Well, until the next attempt to accommodate the whims of the culture over the Bible.

  2. there is no way to unite those who believe the Bible and those who choose to ignore it

    Glenn, this should be true. But it just might be possible to persuade those who ignore the Bible to accept enough of it that they can remain in some kind of unity with those who do believe it. Some people consider that to be a worthwhile goal, but it is not a goal which Rowan Williams can achieve. Those who do not consider the goal worthwhile have probably left the Anglican church long ago.

    But I must say I am beginning to agree with you. Paul had something to say about false teaching spreading like gangrene, 2 Timothy 2:17. The only way to heal a body with a gangrenous limb is amputation. Maybe it has come to that already. Williams does not have the strength of character to perform such an amputation, all he will do is apply ineffective medicines too little too late. If amputation is necessary a new man or woman is needed for the job. (Well, it cannot legally be a woman yet.) Sentamu just might be the man to do it.

  3. it’s not about ignoring the bible. it’s about not accepting the bible as authoritative fiat regarding issues that could be reasoned out, like homosexual behaviors and lifestyles. i don’t accept the bible as authoritative about this issue, but i certainly don’t ignore the bible. regarding ‘risk assessment reasoning’ vs. ‘scriptural authoritative fiat,’ i’ve written here:
    same risk assessment skills as apply to unprotected sex, apply to homosexual behavior/lifestyle.
    or to any other of life’s perils or opportunities.



  4. Scott, you may not accept the Bible as authoritative, but Rowan Williams says that he does, at least for the lives of clergy:

    Our jobs mean we have to adhere to the Bible

    So the issue for him is different from the issue for you. Or else he is simply being inconsistent.

    The anti-spam word for this comment is “Ichabod”. Perhaps an appropriate message for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion under its current leadership.

  5. peter–

    i think you are right–the issue for him (and presumably for yourself?) is different from the issue for me.

    but when the authoritative adherence to the bible leads to immoral behavior and unethical outcome, it is time to begin the discussion about what authority we are willing to let scripture dictate to us. i really do think it is this question of using scripture authoritatively with immoral and unethical results that is the elephant in the room no one is talking about.



    p.s. the anti-spam word for this comment is ‘ahuzzam.’ what the hell is it?

  6. Scott, for Christians (at least, evangelicals and also apparently Rowan Williams) what is taught in the Bible is moral and ethical by definition, so you will never be able to convince us that ever “the authoritative adherence to the bible leads to immoral behavior and unethical outcome”. You might be able to argue that the Bible doesn’t actually teach what we thought it did, but that is another matter.

    Ahuzzam is the son of Ashhur and Naarah in 1 Chronicles 4:6. All my anti-spam words are biblical proper names (as in RSV, because that is the list I had).

  7. peter–

    well, you got me there. to define the bible moral and ethical by definition doesn’t leave much room for discussion or negotiation, does it? it is this dogmatic view which drives humanists (both theo-centric and anthropo-centric) to dismay and despair. as long as the moral and ethical paradigm you support: 1) is voluntary as to compliance by members of the parishes/institutions who hold to this view; and 2) you don’t insist that ‘non-believers’ adhere to your moral and ethical paradigm at all; i guess it’ll have to do. but what a pity that the dogmatic absoluteness of such a position completely shuts down any sincere dialogue–other than as a vehicle for conversion.



  8. Well, Scott, what is the basis of your ethics? Why do you think it wrong to kill, or to steal, assuming that you do? If you appeal to the Ten Commandments, then you are appealing to the Bible, just selectively. If you say something like “it feels right”, then what do you say to the person who says that it feels right to them to kill or steal?

    I make no attempt to enforce biblical ethics on non-believers. Society attempts to enforce some basic rules which affect inter-personal relationships, but again selectively, and I don’t oppose that within reason. I do not believe that (for example) homosexual acts between consenting adults should be illegal according to civil law. I do believe that they are immoral and those who commit them will be answerable to God. But that is a matter between them and God.

  9. peter–

    much of the basis of my ethics is from christian scripture. these scriptures are a formative legacy for my world view. but as you say, i’ve become selective. that’s where reason, risk assessment, discussion and negotiation with others, examination of social, economic, political (command and control) models come in. i come from christian scripture first (my upbringing) to reason, risk assessment, etc next (also my upbringing, and my experience) and i’m now back to scripture again (my blog). i am constantly questioning arguments on both sides of the theist/atheist fence, and it is through honest discernment that ethical and moral growth happen. dogmatic adherence to scripture as ‘truth,’ or as the definition of moral and ethical, and never to doubt or wrestle with or discern this basic non-negotiable dogma, is to end ethical and moral growth.

    and in my world view, the end of growth and change is death.

