December 10, 2008

How they got here

I see from a news report that the Anglican Communion Network (h/t Thinking Anglicans) is prepared to pass a sputtering torch to the new, emerging “Anglican” “Province” in North America. (I may run out of scare quotes before this is all over.) The Network confesses that it has failed in its purpose to recall the Episcopal Church to its standards of orthodoxy, and even goes so far as to suggest that this purpose is beyond achievement. Thus the torch they are passing to ACNA is not only sputtering but extinguished.

This reminder of the Network’s failed purpose helps to bring into focus one of the major problems with the present mess into which the Anglican Communion has descended. Though I acknowledge the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada played their part in providing grist for a particular mill, still, the decision to drive that mill at a pace which has caused the whole mechanism to fall apart seems to lie with the Network and its allies — and their almost complete misunderstanding of what they had been advised to do or not to do by Archbishop Rowan Williams.

At this point they already said that Rowan Williams counts for little — he has not backed them up in what they have wanted to do. But it is worse than that. It may be that he did not understand them, but surely they did not understand him, nor did they follow through on doing what he asked them to do. I have not been alone in noting the nuanced and sometimes impenetrable language Rowan Williams uses, but the more I listen to him and the more carefully I listen the more consistent and thoughtful he appears to be. Perhaps, like Mark Twain, we are all learning that while our father in God seemed, in our youth, to be incredibly dense, we have discovered that the older we grew the wiser he has become.

The main thing people misunderstand about Rowan Williams — on both sides of the aisle — is that he is resolutely committed to working things out through the existing mechanisms of the organization. He is what some might call an institutionalist. Hence his initial displeasure with the Episcopal Church — holding as he does to the notion that Lambeth 1.10 represents the mind of the Communion, even if his own opinions tend another way (and I think they still do, by the way, contrary to what I think are other misreadings of some of his statements — but this just goes to show the depth of his commitment to proper process.) We might note as well his continued pressing for some kind of covenant, some rules in a book instead of facts on the ground. Everything Rowan Williams says has to be understood with this hermeneutical key: people should follow the rules. Perhaps he is a Benedictine at heart?

It is by failing to grasp this fundamental Rowanite principle that the Global South and its North American supporters/ambassadors have come to their present situation, on the verge of walking apart from the Canterbury-centered Anglican Communion.

This has been going on for a long time. When Bishop Duncan and his friends approached the Archbishop with the proposal to form a ‘network of confessing parishes and dioceses,’ the archbishop gave the nod. What, after all, is wrong with that? Anglicans have been forming networks or parties from the very beginning — in England the great mission societies emerged through that very process, as evangelicals and high church Anglo-Catholics worked within their own circles to build up the church in the way they thought it ought to be built.

But almost from the very beginning, the Network functioned, not as an underground body continuing to work within the structures of the larger church, out of step with which it felt itself to be — which is, after all the model for a confessing church in the manner of Bonhoeffer. No, the Network came to see itself not even as leaven in the loaf, but more like the dedicated portion of the challah loaf, though in this case a portion which would come to replace the rest of the body since it could not transform it. The rhetoric of “two churches” instead of a movement within one church began very early on in this particular turn of the Episcopal carousel.

And so it continued. In spite of Archbishop Rowan’s repeated declarations of the “un-helpfulness” of such things as AMiA and CANA, and his refusal to recognize as Anglican bishops those who staff these adventures and incursions; in spite of his explicit comments about those who chose to absent themselves from Lambeth, and his references to the language of “walking apart” from the Windsor Report — in spite of all this, the “Anglican Church in North America” still seems to hold out that sputtering hope that they will become the official Anglican presence in North America.

They shall become something; what they will become is too soon to tell. But I surmise that they will not, like the Episcopal Church, be a member of the Anglican Communion, a fellowship of autonomous churches in communion with the See of Canterbury.

Tobias Haller BSG


Lionel Deimel said...


I think you are too generous toward Rowan. To give 1998 Lambeth I.10 the interpretation he has is to misunderstand the traditional role of the Lambeth Conference. Moreover, although Rowan may believe the proper, well-chosen word should be enough to convey the desired meaning, he has been dealing with people who can only be dissuaded by a strong swing of the baseball bat to the head. Sometimes even a perfectly pastoral response needs a bit of muscle behind it.

Also, the Network’s crocodile tears over its “failure” should not be taken seriously. The Chapman letter, written as the Network was being formed, was quite clear that the objective was to create a replacement province for TEC and take parish property with them. By the time the network was formed, the “inside strategy” had already been abandoned. Some of the followers may have been deceived, but the leaders were quite clear in their thinking.

Brother David said...

