July 30, 2009

Reading Rowan — Part the First

I have promised a few people some thoughts on Archbishop Rowan Williams’ reflections on General Convention, “Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future.” Before getting to that, and by way of introduction, I want to offer some more general thoughts, in part based upon the very limited conversation I had with the Archbishop during General Convention. Not only did it help me to understand him better (as I hope it did, and hope it did him me), but it also helped me better to grasp some of the points on which the two of us approach issues of the Communion from somewhat different directions. So I promise I will get to a detailed examination of his reflections on GC, but in this first post address some aspects of the Archbishop which I think make it somewhat easier to grasp his sometimes vague and always nuanced meaning. Some of these aspects don’t fit into the usual mode of American progressive thinking — or conservative thinking, for that matter — and this leads, in my opinion, to misunderstandings on all sides.

The Tragic View of Life

First of all, Rowan Williams does not shy away from pain and difficulty. He has a very mature understanding of the church and its dynamics — that there is an undeniably Paschal and sometimes tragic aspect to the life of the church and its struggles. He is well aware of the “toil and tribulation and tumult of her war,” and believes that this is something that the church must work through. Much as he might like, as a sensible human being, to avoid pain and difficulty, he knows the truth of the old rabbinic saying, “no pain, no gain,” and the gospel concept, “no cross, no crown.”

I have used the word quixotic to describe this in the past, and fear I have been misunderstood. I do not mean that Rowan Williams is like Don Quixote in the comical, satirical sense; but rather in that kind of wild and tragic nobility that faces the dark, satanic windmills of the powers of this world in the knowledge that whether they are giants or not they can still be dangerous to life and limb — if one chooses to tangle with them.

This tragic or elegiac view of things seems to me to have a particularly British underpinning. Let us not forget that Rowan is Welsh, a poet, and named for one of the most magical of all trees. There is a kind of brooding melancholy of what another poet Williams (Charles) called “the Druid woods,” to Rowan’s character, relieved by a sparkling wit from time to time — these two aspects together being a hallmark of the Bard. At times I wish that Rowan could move away from the tragic a bit to see the whole story more in the way that sunny Italian Dante did, as a divine comedy, with a happy ending after all. Still, this Paschal attitude gives Rowan the capacity to endure a great deal of difficulty, ambiguity, tension, and imperfection — things which progressives tend to find annoying and reactionaries unacceptable — and which his office as Archbishop of Canterbury in this particular age provides him an ample supply.

A Scholar’s Way

It should go without saying that Rowan has a scholar’s mind. He is accustomed to the quasi-monastic life of academia, in which people have to get along with each other even though they may have radically differing philosophies or beliefs. This urge towards a collegial life is reflected in his longing for an Anglican Covenant, and a Communion bound more tightly not by unanimity of opinion or even uniformity of action, but by a truly radical desire to stay together even in the midst of disagreements. It is utterly wrong to think that Rowan is more upset with the Episcopal Church than he is with Gafcon — schism and division are the things he dislikes most of all, and he is bending over backwards to find a way to hold things together in dynamic tension. (One may think him foolish to try to hold such differing views together; but there you have it. Perhaps he is also wise enough to be a Holy Fool, for Christ’s sake? Scholars make the best Fools.

As a scholar, Rowan also attempts to be very precise; sometimes too precise for his own good. He chooses his words carefully, and I suggest the greatest disservice done to him, in various readings of his reactions to General Convention, is the tendency to paraphrase or summarize or expand what he says in directions that seem to me clearly at odds with his actual intent, based on close and careful reading. People think they know what he means and so massage what he says to fit that predetermined meaning — this is never a good thing in communication, but with someone as subtle and careful as Rowan it is disastrous.

A Truth Teller

Finally, Rowan brings these previous aspects of his personality and skill-set to bear in attempting to “tell it like it is.” Sometimes, in so speaking, people seem to think he is talking about how things ought to be. For example, when Rowan says that some action or other is going to have consequences or create difficulties, he is not necessarily saying that the action should not happen — remember my first point about the Paschal nature of the church. It is not that he’s Hegelian — he’s not predicting a final synthesis; but he is observing that if such-and-such happens, there will be difficulties — and we will have to work through them. Thus his language is more descriptive than prescriptive. What some are reading as a stop-sign is more correctly understood as “Dangerous Curves Ahead.”