  10. The problem is that not everyone is agreed on what the scriptures teach.

    As we’ve said here before, three hundred years ago most Christians thought that the scriptures taught that slavery was acceptable. And fifty years ago most Christians thought the scriptures taught that women could not be priests (C.S. Lewis argued for that position, in a rather odd piece which began with a quote from ‘Pride and Prejudice’!).

    Today some gay Christians dismiss the bible entirely. But others don’t. They read what Paul writes in Romans 1 about men abandoning natural relations with women and lusting after each other and they think ‘That doesn’t describe me – I never did have natural relations with someone of the opposite sex’. They read Paul to be talking about voluntary homosexual promiscuity, not the desire for a gay couple to live faithfully with each other.

    I may disagree with their interpretation, but I’m not going to accuse them of ignoring the Bible. The ones I know take it very seriously indeed, and wrestle with it a lot.

  11. Regarding the original blogpost. I think it’s easy to criticise when one is absolutely certain that gay-supporting clergy are to be thrown out of the communion and the rest of us who support gay unions.

    I suppose that if you know your view is true, you can accuse the Archbishop of being wishy-washy and a terrible leader.

    However, Williams came into office as a theologian who supported gay unions. From that position, he promised to try to be fair to both sides.

    The man was given a job that is totally and utterly impossible. I think he’s shown an awful lot of stamina and courage given the vitriol that he has to endure on an ongoing basis.

  12. Tim, the interpretation of the Bible you mention my be a possible one, but it is clearly not the one Rowan had in mind when he said that “clergy in practicing homosexual relationships don’t [adhere to the Bible]”.

    Pam, my Archbishop has made it clear that homosexual clergy are not doing what they have to do. But he doesn’t act on his convictions, which I share. Well, I can see that he is trying to be fair to both sides, I can’t complain at that, but he is not succeeding. I will not disagree that it is an impossible job that he was given, or has taken on, to try to keep both sides happy. Perhaps the only thing which can be done is to negotiate a not too painful breakup of the Communion. But, unless a lot is going on in secret behind the scenes, Rowan is not trying to do this. It looks like he is merrily going ahead as if this is a small matter which will blow over.

  13. Just in case anyone wonders if Ruth Gledhill is not a reliable source for this interview, the whole text (including the typo “practicing”) is available on the Archbishop’s own website.

  14. It looks like he is merrily going ahead as if this is a small matter which will blow over.

    Oh yes. This has been a contentious issue since before he was appointed Archbishop.

    His appointment was oppposed by conservatives and conservatives and liberals threatened to throw their toys out of the pram if they each didn’t get their own way.

    It’s the major point of policy that he’s had to deal with since his appointment.

    But I’m sure you’re right and that Williams has no idea how important this issue is to the communion. I’m sure he’s blissfully ignorant that there is anything contentious about this at all. He’s given every appearance of doing nothing and simply tending his garden.

    In case it needs saying, the above is highly facetious.

  15. Sorry, I thought that was ‘Thinking Anglicans’.

    Hardly surprising that Anglican Mainstream are opposing him. They have been in the forefront of opposing him since before his appointment as Archbishop. They have always taken the view that they are right on homosexuality and that ‘agreeing to disagree’ is not and never was possible. What’s new?

  16. Sorry for a third post. I presume you know that ‘Anglican Mainstream’ represents the ‘Sydney / Oak Hill / Take the 39-Article Literally’ school of Anglicanism? It was founded with anti-homosexuality and PSA-only as two of its major sibboleths. Many of its members oppose women in teaching and preaching positions? It’s anything but ‘mainstream’.

  17. Pam, I am not entirely taken by Anglican Mainstream. I don’t agree with them on everything. I just noted one matter on which we are agreed. I wouldn’t be surprised if Changing Attitude also agrees on this one.

    But I don’t think you are being fair to Anglican Mainstream. I note that they describe themselves as “Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, Charismatic, Mainstream“. A glance at their “Who We Are” page shows that they are much broader than the Oak Hill and Reform school of Anglicanism, although people of that kind of persuasion play rather too great a role for my liking.

  18. Peter, it’s fine if you don’t agree with me about ‘Anglican Mainstream’. I was on a Christian discussion group one of the founders and they were gunning for Williams before he was even appointed Archbishop. Their whole sthick is about ‘We conservative Reformed types are the real Anglicans, the real Reformed and the real Catholics.’

    Sure, they are entitled to their opinion, but quoting them as thinking Williams is unfit for the job is like quoting Changing Attitude as thinking that gay priests should be acceptable in the church. What else is new? It’s not like quoting someone unbiased or heretofore one of his supporters. They’ve wanted him out since before he had the job!

  19. They’ve wanted him out since before he had the job!

    Did “they” even exist before he had the job? OK, one of their founders wanted him out since before he had the job. Maybe the others had similar opinions. After all it was predictable even at that stage that he would not be able to do what you also have called an impossible task. But why are you having a go at me for expressing my opinions just because those opinions are widely and long held? Does everything I say have to be completely original?

