December 10, 2007

The Entrails of Primates

It appears my reading of the situation, outlined a few weeks back in House of Cards, was correct. According to a note from Deacon Rosenthal of the Anglican Communion Office, the Archbishop of Canterbury

has not in any way endorsed the actions of the Primate of the Southern Cone, Bishop Gregory Venables, in his welcoming of dioceses, such as San Joaquin in the Episcopal Church, to become part of his province in South America.

Now, this announcement would have been helpful last Friday, in time perhaps to hose down the restive Fresnonians with a cold draught of temperance and restraint. Why was this word of caution not issued sooner?

Might I offer another insight concerning Archbishop Rowan Williams in light of this? I don't think he wants to be a leader. (Quiet, please, in the back row; I'm serious.) I mean that he sees his role as a monitor, a guardian of unity but not its enforcer, one who wants people really to do what they think best and then to offer his assessment afterwards. Perhaps this is a form of leadership; though it reminds me of the old game of Hot and Cold we played as children, and seems a needlessly time-wasting way to lead.

What is paradoxical in all this is that Rowan, apparently (and explicitly) not wanting to impose his own views, by playing his cards so close to the chest they become subcutaneous, has engineered a situation in which people hang upon his every arched eyebrow. I mean that quite literally; at the Chicago Consultation one of the English participants mentioned how often people will say things like, "I said such-and-such to Rowan last week and he winked and nodded." This is communication by innuendo, in which Rowan has become like one of those elfin fairy-tale characters (well, he is Welsh, after all) given to winks, nods, and cryptic gnomicisms.

The irony is this: I don't honestly think Rowan wants the power; that much is true. But his efforts to repulse the "greatness thrust upon him" have produced a strange kind of power, not unlike that held by certain imperial persons of history, followed about by a suite of stenographers taking down passing comments, and passing those comments to the wider world, in which they take on lives of their own, including one instance that led to the assassination of one of Rowan's predecessors.

My advice to Rowan, if he wants it, is to set aside the Delphic mode for the Socratic, at the very least. If he wants to remain on the sideline as an umpire rather than as the quarterback, let him adopt the voice of one who issues challenging questions rather than proffering quizzical hints. Apart from that, all I can see on the horizon is the old way of augury, in which wise men sacrificed animals to various gods, then examined their entrails for portents and signs. In this case, it will be the retrospective analysis of Rowan's career, after he has retired from the scene, which may at last show the true trajectory of his intents.

Tobias Haller BSG


June Butler said...

Tobias, your post makes as much sense as any attempt I've seen to work out just what Abp. Rowan is up to. The thing is, he seems oblivious of the confusion that he leaves in his wake.

Once the umbrage has reached its limit and the departures have been made, what will his assessment of the condition of the Anglican Communion be? Or will he not give an assessment until after he leaves the chair of Canterbury? Perhaps, then he'll write a book examining the entrails.

His way of "leadership", whatever it is, seems so very wrong to me. Even his statement of non-endorsement of Bishop Venables welcome to the departing dioceses to the Southern Cone is so weak, that it leaves many of us wondering what he really means to say.

Mark Harris said...

bravo! Stunningly good stuff. Thanks for the guts.

johnieb said...

This is a wonder, and marvelous to behold!

Thank you, Tobias; your writing (in word and music) has been refreshing and insightful, which I count upon. I must pay your place a visit.

Anonymous said...

It still leaves the question we he does he does not appear to have any trusted and competent advisors.

Erika Baker

Country Parson said...

Patience Tobias, patience. The matter is still in its early stages of formation. Rowan may yet know what he is doing while keeping private counsel about it. Indirection is not always a bad strategy especially if you are waiting to hear what God might be about to say.

Lapinbizarre said...

Excellent. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The Archbishop's problem, as I see it, has to do with his internal conflict between conscience/theology and pragmatics. +Rowan is very good on conscience/theology and bad on pragmatics, but he has chosen to go with the lame pragmatics, leaving the powerful conscience/theology out in the rain.