I will end this first section of my comments on Rowan here, with the concept of Truth — as I hope to say a bit more about that in the next blog post.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


R said...


Thank you! I find this quite helpful as an antidote to the myriad other reactions (and I don't mean just those being "reactionary") to Rowan Williams' remarks presently in wide circulation.

It strikes me that the 76th General Convention was far less engaged in this reactive kind of engagement than in the more descriptive, and indeed care-filled listening, that is needed for the entire Anglican Communion at the present time.

Whether we learned that from Rowan Williams in his brief time with us, he learned that from us, or we simply are coming to a similar more Anglican place in the present debates remains to me a divine mystery!

In any case, I'm glad you draw out this tenor of his letter. Much as I might disagree with some of his tacts in the missive, he is presenting an openness to conversation that is refreshing and strangely hopeful.

I suppose one of my biggest criticisms would be that he doesn't really seem to address the questions of power at or at least close to the heart of the present crisis. But then again, maybe that's the point. There are plenty of other people talking the language of power right now.

And that's not the Paschal language at all!

June Butler said...

Tobias, thank you. First off, I'd ask who is the target audience of Rowan's latest communication? Is it a pastoral letter to the bishops of the Communion? Or is it a pastoral letter to all in the Communion? Or is it not pastoral at all? If it's for everyone, then it seems to me that he should speak plainly, if that's possible for him, and that we should not have to work so hard to tease out his meaning.

We all have our differing ways of looking out at the world around us. I have the tragic view. I say about myself what Henry James says of himself, "I have the imagination of disaster." But, although those who know me well see me that way, I don't try to drag everyone down to my tragic view of the world. And even in the midst of my dark view of the world, I know that Easter follows upon Good Friday. I also know that laughter and humor, even at my own expense, is an antidote to ward off being overcome by my dark view. It seems that to understand him, we'd need to see the world through the same dark glasses as he sees it, and I don't think that's possible, nor is it a fair expectation.

Since Rowan is Primus inter Pares and is, in some sense, a pastor to the whole of the Anglican Communion, it seems that he'd attempt to find a more effective way to communicate what he wants us to hear, unless he is speaking to only a limited number in a particular group. Perhaps he does not believe it important for laypersons like me to understand what he says. And I'm not being sarcastic, when I say that.

I'd add that a number of people who have known Rowan personally before he became the Archbishop of Canterbury seem quite disappointed in his tenure.

Well, I've roamed and rambled enough, to what purpose, I'm not sure, but I suppose that since Rowan is the first amongst equals that the rest of us must make the adjustment to try understand his "sometimes vague and always nuanced meaning".

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

This is outstanding, Tobias! I've often lamented that the very things that have served the church well throughout its history--slow, deliberate discernment and careful word choices--do not fit well in a 24/7/365 news cycle.

If it isn't too weird to say it, it almost seems like Rowan is the Albus Dumbledore--an academic and a mystic in a world that is brutally political and prone to make erroneous assumptions.

Looking forward to reading more

Anonymous said...

Well written and reason-able as always. Your thoughts so far are very much along the lines mine have lead. I look forward to your next post on the subject with real and eager anticipation.


Jared Cramer said...

This is very helpful Fr. Haller. I look forward to reading the second part.

Closed said...

How, for example, is this nuanced: "the Communion's voice...". We've rarely had just one, and that is something we should have been more honest in saying to our ecumenical partners rather than allowing a few bishops on committees to suggest otherwise (a problem with our ecumenical encounters). A failure to recognize that we're not of one voice is not nuance or vague, but rather quite prescriptive in intent. Neither is slippage from "Communion" to "Church" in Point 9.