I agree.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

If we are to understand someone, we need to step back from defining what we wish they said and did. I agree with you that Rowan has misunderstood the role of Lambeth; my point is that this is his understanding of it. It's the kind of person he is, a "conciliarist" who presses for consensus. He also does not see himself as a forceful executive authority -- hence the absence of baseball bats. So I agree as to the substance of your observation, but it merely describes the problem in another way. The real problem is that too many people have been wanting Rowan to be something other than who and what he thinks himself to be.

And it is true there are some reptilian tears being exuded from the Notwork, as I call it. But again, I think we need to judge them by their own assessments of themselves as failures, in spite of their effort to portray it as a success. I think they are in for more failure, as we continue to press the case. And yes, there is duplicity inwardly at work within the group; the worst, however, is their self-delusion, most strongly seen in Duncan himself.

Anonymous said...


Your suggestion about Ab. Williams being a Benedictine is, I think, very accurate. About 5 years ago at the Trinity Institute in NY the topic was Benedict. ++Williams was the opening preacher and the did Q and A with the audience, as well. He held up the Benedictine model as being very much a part of our Anglican makeup. He particularly focussed on the opening words of the Rule: Listen. And I think he lives by that in his ministry - or at least ries to.

I also agree with your assesment of him as an instituionalist. In all of his various roles as head of the Church of England (both sacred and secular), as well as his role in the Anglican Communion, and his preference for the catholic tradtion of the Church, how could he not be an institutionalist. And that doesn't have to be a bad thing - although I am well aware of the pitfalls that institutions can create.

So thanks for your observations.

Vicki McGrath+

June Butler said...

Misunderstandings on every side on such a grand scale are bound to result in confusion and disarray. You may well be reading the ABC correctly, Tobias, but the results for the Communion, whatever he has been trying to do, are disastrous.

Instead of scare quotes, I suggest we call them what they called themselves, the "Anglican province-in-waiting", akin to the "always a bridesmaid, never a bride".

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I'm not trying to exculpate Rowan, just trying to understand him. I think if liberals understand him better than the conservatives seem to (note how they always "spin" his careful neutrality to their own advantage) it will serve us better in the long run. Frankly, I think we have avoided the disaster -- because the irascible minority has now placed itself out on a limb, with no visible means of support, and have sawn through the limb. And it now seems even the Gafcon Primates aren't going to catch them, at least not all of them, though they may be around to pick up the bodies.

The person I really "blame" for our present crises is Rowan's predecessor George Carey. It was his failure to maintain a neutral posture that forced Lambeth 1.10 through the session. It is from this action that I date all of the problems in which we find ourselves.

Christopher said...

I agree that Archbishop Carey is to blame for much of this current mess. Previous Lambeth pronouncements were more compassionate, more tolerant of spaciousness on the matter, and more willing to seek together the truth--there was far more room for those of our sort and condition as Anglican Christians in the pre-1998 Anglican Communion.

Lambeth 1.10 in essence shut down the conversation and was meant to do so, primarily by speaking "about" us rather than with us. It's having now been pushed as the "mind of the Communion", irregardless of it's fruits in the lives of actual gay persons and irrespective of whether or not it as a pronouncement or its fruits are in line with the Mind of Christ Jesus, only serve to further shut down conversation and fail to acknowledge historical reality that far more disagreement and lack of consensus existed in 1998 and even still more today. Archbishop Williams' position has heightened the problem.

Any real rule is going to have to allow for real difference and disagreement in communion or it will likely only lead to further fracture. The covenant to-date is not even close to the wisdom of the Rule, and is not meant for the same purposes either. The Rule at heart is not meant to be used as a clobber or as some Pharisaical device, but that is precisely what the covenant seems designed to do in contrast.

Archbishop Williams seeks his bearings from Benedictine tradition, and I wonder what Fr. Joe, his confessor, would say to him today. I also think Archbishop Williams is at his best when he sticks to Benedictine tradition without manipulating obedience, i.e., listening into another agenda--a covenant, i.e., what comes across from the most recent Lambeth Conference where as Archbishop Hilz and others have noted, it seemed like pronouncements of the covenant design groups were in stark contrast to the Indaba groups, and almost seemed to push forward with not thought to the actual listening going on. Again, this will only lead to more fracture.

