Rowan Williams to leave “impossible” job

Rowan WilliamsI don’t intend to write much about the departure of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. As some of my readers will remember, I have in the past (in fact in 2007) called for his resignation. I am not now rejoicing that he is going, but I do think he has made the right decision, and that it might have been better for him to resign earlier. However, I will resist the temptation to give this post a title like “Better late than never”.

I am glad that the Church Mouse has broken his silence to post Farewell Rowan, tempted by a tweet from myself and no doubt by many other encouragements. But Mouse’s post is very positive about Rowan. Much of this is justified, as indeed

his time as Archbishop has been an impossible one.

He has at least managed to avoid open schism in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion. But, to provide a balance to the hagiography, I added my own comment, which I am copying here, for wider circulation and for the record:

Thank you for breaking your silence on this matter. But I don’t see the need to extend the convention of not speaking ill of the dead to those who have merely announced their resignation. In many ways Rowan has been an excellent Archbishop. But I still think he failed to show the kind of pro-active leadership which was needed, especially around the 2008 Lambeth Conference. True, he had an impossible task, but I think a stronger leader would have brought about a better outcome.

So can a new man keep the Anglican Communion together and begin to heal the huge fault lines within it? If anyone can, I would think it is John Sentamu – not least because he is the only tipped candidate who is not white British. Or will the new man preside over the Communion’s formal dissolution? If so, I suspect that Rowan will go down in history as the archbishop who allowed it to happen.

16 thoughts on “Rowan Williams to leave “impossible” job

  1. Perhaps the main priority for the next ABC is to bring about a schism….

    A unity that is false is no unity at all.

    ( 1Cor 11:17–19)

    PS Your blogging has been very sparse of late Peter. Where you’d been?

  2. Well, Iconoclast, I see your point. Yes, very likely there is some dead wood which needs to be pruned away. Personally I wouldn’t be sorry if the Episcopal Church decided to go its own way. But the kind of phony unity which Rowan has left us with, with cracks barely papered over, is worse than both real unity and real schism.

    I have been very busy, with news that I hope to be able to announce soon. But also to some extent I have lost the heart for blogging. Not sure at the moment if I will get it back again. At least the Church Mouse returned the favour by encouraging me to post this one.

  3. Peter,

    I would urge you not to give up blogging. Your blog is one of the few sites where translational issues of the scripture are discussed in an accessible way for non-specialists. I personally have been enlightened by many interesting debates here.

    I am sure that many other readers of your blog would agree with me.

  4. I’m with Iconoclast…don’t give up on blogging! I don’t comment as often as I probably should, but I am a very dedicated reader, who especially appreciates your insights into translations issues.

  5. Hi Peter (for the avoidance of doubt, I was the one who posted some critical remarks about your comment at Mouse’s blog under a pseudonym – oddly, I can’t post there under my own name at the moment, so I’m using my old google account).

    I read your comments with interest – but I’m afraid I can’t agree with your premise. I have an enormous regard for Sentamu. He’s brave, clever, obviously a man of immense compassion and works incredibly hard. He is also, however, completely tactless and prone to empty gestures (dog collars and tents, anyone?) and bursts of belligerence. One of the reasons he has been the perfect Archbishop of York under Rowan was that he could say the things the latter could not, or dared not, say. However, as Archbishop of Canterbury he would have to moderate his behaviour. This would I think would be a real loss to the ministry, even though I don’t necessarily always agree with what he says. Moreover, it would be a terrible thing for him personally to deal with given that his outspokenness defines who he is. If he doesn’t, the church might well break up in total disorder in twelve months. I simply do not think that he is the right man to be Archbishop of Canterbury. If he’s appointed, I wish him well and hope to be proved wrong. But as I said, I would be surprised.

    That said, iconoclast may well be completely right and it would be better to force the issues than continue to have them festering like this (particularly on women bishops – homosexuality for some reason that eludes my comprehension engages the media, but I’ve never seen evidence that it’s particularly important to the laity of the church). However, that’s clearly not how Rowan saw it, and it is an astonishing achievement – bluntly, in 2002 I would willingly have sworn it was an impossible achievement – that he somehow kept it all together, and even oversaw a halt in the decline in membership. And I don’t think he did it for his own ego – he did it because he saw the church as a force for good, a service to the nation and its communities, and above all a force for spreading the gospel.

    Hope that’s of interest

    Best wishes


  6. Rhea, thank you.

    Huw, thank you too. The last thing I would accuse Rowan of is doing anything for his ego. But I fear that his non-confrontational approach has succeeded only in papering over gaping chasms (sorry, I’m repeating myself now). If the underlying divisions are to be dealt with it needs someone more outspoken, prepared to call a spade a spade.

    Yes, I can see that Sentamu might alienate some, especially in the Episcopal Church. But he would help to bring others together. I suspect that it would ultimately be down to the Episcopals: do they want to stay in a Communion dominated by conservative Africans, or would they prefer to make their own way?