The problem as I read it is I don't always think he's as nuanced as he perhaps he thinks himself to be or that others claim him to be. Vague perhaps more so than anything else. In one who seems to choose words carefully, when those words do not seem chosen carefully in a public statement, I have to take it that that was done purposely. His words in response to GC have some serious problems, misrepresenting the position of lgbt persons as understood to be a part of creation, and that that question (which is more fundamental) raises questions about biblical interpretation as well as ethics--our response to Christ, and sin. To leave something unsaid is serious at such a juncture. Neither is given any play in the statement. And thus, use of words like lifestyle and choice play right into a particular ConEvo and ConCatho reading of creation and then the bible and ethics and sin. I won't let him off the hook so easily because those words have and can do harm to fellow images of God. To use them without that nuance can be deadly and leaves some folks unchallenged to think further, a challenge which I would rather expect from an academic.

A tragic view also can become a means for and excuse for allowing poor treatment of others, and I would suggest that it has hampered an ability to be firm and clear against mistreatment of lgbt persons to this point and to be honest that the Church not "if" but has done and does harm to lgbt persons.

A tragic view of this depersonalized sort can lead, in other words, to some sense that that is just those people's cross, how sad. They'll just have to bear it. It loses the Resurrection sense of "no" and life. Church and dynamics then seem to be of greater consequence than real flesh and blood, and it does, rather we like it or not, come off as Hegelian. Not in the sense of thesis/antithesis/synthesis, but in the sense that larger processes are of most consequence than real flesh--if folks get ground up, well it will all come out okay in the end. While true, this is a perversion of the cross and Christ's once-for-all sacrifice. It is Christ, especially on the Cross and in the Resurrection, who precisely says no to this cyclical ueber alles outlook. Stringfellow becomes a necessary remedy to this tragic outlook, by revisioning "cross/crown" precisely as fighting the powers. To wait so long to even begin to own up that the Church might ("if") participate in worldliness toward lgbt persons is not tangling with such powers, but, coupled with a willingness to tell us that it is because we are open and honest that we're blamed (while suggesting it's okay in the quiet dishonesty of the CofE) is capitulation to the powers of heterosexism and homophobia. Maybe that is the best that can be done by the archbishop, but I won't heroize it. I've seen too much of this kind of behavior by Churchly officials to do so.

It may be wrong to think he's more upset with TEC, but TEC has largely been the recipient of his public displeasure (indeed we fill in for that toward Canada as well), and again, in one who knows well the power of words, that then comes across as quite deliberate rather so or not.

Closed said...

For example, the rhetoric of this is that of the qualified apology, which makes it formally not an apology at all:

if the Church has echoed the harshness of the law and of popular bigotry – as it so often has done – and justified itself by pointing to what society took for granted, it has been wrong to do so.

Worse, it doesn't own up to the fact that the Church has incited the bigotry and sometimes is the primary mover of that bigotry. I'm sorry, but I don't see the nuance or description in this sort of communication. It ends up letting the Church off the hook.

Fr Craig said...

thanks for this insight, TH. I was overjoyed when he was chosen and keep looking for ways to understand him. It is challenging for a progressive to be patient, but the connection to a 'quasi monastic academic' life rings true. I tend to ignore him lately... but I cling to the belief that God wants him to be where he is.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the comments. More in part 2. Just quickly to respond to Mimi and Christopher, though. I think you are confusing what Rowan says with what you (or I!) might like him to say. I'm not saying I agree with all he says -- I'm trying to understand him. In the next sections I'll get to some of the disagreements. But, to take one example, when he talks about the "mind of the Communion" I think that is what he believes -- he thinks Lambeth etc. speak the mind of the Communion; and this does elide (in his mind) over into Church. I disagree -- but that is what he is saying, and what he means.

I will also say more in part three about "lifestyle" and "choice" which I do not take him to mean in reference to sexual orientation, though these are "scare words" about which he should have been more aware.

More soon, I promise. I hope things will become clearer as I proceed; esp. regarding where Rowan and I (and most of you) differ on matters of what might have been and what ought to be.

Song in my Heart said...

You words about Rowan's writing being descriptive rather than prescriptive are particularly useful for me when looking at "It is about whether the Church is free to recognise same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage." Clearly there is enough disagreement on this that a consensus cannot be said to exist.

From my liberal standpoint, with very little background on Anglicanism, it seems as if the ABC is saying that one part of the Anglican Communion should not go ahead and do what it has discerned is right, if another part objects. Given the wide range of interpretations in existence and the tendency of people to resist change I think this could lead to a very static, stagnant Communion.

