Friday, March 30, 2012

That Not Meddlesome Enough Archbishop

Reading and analyzing the same sex blessings proto-rite took away the time I would have needed to write the apparently obligatory postmortem of Rowan Williams's tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury. But really, on the level that most people felt moved to write those things, I didn't want to do so. Much of what was written was predictably partisan: the StandFirmites all attacked him for not stopping the advance of liberalism, the anti-Covenant crowd attacked him for being its chief advocate, and a small crowd of radicals attacked him for not pushing the homosexualist agenda. A bunch of moderates of various persuasions said laudatory things.

I find it very hard to participate in any of this, with one exception. Much of the commentary is based upon the juxtaposition of Williams's publicly expressed viewpoint on homosexuality, before his enthronement, and his failure to advance those positions once he became archbishop. This was widely attacked as either a lack of conviction, or a deceit; but I continue to hold it to be a noble expression of the largely forsaken principle that the president of a body is first responsible to it, and not to his own party within it.

As to how he managed that responsibility: I do not feel I am competent to express much of an opinion on this, and I think most of those who are expressing such opinions are as unqualified as I am to offer them. But the possibility of anyone succeeding as Cantuar, on any terms other than the most progressive radicalist, seems to me to be extremely small. Consider the last Lambeth conference, which was pretty much of a wash (and therefore, given the need for action, a failure). The disinvite of Robinson was, I think, entirely justified, but the program of talking everything to death in small groups was surely doomed to produce nothing of merit. At the same time, the global south conservatives, on the advice of their American advisors, sabotaged the conference anyway, thus granting a moral victory to the very people they oppose the most.

People keep saying that the communion needs a "strong leader". The American progressives are adamant that Cantuar is going to lead nothing, as far as they are concerned, and GAFCON is a institutionalization of the same position from the other side. At this point, the communion cannot be led, and I'm rather doubtful that the Church of England can be led either. The only people who can win through "leadership" within the current structures, it seems to me, are the radical latitudinarians who can use the still lingering Anglican urge towards adiaphora and canonical mechanisms of the churches to drive off the traditionalists and conservative evangelicals and thus win the denominations over to their views by default. In other words, we can have the kind of destructive leadership epitomized by our presiding bishop and her compatriots at 815, or we can have ineffectuality. People are starting to say that nobody wants to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Well, I suspect that there are various radicals who would love the position, but I think most anyone else would be mad (or at least relentlessly driven by a sense of obligation) to take it. A strong conservative would face open rebellion.

Meanwhile, the institutions are becoming increasingly problematic. Matt Kennedy and I don't tend to agree on a lot, but his analysis of how the revisionists work does pick up one note: among the progressives there is a strong sense of church institutions as tools to be used to advance their positions. His conservative faction cannot do the same because the machinery won't push in that direction: the crucial people in the middle are not going to turn into theological authoritarians. At the same time simple disobedience is becoming a pervasive feature of church "administration", so that the most depressing aspect of the Communion Without Baptism push is the very large number of parishes that flagrantly disobey the existing canons. Same-sex blessings/marriages are widely permitted by bishops who also wink at many other big canonical violations. Many of these same bishops expect obedience from their conservatives which they do not demand from their liberals. Increasingly what passes for leadership is conservative rebellion and schism, or progressivist litigation. This church cannot be led in any positive sense, at least until the bishops start acting in some sort of concert and take their vows seriously as defenders of what they have received.

I have no idea whether things have progressed so badly in England. If one takes Jeffrey Johns as an exemplar there are surely those who wish it so.

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