Friday, June 25, 2010

The travels of Rowan Williams: how did he get here, from there?

Both Diana Butler Bass and our own Elizabeth Kaeton have commented recently on the Archbishop of Canterbury's focus on irrelevancies: hats, and whether the vicar smiles enough at the wedding.

I was reminded recently that people were happy and expectant when Rowan Williams was named ABC. How did he throw so many overboard; women and GLBT people? How did he go from this:
...Same-sex love annoyingly poses the question of what the meaning of desire is in itself, not considered as instrumental to some other process (the peopling of the world); and this immediately brings us up against the possibility not only of pain and humiliation without any clear payoff', but - just as worryingly - of non-functional joy: or, to put it less starkly, joy whose material "production" is an embodied person aware of grace. ....

...In other words, if we are looking for a sexual ethic that can be seriously informed by our Bible, there is a good deal to steer us away from assuming that reproductive sex is a norm, however important and theologically significant it may be. When looking for a language that will be resourceful enough to speak of the complex and costly faithfulness between God and God's people, what several of the biblical writers turn to is sexuality understood very much in terms of the process of "entering the body's grace". If we are afraid of facing the reality of same-sex love because it compels us to think through the processes of bodily desire and delight in their own right, perhaps we ought to be more cautious about appealing to Scripture as legitimating only procreative heterosexuality.
to this:
In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle.
This is a man who immediately excoriates TEC for electing Mary Glasspool, while he says next to nothing about the Uganda "kill the gays" bill. A man who is palpably annoyed at troublesome women who actually expect, you know, equality.

Tobias Haller suggests, in the thread to his recent post
There occurred to me a thought that I think sums him and his attitude to TEC up: "I have sacrificed my conscience and my friends for the sake of unity, and I don't see why you shouldn't do the same." He hasn't said that, but actions speak louder than words. That the "unity" he seeks is unatainable, or already lost, he doesn't seem able to see.
As I commented to Tobias there, hand clapped to forehead. That's it.

Shakespeare wrote,
To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.
True to oneself, one's beliefs, one's values, and one's understanding of what's right. And should you give all that up, you find you make an idol of "unity". And what's left?


4 May 1535+ said...

I increasingly wonder whether the problem isn't that +Rowan, like Canon Kearon, isn't (or, more precisely, wasn't) a member of the Church of England. At a Trinity Institute conference twenty-some years ago, a member of the audience asked Robert Runcie, the then ABC, whether it wouldn't be a good idea for the next Archbishop to be elected from some other part of the Communion--South Africa, for instance. +Runcie's reply, which now seems to me positively prophetic, was that the ABCs should continue to be chosen from the Church of England because to do otherwise would suggest that the ABC was the head of an international church rather than the interim first-among-equals of an interim arrangement of Christians looking forward to the reunion of all Christians. So here we have in +Rowan someone translated to Canterbury from no place so far away as South Africa, and yet someone who, however much he does or does not disclaim personal power, thinks he has a duty, overriding his personal opinions, to hold together this imaginary (and fundamentally unAnglican) international church.

Rick said...

I'll suggest nearly the opposite - that the ABC's focus is almost entirely within the C of E, with the rest of the AC just a complicating factor. As I said over at The Three Legged Stool, domestic considerations are driving his foreign policy. The C of E is getting pulled three ways, between a progressive wing that looks to TEC, a conservative evangelical wing that looks to the 'global south,' and an Anglo-Papalist wing that looks to Rome, and is getting a major come hither from Bennie XVI.

Isn't it an odd coincidence that just when women bishops are the issue du jour in the C of E, there's a kerfuffle over a woman wearing a mitre?

If you were the Archbishop of Canterbury you'd be aggravated by TEC too, not for any reason of doctrine or principle, but simply because it would be adding to your headaches.

IT said...

Unity in the CofE....same problem.

The Brits often scoff at the Yanks for wearing our hearts on our sleeves, and our "simple" openness. They think we lack subtlety--and sometimes they interpret that to meaning we lack intelligence. But at times like this I think that an ethic of transparency has a lot to offer. The ABC is tangled into a web and he doesn't want to, or can't, get out.

Grandmère Mimi said...

How, indeed, did Rowan go from the words you quoted to the words to the words he uses now? How does he live with such inner division?

Those are serious questions - not snark. I suppose I won't have answers soon, because the only person who could give an authoritative response is Rowan himself, and I won't hold my breath.