I wrote on my own blog that I do not have the background, the education or the skill to make proclamations as to what is 'right', but that I wish to recognise what others discern to be Godly relationships, and that I wish to recognise the vocation of those who feel they are called to ordained ministry. I expect those decisions to be made in good faith by the people making them and it would be incredibly belittling for me to state that they are somehow wrong when I cannot possibly understand all the details. I personally believe that there is nothing wrong or sinful about homosexuality, and that it is an integral part of God-created identity rather than a 'lifestyle choice', but I'm also aware of the ultimate fallibility of my interpretations of the world. I don't presume to say what any church should or should not endorse. But I think institutions (churches, Communions, et cetera) need to be very careful before condemning any behaviour, especially one with no obvious objective harm; if the Church preaches God's mercy but does not act as an agent of that mercy, the message gets quite garbled.

I think that I agree with Scott Gunn in his assertion that human failings and imperfections should not disqualify people from ordained ministry. If perfection were required there would be no eligible clergy at all, and even if homosexuality is sinful (and again, I don't believe this is the case), I do not understand why that sin should be different from the many other sins of human beings.

(I'm not sure why this is bothering me so much given that I am not a member of any Anglican church. I do feel drawn to the C of E in many ways, and then things like this come up and I wonder what I'm getting into. But that's not really relevant to your post.)

Closed said...

I'll wait for further word, but I'm still not sure I completely agree with your read of

I will point out, for example, that this is not descriptive for Anglicans generally and is an innovation of its own both in terms of Lambeth and in thinking of Anglicanism not as a Communion of Churches, but as a Church:

I think that is what he believes -- he thinks Lambeth etc. speak the mind of the Communion; and this does elide (in his mind) over into Church. I disagree -- but that is what he is saying, and what he means.

He may believe this, but that in no wise makes it so either historically speaking or in actuality. Again, his words may be descriptive for him, but end up understood and read as prescriptive or proscriptive to others. This is distinct from simply reading in what we would like him to say. It is not simply because of what we read into them, but because contexts differ as do understandings of matters such as these. Which when coming from one understood to be primus inter pares comes across as not getting out enough. That is why he may not have used words like lifestyle or choice with a particular intent (just as he didn't get the harm of his words in Belgium), but I expect someone of his stature to recognize the complex of confluences that revolve around such language and how that actually incarnates in real lives.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Christopher. Part of what I'll deal with in the next section is the whole epistemological aspect of this: and that what Rowan believes (or hopes) to be true may not strike us as being so. As to the complex of language and so on, one of his still very weak points is his lack of knowledge of Americans and our language and cultural identity. This is part of that British insularity. Again, more to follow... Please also realize I am not trying to defend him, but understand him. This is, I think, a part of the listening process, and it is something I can do and take responsibility for.

Matt Gunter said...

Thanks for this, Tobias. I continue to be an unabashed Rowanian and appreciate what I take to be a fair and accurate explanation of his underlying approach to things.

As you say, his thinking does not fit the usual mode of American progressive thinking or that of American conservatives. Which is why both tend to misunderstand him and find him frustrating. But also why both need him.

Matt Gunter said...

I also appreciate your point that Williams is not after some sort of unattainable or oppressive unity/uniformity - a regular enough misunderstanding/misrepresentation.There is a significant difference between that and the mutual recognizability Rowan speaks of.

I do take your point that he should be more aware of "scare words" like "lifestyle choice" even if, as I think, he does not mean by them what many here take him to mean.

Nathan J.A. Humphrey said...

Your assessment resonates with my own understanding of the archbishop's writings as well as with my limited personal experience of him.

I do think that Christopher is right, however, that he has deeply Hegelian tendencies, tendencies that have the danger of depersonalizing the human dimension of a crisis and as a result (unintentionally, I would argue) dehumanizing those on all sides who bear the cost.

He is even more Dostoevskian than Hegelian, however, which is what I have argued on my own blog, here:


Leonard said...