Listening in our tradition is understood as waiting to hear that of God and that of sin in one another's lives, as conversatio and discretio, and not just of gays but all of us are put under scrutiny, including heterosexist "attitudes and behaviors and habits and emotions"--though Archbishop Williams seems to have only been willing to put gays on the spot so publicly in such language. In our tradition, also, listening seeks out the "young", the representative of those discounted, as well as the prophetic voice, not as final solution but to recognize that a problem exists and to recognize God is often speaking through those the mighty would most discount. While lipservice has been given to this, Archbishop Williams has more than once made remarks publicly, on Belgian radio and after the bombing of a gay bar in London, that underscore what comes across as contemptuousness, only highlighted in the way Bishop Robinson was treated (not merely disinvited, but the whole affair surrounding this) no matter Archbishop Williams' personal thoughts, toward gays because we upset the institutional applecart by merely existing and insisting upon equity. It is the responsbility of fellow Benedictines, then, just as Archbishop Tutu has done as an oblate of Julian, of not staying in our anger, nor upbraiding, but non-attachedly, firmly-gently saying "no" to what comes across as not having listened to the "young" at all, and having truly poo-pooed the real-life dangers to gays at the hands of fellow Anglican Christians, and a willingness to treat others poorly for the sake of the institution, undermining the Reason and Spirit of that institutional existence at all in the first place.

While loving institutions, Benedictine tradition has a long history of remaining in gentle-firm tension with churchly institutions, indeed, the Rule is at odds with much of worldly ways in the churches, and often has provided a prayerful criticism and refuge for those whom society and church would crush.

And at the same time, just as with the Anglican via media, the underside of moderation in Benedictine life can easily slip into passive-aggressive and enabling behaviors that allow some to break in upon the boundaries of others while blaming those who refuse to be broken in upon.

It is the responsibility of a teacher, a priest, a facilitator to guard the boundaries of the classroom, the parish, the listening process so that all might participate without fear of harm or contempt, and Archbishop Williams has failed to do so.

Doorman-Priest said...

"..and their almost complete misunderstanding of what they had been advised to do or not to do by Archbishop Rowan Williams."

You are too generous: it was willful.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Christopher, for the always thoughtful comments.

It seems to me that one of the problems with Rowan's Benedictinism may be that he has a firmer grasp on the form than the content -- or perhaps the other way around. At the same time, I would cut him some slack in having essentially been elected abbot of an extremely fractious monastery!

There is also an issue as to who should be cast in the role of the "younger." It may be that the Archbishop is looking to the African churches as the "younger" members of the community -- which they certainly are in one respect. Though in their "traditionalism" they could legitimately be said to be more like their grandparents than truly being the voice of the young.

I'm also reminded of the Benedictine adage that one should not hope for too lenient an abbot.

However, I do not mean in all of this to remove responsibility from the Archbishop for much of the state in which we find ourselves. For example, his elevation of Lambeth 1.10 to the level of the "mind of the Communion" -- when it is nothing of the sort -- is a serious mistake and a serious problem. The Benedictine equivalent would, I suppose, be like someone insisting that a mere decision of the chapter should be considered equal in importance to an article of the Rule itself. The Rule is intended to offset and balance such spurious actions --- just as the constitutional understanding of provincial autonomy in the Anglican Communion should have been understood clearly to override any passing decision of a Lambeth Conference. Therein lies Rowan's greatest error; And we are paying dearly for it.

But my effort is to understand how and why he made the error; and if he could come to understand that as well it might help him to work his way out of it. this is, to some extent, an educational exercise -- drawing forth a new understanding from within the person's own mindset.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

D-P, I don't deny it was willful. What I'm saying is that I think they really believed that Rowan was on their side. Even now they are trying to spin his (alleged by them) "I won't support it nor will I oppose it" into a form of tacit approval; exactly the thing he it isn't. This is the kind of blindness in referring to. And it is also quite true that Rowan is being far too polite and not directive enough. He should know by now that he cannot steer a middle course with these folks; they will think he is on their side unless he says explicitly that he isn't.

I suppose if he had done a term of chaplaincy on a psychiatric ward, he'd know about how it is you have to continually recall delusional people to reality. This is a skill he appears to lack.

Christopher said...

Fr. Haller,

Oh, I agree. I work very hard at not indulging my anger toward him, though I've sometimes failed. I also don't think he is fully to blame. We all carry some blame to one degree or another, and he inherited a mess that needn't have been so.

Don't get me wrong, my shelves are loaded with his works, and when he speaks out of Benedictine tradition, I hear the real Rowan, the one who treats all with respect and holds all together in listening and mutual forebearance and blessing while calling us all to our better selves. But that has often been sidelined and went underground increasingly in favor of immediate institutional anxieties. Were not the consequences so potentially grave, I would be less concerned, but the consequences are not merely ecclesial but social. Anxiety seems to be the spirit of Anglicanism in our time, and indulging that spirit is entirely at odds with Benedictine tradition. It has increasingly been my own personal work to separate out the two by practicing awareness and rooting myself in Benedictine community.