  7. A friend of mine who’s the Rector of a small Anglican Church likes “Snazzy Nazy” Nazir, former Bishop from Pakistan. Is he in the running for Archbishop of C.? Bp. Sentamu is a bit too political for me. He seems to like the “praise of men” too much. Recently he was feted by the apostate Churchmen (people?) of the “liberal” University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, USA. He seemed to enjoy all the praise and adulation from those with a record of opposing the Gospel at “THE” Episcopal Seminary (marketing slogan of school).
    Also, regarding Bible translations,are you familiar with the work of the Trinitarian Bible Society? I understand that they are doing work on a number of new Bibles in other tongues.

  8. C/Cradle Anglican (you seem to be the same person), thank you for your comments. The only accompanying image I see is your avatar, the head of a probably Roman statue. Is that the one you meant?

    I would be very surprised if Michael Nazir-Ali is in the running now. He is not really too old, at 62, the same age as Sentamu. But he made himself very unpopular in official C of E circles, for opposing the 2008 Lambeth Conference among other things. See this 2008 newspaper article for what some insiders thought about him. Then, while his resignation from Rochester didn’t formally rule him out, it certainly didn’t help.

    As for Sentamu, what the Anglican Communion as an institution needs at this time is someone political, someone who can make friends with the liberal Episcopalians as well as with the conservative African Anglicans. From that viewpoint it is actually encouraging news that he was so well received in Tennessee.

    If, however, you believe it would be for the best to divide or destroy the Anglican Communion, for “apostate” liberals to leave it and for only those who supported GAFCON to stay, of course you would support a different choice of Archbishop. But you would be working from a job description completely opposite to the real one.

    I am familiar with the Trinitarian Bible Society only for their position that the deliberate forgery in their Greek text of 1 John 5:7-8 must be considered a genuine part of the Bible. I see they are working on translations into some languages which already have the Scriptures. Of course there may always be good reasons for making such translations, but to incorporate spurious passages is not a good reason. The Society would do better to put its resources into translations for people who do not already have access to them.

  9. Hi Peter, I too would be sorry to see you take a long break as you provide a sensible, refreshing slant on issues. Also, greatly appreciated your gentle wisdom when launching my own musings. Blogging can be addictive and time-consuming but we need to be its master and not slave. So I keep to a long weekend of cyber silence, as before, spending quality time with Nina.

  10. Thanks for your kind reply to my earlier message. I disagree with you regarding the Anglican Communion needing a political A.B.C. who can compromise with those who claim the name of Christ, but yet deny His Gospel. Instead, the Church needs someone who is more “prophetic” (like the Apostles were in the 1st Century) and who will draw a clear distinction between truth and error (heresy). I recently heard the Bishop of London on Anglican TV speaking at the “Mere Anglicanism” conference ( ). Richard Chartres might be a good choice for Archbishop. As for the Ugandan Bishop, he might do more good if he returned to his native country and attempted to evangelise the African Continent. He would probably be more effective in reaching his own people than European missionaries. But many of those from the Third World (“developing”) prefer the creature comforts and benefits of living in Europe, the West or the Commonwealth countries (AU, CAN, US, UK, etc). As to your dismissive comments regarding the Divine inspiration of Holy Scripture, I would recommend to you John Stott’s book on the subject as well as the booklet (available free online at ) entitled “Why I John 5:7-9 is in the Bible”. This article might interest you also:
    Best wishes to you and your Christian ministry.
    Rev. 22:14

  11. Cradle Anglican, what the Anglican Communion needs, to survive as an institution, may not be the same as what God wants for it. You seem to believe that God wants it to break apart. On that logic you should indeed call for someone like Nazir-Ali, who would so polarise the Communion as to ensure its dissolution. Or perhaps they should choose Gene Robinson, whose selection would probably lead to your goals even more quickly.

    Uganda, and most of Africa, has far more Christians than England. I find your suggestion that Sentamu should return there offensive and borderline racist. He originally came to England for the “creature comforts” of not being unjustly jailed by Idi Amin.

    I have made no “dismissive comments regarding the Divine inspiration of Holy Scripture”. However, I do not believe in the Divine inspiration of corruptions of Scripture introduced by mediaeval monks, people who you would probably consider “apostate”.

  12. I rather like Bp. Sentamu compared to most of the other candidates for the position of A.B.C.. Here’s a related article that may interest you and your readers:
    The main point is: does a Bishop of the C of E have to be more “politically correct” than “spiritually correct” (i.e. – “regenerate” by the Holy Spirit and faithful to the faith and doctrine of the Holy Scriptures and the tradition of the Church)? Whose Kingdom does he serve, that of man and the State or that of God?

  13. Cradle Anglican, the problem is that the Church of England, by its very constitution, serves both the State and God. As Jesus said, that is impossible, which is why the ABC job is an impossible one. But I think Sentamu could do both. And I’m not as convinced as the Mail that the liberals have the upper hand on this decision, although doubtless there will be some hard battles behind the scenes.

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