¨It seems that to understand him, we'd need to see the world through the same dark glasses as he sees it, and I don't think that's possible, nor is it a fair expectation.¨ GM

The most that I know after reading (four times) ++Rowan is that he is not helping LGBT Anglicans in Uganda, Nigeria, Jamaica and beyond survive a ugly and evil witch hunt...also, his actions and words seem always directed against TEC Church (in what appears to me a snide/inhumane way) while avoiding discussion on beliefs held at many other Provinces of the Anglican Communion which are similar to our own.

Thanks for helping me sort things out, I´m getting a better glimpse of what may be ¨really is¨, rather what I think really is.

Leonardo Ricardo

Erika Baker said...

" one of his still very weak points is his lack of knowledge of Americans and our language and cultural identity. This is part of that British insularity."

There have been many in Britain pointing that out again and again. Really, your polity is different from ours over here, but it is not that difficult to understand.
I have managed it a little, and I am not anywhere near as intelligent as Rowan, and it is not in my job description to know these things about other churches.

Either he is not near as intelligent as we think, or he is deliberately refusing to acknowledge differences that don't suit him.
I am finding it very hard to put any other gloss on it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Matt. It was good seeing you at GC. You too Nathan.

Leonardo, Rowan is vocal in his condemnation of assaults on GLBT civil rights -- even in this document. The problem is that the Reactionaries know that he is a "liberal catholic" at heart, and so have already written him off. He has almost no influence in the GAFCON constellation, and probably never did. He works with TEC because we've expressed willingness to work with him.

Erika, it's not just our polity, but the American attitude, that rubs Rowan the wrong way. Only part of it is misunderstanding -- there is also (and I'll be getting to this in the last section) a considerable amount of disagreement with how we do things. He doesn't really think the House of Deputies *should* have equal voice with the House of Bishops, for instance. So it's not just misunderstanding, but resistance to the American Anglican Way. Even bright people sometimes fail to grasp things they don't want to grasp.

More later... I really hope to finish these essays before I go off on a much needed retreat!

June Butler said...

As Erika say, the polity of the Episcopal Church is not that difficult to understand. A friend of mine suggested that Rowan my not be as smart as many have assumed, that he may, in fact, be rather dim. That begins to look like a possibility to me. Or else, he's brainy but has little common sense.

As for Rowan's resistance to TEC's way of bishops sharing power with priests and lay people, too bad for him. That's the reality, and he's needs to accept it. He's not our pope yet.

Paul said...

He doesn't really think the House of Deputies *should* have equal voice with the House of Bishops, for instance.

I think this expresses a core issue: whether authority should come from the top down or the bottom up (or the center outward?). His reality is appointed bishops and ours is elected bishops. He is uncomfortable with the role of our Senior House. I do not say it means this for him, but for many of us it symbolizes a challenge to ancient hierarchical models.

We speak a great deal about the Baptismal Covenant while not realizing that is is not part of all Anglican liturgies and is certainly not part of the mindset of the AC as a whole. I think focus on the Paschal mystery and the ministry of ALL the baptized is the very best part of theological and liturgical change since, say, Pentecost. I believe it is what God intends. But it makes many rather anxious and I suspect +Cantuar is among them.

The good old boys' club will not yield power willingly. I realize that is a rather cynical take on it all but I believe it is true. Other parts of the AC may not like that we rejected a monarchical model two centuries ago but I should think they have had enough time to deal with it.

The Religious Pícaro said...

As for Rowan's resistance to TEC's way of bishops sharing power with priests and lay people, too bad for him. That's the reality, and he's needs to accept it. He's not our pope yet.

How much is this resistance shared by the leaders of other Provinces, I wonder? Can it explain for at least part of the opposition to ECUSA?

Closed said...