  20. Peter, I’m fairly certain that Anglican Mainstream did exist before Rowan Williams became ABP, yes.

    I don’t know what do you want? You keep posting fairly personal remarks about Williams. It’s one thing to disagree with his views. It’s quite another to pronounce that he’s unfit for his job.

    How do you see it? That you keep posting that Williams is unfit for his job and that anyone who disagrees with you just doesn’t post anything? Do you want only remarks along the lines of ‘Yay! We think he’s unfit and incapable too!’???

  21. Pam, I am quite happy for you to comment. I am just a bit frustrated that you keep trying to tell me that I should not express my opinion of Rowan. Your comments are beginning to sound like a broken record. This is my blog, after all, and I can say what I like, within certain legal limits. What I have said about Rowan is well within those limits. I don’t understand why you keep defending him.

  22. I don’t understand why you keep defending him.

    I’m defending the idea that making ad hominem attacks on the character and leadership ability of individuals one has never met has no intellectual integrity.

    I’m defending the idea that people of intellectual integrity disagree all they want with the ideas of individuals with whom they disagree but they don’t make pronouncements to the effect that those individuals are ontologically unfit for the job.

    Your character-attack posts on Williams and Gene Robinson are worse than anything any complimentarian has to say about women.

    Yes, of course, you have the right to make these character attacks on your blog. I’ll just f*** off then.

  23. My last post. ‘Why it matters’ is because I have no reason to believe that the next time you disagree with me on something you feel passionate about that you won’t call into question my morality, intellectual or psychological fitness or whatever. People of integrity don’t act this way and I simply thought you were a person of integrity.

  24. Pam, why are you so angry about this? What raw nerve have I hit? Have people been attacking your character and calling on you to resign?

    I have not attacked anyone’s character or made ad hominem attacks. I have not questioned the “morality, intellectual or psychological fitness” of Rowan Williams. I have a very high opinion of Rowan’s character and intellectual abilities, and no reason to question his psychological state. I just think he is not the right man for the very difficult job he has. Is it really immoral and lacking integrity for me to say that?

  25. Peter, I think if you read PamBG’s comment from the 13th Dec you will find that it is possibly the ‘anti-gay’ aspects of this that is causing her to flare up.

  26. Thanks, Tim. I think the Church Times text is the same, except for the preamble, as the one I already linked to (and read) on the Archbishop’s own site. This is an interesting interview and makes Rowan seem like an excellent person, as I have no doubt that he is.

    Unfortunately, and this is something which the Church of England needs to learn in more places than just in appointing archbishops, it takes more than a good character and good academic ability to be a good manager in a complex situation like the Anglican Communion, or for that matter an individual church.

  27. I asked if anyone had actually read the whole thing. because so far it seems to me that the discussion has been fixated on one particular bit of the interview.

  28. Well, Tim, I have read it, but I didn’t find anything else particularly worth discussing. Did you? Actually the discussion is of more than one part, my two quotes are from different parts of it, both highlighted by Ruth Gledhill.

  29. I was struck by how Rowan’s personality seemed to impress the three teenagers. I was impressed by his concern for the pregnant girl, how he told her when she left to ‘keep the two of them well’ and so on. I think sometimes we look for secular leadership skills in the church, because we want someone to be the CEO of the corporation, who will do the hiring and the firing and keep the whole show efficient and decide who’s in and who’s out. Obviously Rowan is uncomfortable with that role. I have always thought of him as a scholar, but he obviously came across to these three teenagers as a genuine, caring human being – a pastor, in fact. I find that admirable.

    Undoubtedly he has weaknesses. One of the members of my own parish, who differs from me quite a bit theologically, once said to me, ‘Every priest is a bundle of strengths and weaknesses, and parishes have to find ways of rejoicing with the strengths and compensating for the weaknesses’. I think it’s tragic that the current obsession with homosexuality in the Anglican communion has hijacked Rowan’s term at Canterbury and prevented him from exercising the very real gifts he seems to have in many other areas – for instance, his criticism of the ‘establishment’ of the Church of England, his prophetic voice on social issues, and (what this interview brings out) his genuine caring touch. My own former bishop Victoria, who knows him well, described him to me as a man of prayer and of deep personal holiness. I thank God for that.

  30. Thank you, Tim. I too appreciate Rowan for being a good pastor as well as “a man of prayer and of deep personal holiness”. I just think he needs something more than that to lead the Anglican Communion. I am not looking for a worldly CEO type. Indeed I am not sure what I am looking for, but something seems to be missing.

  31. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Packer calls on Williams to resign

  32. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom» Blog Archive » N.T. Wright to retire? Not really

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image