One of the best things he could do, in my opinion, is rid himself of taking advice from the current Canterbury crew, many of whom are leftovers from Archbishop Carey, and rather bring in a variety of Benedictine elders as personal advisors, primarily because he so respects Benedictine tradition and because a wider counsel Benedictine elders would widen out his understanding of this tradition beyond a moderation that accepts treating one another poorly in community as sometimes necessary for unity. By surrounding himself with a community of Benedictines on a daily basis, deepening of content would emerge. I think he understands that content, and as with myself, imbibes it, but is easily sidetracked because without a community to hold him in it.

Yes, a wise and firm abbott or abbess is a good thing. But an abbott or abbess who demonstrates partiality rather than equity is to be avoided, and more so, when he or she seems willing to surround him- or her- self with those who would encourage such partiality. It does seem to me that lack of lenience has been very one-sided, to the point of indulging an affect that occasionally strikes as contemptuous, and to my mind that has heightened distrust. Not all have been equally held to the rules and the rules seem far more flexible on so much more. And by so doing these things, trust erodes further. Rather than hard and fast rule insistence, a return to the pastoral heart of rules would serve well.

Yes, there is much to hear in African criticisms, but what seems to have emerged is that because our brothers and sisters have criticisms (and I would note that this is more complex than a singular "African voice" as Tutu demonstrates clearly), no criticisms can be directed in turn or from within, as some have found in places like Ethiopia and Uganda and Nigeria. Our own Deacon Longacres' work among gay folk in Uganda reveals how very deadly heterosexism is there just as African criticisms more broadly of Western excess and colonialist capitalism reveal how deadly are the economics of our day. Hence, my increasingly distributist tendencies rooted in Benedictine tradition. I would say there are many youth making their voices known, but as with youth, comes impatience and self-righteousness and blurting out and a failure of boundaries. We need leaders with enough maturity who can guard boundaries for listening together for God's work and sin's work. I say this only because I have known Benedictine elders who do this well, so I know what this can look like and how it feels very different from Anglicanism of the moment, which feels much more like the alcoholic family of my origin, and hence, the necessity of rooting myself further in Benedictine life as antidote.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

[reposting to correct errors introduced by dictation software!]

Christopher, absolutely. In fact, I think all clergy should have a community of faithful brothers and sisters (not their parish, or their staff, which cannot do that) -- which is one reason I delayed my own entry into the ordination process until I was well formed "in religion" and had a community of support. It is still my lifeline.

However, on another issue your raise, I do not think it is a case of Rowan being too lenient to one side, but to that side's having taken advantage of his middle-of-the-road approach. In short, he has been co-opted, and he doesn't seem to know how not to be. I reflect on this a bit more in the next post.

Christopher said...

I'm not sure I agree. He has publicly stated that Lambeth 1.10 and its complement in Windsor is to be insistend upon but that border crossing into other provinces need not necessarily be so until those provinces get on board with 1.10. That is a one-sided lenience.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Has he actually said the latter part or is that GAFCON spin? For instance, he didn't invite Minns to Lambeth, and has said that these actions are "unhelpful" and explicitly urged Akinola against them -- which is strong language coming from RW. I think it is others than Rowan who have objected to the "moral equivalence" of the three "moratoria" but my impression, which could be mistaken, is that he's stuck by them rather doggedly.

June Butler said...

Tobias, I continue to return to Bp. Robinson locked out of Lambeth. I can forgive, but I have not forgotten. How does that square with Benedictine hospitality? "All visitors should be welcomed as Christ." Is it because Gene was one of the community that he could be shunned?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

GM, I am not trying to defend Archbishop Williams; and I think he did make a mistake in his decision concerning Bishop Robinson. But I do understand his reasons for coming to that decision, which are, typically for him, complicated.

Like it or not, +Gene was the focal point for a great deal of negative energy -- not the cause but the object. Rowan felt that his presence would have made a peaceful gathering impossible. I think he was mistaken in that belief, but I think that is what he believed. Rowan was trying to be evenhanded in keeping at bay any move violated ( in his understanding) the moratoria laid out in Windsor. This was his second mistake -- the first was his giving too much authoritative status to Lambeth 1.10.

But again, this is the downside of his being a "follow the rules" kind of guy -- and the problem that arises when there really aren't official rules is that people with a rules-based mindset will invent rules -- they need them; or think they do.

So, I think the real problem is that Rowan isn't Benedictine enough --- hence Christopher's wonderful suggestion that he be embedded in a chapter of monks and liberated from the apparatchiki of the Church of England civil service.

And, as I say, a term on the psych ward as a chaplain would probably help him in learning how to be clear with people...