I wasn't speaking per se to American cultural differences (though it seems that too is the case), but to the (sub)cultural realities of lgbt persons. Words like "lifestyle" and "choice" have been used to deadly effect, as have words like "conversion" and "change" in his Belgian radio address. Charitably, he is unaware of how these words are used against lgbt persons, but then, I have to wonder how much engaged listening has really occured given his use of such terminology. Maybe he is trying to reconstruct those terms, but if so, he has neither engaged with their damaging use nor with lgbt theologians who have done that work (and yes, they exist contra the claims that they don't). He could just as easily have spoken of lgbt persons in such relationships as living out their Christlike and Christian ascesis or discipleship according to conscience. It would have been more fair and accurate to our self-understanding, would have avoided bugaboo words, but it would also have challenged the his own easy slide from unmarried heterosexual couple to same-sex committed couple that he makes in his points. I'm not an expert in ethics or moral theology, but that slide is problematic. The two are not on the same moral plane in terms of intent or discipline (whether recognized by the Church or not). But again, as I have said, I think his words less nuanced than others claim them to be. And when we're dealing with persons who as Leonardo notes experience extreme vulnerability in many parts of the Anglican world, moral obligation rests on those who speak a word about those people.

I would suggest again, that there seems to be too little sense of challenge to the Church in its behavior from Without, either from God or from general society or from creation. I've said it before but Anglicans taking so strongly our sense of Church as Body of Christ (our almost sick devotion to ecclesiology) have a real danger of conflating Christ and Church in ways that leave the Church unable to criticize itself adequately. As if the Church determines truth by consensus without engagement with the rest of the world in science, etc. If same-sex couples can show forth goodness and virtues, their lives are true irrespective of the Church's determination. I am reminded that not long ago, Anglicans would not bless the marriages of the enslaved or mixed race or even in some cases colonialized couples. They too were seen as nothing more than cohabitants. This sense that God cannot from Without offer a relationship different than that of the Church leaves Anglicanism very vulnerable to conflating Trinity and Church, Christ and Church in ways that can become deadly. To my mind, some Luther and Melancthon are remedy in this regard. After all, what does it say about the Incarnation, that the Church does willingly participate in denigration of lgbt persons? It says to me that we haven't taken to heart it implications and the criticism it makes even of Christ's own Body.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Paul and Billy -- Yes. This is all a big part of the issue. At some level RW "understands" the TEC polity -- it is not that hard to grasp intellectually. What he fails to -- and I use a word very popular in my youth, but now perhaps not au courant -- grok the wisdom of such a model of governance. Again -- think academic / collegial. He "gets" the idea of a House of Bishops, maybe even a general synod with clergy and lay representation... but two equal houses??? As to the amount of time to "deal with it" -- actually until the present crisis they haven't had to, or wanted to, deal with this reality. Even Barbara Harris did not raise this to such a high pitch. So they are now playing catch-up for having neglected TEC in fundamental ways all these years. Read Paul Marshall's article in ATR a while back: and excellent analysis of the gaps in the WWAC, and the lack of engagement until very recently.

Christopher, I hear you. But I also want to say at least in some defense of RW that he is trying to do better. The problem, which I'll get to in the next section, seems to me to be in his hierarchy of values, which I find very questionable, and verging on utilitarian -- the greatest good for the greatest number. This takes the very unfortunate form of "GLBT wait for us to do what is right until more of us come to see what is right for the sake of the 'weaker brethren'" -- the problem being that for Paul that issue was about a matter he believed to be adiaphora (food), and here we are dealing with people's lives. As I say, more on this in the next and succeeding section. In the meantime, I hear you, and concur. This is a serious problem; I can only promise I will do my best to work on it as I am able.

Paul said...

Grok? You tossed me into a time warp there, Tobias. I don't think I've seen or heard the term since I was a Baptist seminarian in the late 60s / early 70s.

And yes, the difference between an intellectual grasp of structure and an appreciation of the wisdom of said structure are very different things.

Perhaps, just as some today in the US South have not gotten over "the recent unpleasantness," there are Brits who have not fully dealt with the loss of the colonies. (A gross oversimplification, but nonetheless a possible factor.) We produced a Declaration to explain what we were doing then and TEC has been putting out its reasons for what it does for decades now, yet still there are cries for further study.

Thanks for your hard work to demonstrate that we have been doing theology.

June Butler said...

The ABC? I think he don't grok.

Time warp, indeed, Tobias!

Sorry, I know this is a very, very serious blog. I should exercise more self-control, but you and Paul tempted me beyond my ability to resist.

R said...

