July 24, 2009

Reading Rowan's Mind

The Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) has composed a stunning and biting satire of Archbishop Rowan Williams which I commend to your attention. It seems to me to be a particularly vivid portrayal of the divided mind of a Primate. It even touches, in an uncannily accurate way, on some of the conversation a handful of GC Deputies had with the Archbishop on the patio in Anaheim. So accurately, in fact, that I need not here recount further details of that conversation.

However, I want to respond to a public comment the Archbishop made at the beginning of his sermon at the daily Convention Eucharist, in what he himself alluded to as speaking "simply and directly." He said that said he hoped the Convention would do nothing that might "push us further apart." He also observed, in something that seemed innocent at the time, but took on a more sinister connotation as time went on, that "if we felt we could do perfectly well without you, there wouldn't be a problem." Hmmm...

But back to the "pushing." I hope that the Archbishop would grant that reacting and being pushed are not necessarily the same thing, and that people ought to take some responsibility for their own reactions to other folks' actions, Newton's Third Law notwithstanding. The church as a whole, and the various local churches of which it is constituted are not mere passive subjects of external action, but entities with their own energetic concerns and capabilities.

Being offended and taking offense are subtly different things. John's choice to eat asparagus may offend Jane who despises the vegetable, even though she is not forced to eat it. But she has a choice and responsibility as to how she reacts: She can simply tolerate the presence of the disliked stalks, or stalk from the room in an irritable hissy fit. But which is more Anglican? Whatever, after all, has happened to the good old English custom of ignoring unpleasant realities. Many things, if left alone, will work themselves out in time. And even if they don't, the Anglican talent for simultaneously believing two impossibly contradictory things (about the Eucharist) before breakfast, is as true for Queen Elizabeth's settlement as that of the Red Queen of Looking Glass Land.

As I have said before, it seems to me the greatest damage done to the Anglican Communion, beginning with Lambeth 1.10, was the reaction to rather modest liberalizing trends in the "Global North" and parts of the Global South (such as S Africa), which need have had no effect outside those limited spheres. The silly talk of "unilateral action" or comparisons to the invasion of Iraq indicate a level of fantastic paranoia, as if, to quote Monty Python, huge soiled budgies are going to come flocking out of people's loos and interfere with their privacy. For "budgies" read "gay bishops" and for "loos" read "dioceses." Any diocese that doesn't want a gay bishop functioning within its bounds need neither elect nor license one. The old rules that limit bishops in that way are a long-standing part of our catholic ecclesiology and there is no need for special sanctions or prohibitions.

At the meeting on the patio, I did manage to present Rowan with a copy of my book. He said he would read it, but I don't know if reading it will be of much help — apart from its appeal for peace and toleration. Rowan's problem is not with the theology of sexuality or blessing or orders, but with the institutional structure of the church, and the question of how its unity is to be constituted, guarded, and maintained. We Americans have been pushing our answer: the dignity of every human being through the Baptismal Covenant; while Rowan has been pressing for the more ecclesiastical Anglican Covenant.

Need I point out that the former reflects a truly catholic consensus, while the latter may simply be a road to the creation of a new confessional sect.

Such are my ruminations on this afternoon, sparked by Adrian's insightful parody. Blame him if you must.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Daniel Weir said...

Some years ago a colleague and I were discussing the reactions of some in the Communion to the actions of General Convention in 2003. We were using the metaphor of a family to describe the relationships within the Communion and he said that what the GC had done was analogous to painting the family without the permission of other members. I said that, if the painting analogy was to reflect reality all that GC had done was to paint TEC's room. The best thing to do when you don't like the color of someone's room is ignore it.

Rick+ said...

     It has always been difficult for me, as a longtime fan of Rowan's theological writings, to square the writings and the actions of the archbishop. I guess the best that might be said is he is telling the truth in his writings, but his actions are also telling another truth about what can happen when inner beliefs confront organizational loyalty.

Doorman-Priest said...

Being offended and taking offense are subtly different things.

I wise friend once pointed out that people are very good at TAKING offence where not was GIVEN.

Leonard said...

Yet another example of ++Rowans ¨snide¨ attitude toward TEC and the HOD and HOB´s.

I hope he took advantage of the Madhatters Tea Cup ride that I so enjoyed as a child at Disneyland (accross the street).

Snide? Egads!

Anonymous said...

Despite +Rowan's displeasure, those from my parish would attended feel firmly convinced that the right things were done. I'm eager to learn more tomorrow.

John-Julian, OJN said...

One thinks of the abusing husband who says to his black-and-blue wife, "You made me do it with all your nagging."

Reaction is entirely the moral responsibility not of the actor, but of the REactor.

And TEC has not "made" anyone do anything -- not even our own people!

Paul (A.) said...

In that selfsame sermon the Archbishop commended TEC for "engaging" the Anglican Communion. That engagement was carried through throughout the Convention.

Contrast that with those who choose to disengage.