Archbishop Rowan: a prophet after the event

There is irony in the way that Ruth Gledhill praises Archbishop Rowan Williams:

Repent, or be doomed, is the Jeremiah-style message of the Archbishop of Canterbury over our financial excesses. … Our Archbishop is at last fulfilling his prophetic potential.

But is this truly prophetic? Rowan may look the part of the Old Testament prophet, but is he really speaking from God? Ruth also reports:

We were ‘intimidated by expertise’, Dr Rowan Williams said when asked by Jeremy Paxman [in a BBC interview] why the Church of England had not spoken out earlier on how finance appeared to be operating, and what it seemed to be generating in terms of wealth rather than community.

But the Old Testament prophets were never intimidated by anything. This is not a “Jeremiah-style message”, but only the pale echo of one. The Archbishop has at last found the courage to speak out a year after the events of last autumn. But, as I reported last October, the true prophets were fearlessly proclaiming what God had to say about those events before they even happened. Prediction is not the essence of true prophecy, but nor is comment after the event.

As Ruth writes in her Times Online article,

Dr Rowan Williams … has consistently taken a left-of-centre line on economic issues …

Indeed. His new criticisms of our financial excesses are not so much prophetic as another example of the Church of England timidly following trendy politicians. Now I agree that in this case those politicians and Rowan are right in most of their criticisms. But that is not because God has given me a prophetic message about it, but because my God-given sense of justice confirms it to me.

If the Archbishop cannot find any truly prophetic messages for the country about political and financial matters, he should stick to speaking about the Christian faith and the church.

0 thoughts on “Archbishop Rowan: a prophet after the event

  1. I have no problem with church leaders speaking up on injustice, but sometimes, it seems like they want to be prophetic in areas of politics and economics when it’s clearly not their expertise. It makes me wonder if they’re politically motivated.

  2. Kevin, I agree with you. In this case Archbishop Rowan was just copying what political activists and even our Prime Minister had already been saying. I can’t help wondering if he didn’t dare to speak out until it was entirely politically safe to do so. Not at all like Jeremiah.

  3. Hi,
    I’m not sure why Ruth Gledhill reaches for the Jeremiah style description. To me the interview represented the Archbishop’s reflections and thoughts. I would tend to agree with him. Would the Archbishop have input into what ruth has written? If not are we heading towards a position where we say the Archbishop is no prophet when he himself hasn’t alluded to being one. To me he may have reflected on the issues but in my mind he would need to unpack the word repentence so that he could give clearer direction to point towards God.

  4. Mick, that’s a good point. Rowan probably wouldn’t have described himself as a prophet, although I don’t suppose he will renounce the attribution either. I suppose my issue is with what Ruth wrote, and with Rowan copying popular politics, throwing in a few religious words like “repentance”, and allowing this to be passed off as Christian proclamation.

  5. Jeremiah-STYLE — not Jeremiah-LIKE — is the way Ruth put it, and probably as the only prophet reference she could quickly come up with regarding “repent or be doomed.” Generic referencing all the way.

    But perhaps Jeremiah-like would not be inconceivable, if one thinks of the ABoC’s year-late comments as being akin to finding oneself stuck in a pit trying to crawl out.

    : )

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