Gee, I used "grok" in a sermon recently, thinking it was actually now in vogue amongst millenials and younger. Maybe it's making a comeback...in this part of the world. Or maybe I just have things reversed in my mind. Wouldn't be the first time.

Anyway, I think you're right that RW - along with much of the Anglican world - doesn't seem to grok our polity, and more importantly, the full ramifications of our baptismal ecclesiology.

What we who are steeped now in the 1979 BCP see as intuitive in D025 and C064, etc., simply raises eyebrows - bushy and otherwise - in many places!

All the more reason it was good that we welcomed so many in the wider communion to GC this year.

Christopher (P.) said...

grok: Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). A novel of great Eucharistic overtone.

Anglocat said...

Tobias, I'll read with interest your part 2, but so far, I can't help but view the ABC's "Reflections" as an exercise not in theology but in realpolitik--he seems to me to be using this crisis as an opportunity to craft a British curia. I'm also appalled at his willingness (alluded to by you in the comments above) to achieve his eccelsial ends on the pain of LGBT Christians.

I begin to wonder if TEC's future lies with the Communion at all--because riding in the back of Rowan's bus is an option I think we must firmly reject.

Closed said...

I appreciate your trying to be charitable--it is more than I can muster because I think a lot of anxiety is injected into the system every time one of RW's reflections shows up. We each have to deal with our own anxiety, but direct communication helps with this. This communication is not direct or "green" to use a particular version from the VRP perspective.

I recognize RW is trying to do better, and I give credit where due. And I recognize it's important to understand where he is coming from though I feel like I've returned to Rome parsing out Papal and Vatican statements consumes the life of the Church, and I think where he is coming from may end up damaging the Communion mortally.

I must say that to my mind rejecting violence towarld lgbt persons forthrightly comes a little late and long after some ecclesial-political alliances were allowed to expressly denigrate lgbt flesh, Christ's own Body, while the highest eschalons of the Communion said nothing and blogs were the places crying out. I must ask why it was that such a Communion (with the ACofC as exception) could accept this as not Communion-breaking. I think it points out the dangers of an over-emphasis on consensus as defining hallmark of truth. And why does this recognition now comes in very qualified ways. Language is important, and I don't think it unfair to analyze the way things are parsed together. The difference between a subjunctive and an imperative matter in a prayer and in public statements. Though again, I understand our American English has retained the subjunctive while British English has not--and that could be a rub in my reading.

Nonetheless, what I see in this statement is a series of questionable leaps threaded together in some incredibly questionable slides that trouble greatly. For example, our complex history and multiplicity of theologies as Anglicans goes absent. To my mind they are strength and mutually corrective over time--we need not only Evangelical or Anglo-Catholic, but Maurician and broad perspectives and so forth. But here, they are seen as weakness or disappear altogether--that Hegelian tendency to leap over the concrete and historical for processes and unity.

On a related note, I would point out that he addresses we laity as "the faithful." I nearly lost it when I read this. This is the address of a Roman Pontiff. As you noted, and as Pres. Bonnie Anderson learned in her meeting with RW, laity seem to need to keep our place, which is be present and largely compliant, if not silent. I have written several times about my concerns in relation to his understanding of the laity. It's very Anglo-Catholic of a certain sort but not necessarily Anglican or very catholic on the whole of history.

The Anglican Communion and Anglicanism as he describes its decision-making defies our complex history, indeed, defies the existence of a CofE at all. And moreso, when laity and our ministries are described. We are not the only Anglican Church with a strong laity, with lay participation in decision-making, and a baptismally-rooted ecclesiology (something that is incredibly reformed AND catholic). I fail to recognize in his remarks the Anglicanism I was instructed in when I left Rome or the Anglicanism I have read about in our complex histories and theologies. Lionel Diemel's latest post also zeroes in on this.

It is this relegation of the laity to "the faithful" that would be a deal-breaker for me, and I'm afraid (as in how I feel in response to this) that that relegation is implied in the proposed covenantal relationships--again, anxiety. Readings some of the comments about laity by those supporting the Covenant over at Covenant-Communion as well as thoughts on the Covenant about tidying everything up into coherence, I'm not reassured. For us to ape Rome seems a terrible step backward.

Erika Baker said...