He chose to do the thing he is NOT good at and to by-pass the thing(s) he IS good at. He's like a one-legged man with a brilliant mind choosing marathon running over academics.

It is really pitiful to see the sheer waste of his splendid potential and the pitiful failure of his chosen inadequacy.

How could things be any worse if he were just to be true to himself and let the chips fall where they may?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I think part of the problem is that he honestly doesn't think the ABC should have power, far less use it. I think he was embarrassed by the power play by Carey that helped get Lambeth 1.10 through, and he doesn't want to play that game. He favors disestablishment, remember. So it seems to me a big part of this is his ideological conviction that he should not tell people what to do -- that it is not his place to "forbid." So the chips keep falling where they will lie until someone sweeps them up...

Lauralew said...

The problem usually seen with weak leadership, whether actual or perceived, is that informal leadership will arise to take its place. There will be a leader, if not the ABC then someone else. I think you nailed it, Tobias. This is a good part of the reason all the garbage is going on at present.

Ann said...

The ABC reveals all in an interview with Oi.

Ormonde Plater said...

If he wants to remain on the sideline as an umpire rather than as the quarterback

For Rowan, I think the appropriate metaphor would be: "If he wants to trail play as the referee rather than as the striker..."

JimB said...

An interesting analysis. I am convinced he does not want power, does not choose to lead. Unfortunately for him, he is going to have to make some more decisions soon. Dose Mr. Schofield still have a seat in Lambeth? What of ABp. Venables whose violence to the "Windsor process" is extreme. He alone can answer.


susan s. said...

Thanks Tobias, but I have a couple of observations...

"If he wants to remain on the sideline as an umpire rather than as the quarterback.", Tobias

"For Rowan, I think the appropriate metaphor would be: "If he wants to trail play as the referee rather than as the striker...", Ormonde

Perhaps this is a little juvenile, but I think that neither name applies...referees and umpires both hand out penalties. Can you see Rowan penalizing by moving the team 15 yards back from the line of scrimmage, or throwing someone(usually a disgruntled batter or even perhaps the team manager?
out of the game?

So far, not so.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Actually Susan S., I think Rowan has put a few folks in the penalty box: +Gene and +Martyn at least; and he has hinted that further Lambeth invitations might be withdrawn (the only real penalty at his disposal). His ultimate penalty, together with ++York, is excision from communion with the C of E. I think that an unlikely move; though they might conceivably declare such in reaction to an outright rejection of a Canterbury-based Anglicanism on any side. This does not seem unlikely, at present, from certain quarters...

susan s. said...

Thanks, Tobias. I was thinking of what he will do as opposed to what he has done, I guess.
Now that you point out +Martyn(I can hardly bring myself to put that + in front of his name) and +Gene, I see that as a sort of tit for tat move. But beyond that I am inclined to agree with Mimi on his actions re the rest of it.

Obviously(or not), he does a lot of thinking out loud, which folks use as his 'pronouncement' on a subject, especially as it applies to GS and SC behavior when it suits. Saying something "could be" a way doesn't necessarily mean he gives his approval. But how are we to really know what he means?

The AoM said...

Entrails indeed. Thank you for a fine comment.

Grace and peace in the name of the Lord.


Matt Gunter said...


I think these are good and sober observations. And I agree with your follow-up comments. I still count myself among the "Rowanians" but do also wish he would take on the more Socratic role of raising challenges (of which I believe there are plenty to go around). He does seem to have done a bit of the in New Orleans.

But, I think you have identified the bind he is in. He is wary of the power and any exercise of it that would incline toward turning the ABC into a de facto Anglican pope.

I do find it ironic that many
"progressives" who not long ago were warning against creeping magisterium and papacy now often sound like they would like nothing more than il papa Rowan to settle things (as long as he settles them in their favor). "Conservatives" of course are demanding the same.

Still, I agree with you that the "Delphic" model seems not to be working.