You acknowledge that Rowan has not spoken out loudly enough against the appalling treatment of lgbt's in some African countries, but you appear to excuse or explain that by explaining that the right has almost written him off and that he has almost no influence in GAFCON countries, and therefore works with TEC.

Does a lack of influence really excuse not speaking out?
I don't want to blow this out of proportion, but just as an example: but was it right for the German church not to speak out against the treatment of Jews because they had no influence on Hitler?
I apologise if I misunderstood you.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I'm still working on part two, and hope to post it, probably tomorrow. For now, let me say, Christopher, that you have put your finger on one of the most troubling aspects of Rowan's thought -- one about which I've written extensively -- this whole restructuring of the WWAC into something less a communion and more a union. Aping Rome is not the solution: if I wanted to be part of a world-church I'd never have left Rome! I want to be part of a looser communion -- federation if you insist -- in which development can take place locally before it is accepted or rejected globally -- and not some monolithic entity.

You may be right about the use of "the faithful" -- presumably clergy aren't faithful! -- as a neat way to compact and corral the work of the Spirit through the People of God.

As to anxiety -- the great therapy I learned is to ask, "And so?" What if TEC were to be no longer part of some "inner" track? "And so...?"

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Erika, I think that comparison goes rather too far. Rowan has spoken out against the violation of GLBT civil rights. Not as strongly or specifically as you or I might like, or think he should -- and I'm not defending his less than forthright condemnations; but neither would I condemn him by comparing him to leaders of the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche. He is no Dietrich Bonhöffer, clearly, but neither is he a Ludwig Müller.

MarkBrunson said...

Even if you truly believe that Williams is not attempting to build his own Rome - borne out by his attempts at centralization - then you are still left with a man who is, most charitably, absolutely clueless and self-involved.

If I stand up and declare myself the leader of a worldwide communion, don't others have a right, even a duty, to expect me to address myself in the most articulate fashion?

Williams is an absolute failure as a leader. I don't care how bright he is - which I, frankly, haven't seen - nor how long he went to school - which has nothing to do with the pastoral concerns of intelligent compassion and discernment. None of that matters, because he is so abysmally incompetent at forging unity through his own presence and expression.

He may bear the title archbishop, but he bears nothing else.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Yes, Mark, I do think RW is trying to recast the WWAC in a more Romish model -- and I do think that to be a mistake, as I think I've made clear any number of times. He is attempting to foster a future institutional unity top-down using material (the past and present WWAC) that is unsuitable construction material. The GAFCON do not want a future other than one in which their view is the only view; the progrressives will only favor an institution with ample room for development. Rowan seems to think it is his task to balance the unbalanceable. Only time may do that -- and if that's his game it doesn't take much skill to play it. I've tried privately and publicly to encourage him to bolder action, but in a way he is just like the worst liberal who thinks that if people would only understand they would agree, and all would be well.

More on all this in a real post soon...

Linda Ryan said...

This urge towards a collegial life is reflected in his longing for an Anglican Covenant, and a Communion bound more tightly not by unanimity of opinion or even uniformity of action, but by a truly radical desire to stay together even in the midst of disagreements.

Just a question from the pew -- are academicians or scholastics required to sign a formal covenant in order to ply their trade? It seems to me that the Anglican Communion muddled along just fine until some formerly collegial members had a couple of issues (women's ordination, power in the hands of the hierarchy and finally the hook to hang them all from, homosexuality and GLBT issues)upon which to hang their croziers adn insist everyone else do likewise.

Whether or not ++Williams wants to understand the polity of TEC, he is but first among equals, not first over all. there is already a denomination (or ten) that have that and Anglicanism/Episcopalianism isn't it or even one of them. I wish the ABC would spend as much time discussing the sections of the Windsor report that he never seems to address and which apply to other parts of the Communion as he does trying to straighten out TEC's thinking -- and polity. If he were only as honest as he seems to think himself to be, he would see that those issues need addressing and not just focus on TEC and its shortcomings as seen by the group that changes acronyms more often than I change socks.

Thank you for listening.

Greg Jones said...

I have heard folks from other parts of the Anglican Communion also raise questions about the influence of the House of Deputies.