Friday, July 11, 2008

Central control not Anglican, says Rowan Williams *Update*

Update: Check the comments for the full article from the Church Times (thanks, Anon!) And the interview was done before the Synod vote - so that clears up that question.

Original: From the Church Times [boldface mine]:

THE Archbishop of Canterbury was in defiant mood this week, as he spoke of his hopes for the Lambeth Conference. He was positive about its strong mission agenda, which he believes should put into perspective the debate about sexuality.

In an interview for this paper, Dr Williams admits to feeling “frustrated”, and even to having “kicked the furniture a bit over the last few weeks”. But he is clear in his analysis that GAFCON (News, 4 July) was not just about the biblical interpretation. “The vast majority of Anglican theologians and Anglican leaders have an absolutely clear commitment to the authority of scripture in the way we always have,” he says. Rather: “There are major ethical and cultural anxieties about sexual ethics here.”

He affirms the Anglican approach as being able to encompass plurality, without any one view undermining the basis of scriptural authority.

Huh? "without any one view undermining the basis of scriptural authority" - so there can never be heresy or even orthodoxy since no one view can be taken as authoritative?
In the long term, the Anglican Communion would survive, he argues. “We may be less obviously at one for a few years, but that doesn’t let us off the obligation to keep listening to each other.” The model of diffused authority was part of the essence of Anglicanism: “If we did have a tight central model, we would cease to be the kind of Church we have always set out to be.”

The Church does, however, need to keep up to date with the new speed of global communications: “When something which happens in one province is instantly around the world, you have to go for a more coherent structure.”. . .

What does that mean - "coherent structure"? Sounds like a tighter central model to me. Does he mean that the church needs to keep a tighter control on what gets out to those in the pews? Guess those evil bloggers are at it again - ruining a perfectly good church by letting everyone know what's going on.

Read it all. I would love to see the interview transcript here. Was this done before the Synod vote since there seems to be no reference to that here. A very innocuous interview with nothing new and little clarity, but I'm not sure if that's the archbishop's fault or the reporter's.

Actually, I guess the entire interview is posted, but you need to be a subscriber, which I am not, so if anyone else posts this, I will link to it.


Anonymous said...

Church Times
July 11, 2008

Defiant amid the doubters

The Lambeth Conference is almost upon us. Rebecca Paveley found Dr Rowan Williams in robust mood

ROWAN WILLIAMS is quite cross. This is a shock, because of all the words applied to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the acres of newsprint awarded him, cross is not one of them. He is frequently said to be beleaguered, tormented, weighed down by the blows rained on him across the Anglican Communion over gays, women bishops, and his leadership style.

But he appears to be none of these things. The word he uses to describe himself is 'frustrated'. He even admits to having 'kicked the furniture a bit over the last few weeks'. He is clearly weary of being interviewed, but submits politely, though he is occasionally impatient.

We met on Monday, in a room close to the Central Hall of York University, where the General Synod is meeting. The Archbishop slipped out for this interview, just two hours before the crucial debate on women bishops was to begin. The air around Synod is fraught with tension. Nevertheless, the Communion has, in general, held together over the ordination of women. Why is it, then, fragmenting over homosexuality?

'It's a good question,' he says, pausing for a moment. 'I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that, in a context where there is a quite a lot of uncertainty about sexual ethics (not just homosexuality), this particular issue of sexuality is one on which the overwhelming majority of Christians across the world, inside and outside Anglicanism, still agree. It is still a rallying point -- in contrast to issues around the ordination of women. I think far fewer people saw that as a fundamental issue of scriptural authority.'

This does not mean, however, that he accepts that, at the heart of the split between conservatives and liberals, there is a row about scripture. This is what the founders of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans maintained at the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem. They insist that their rebellion is not about sex, which is only a presenting issue that masks a deeper split over scripture.

Dr Williams demurs. 'The vast majority of Anglican theologians and Anglican leaders have an absolutely clear commitment to the authority of scripture in the way we always have. What that means in particular areas of ethics or theology: there has never been one uniform Anglican answer to that. If one was to take attitudes to divorce or pacifism -- two obvious instances where there is a lot of plurality -- in those particular debates, you don't have people saying so readily to one another: 'If you affirm or deny that, you are undermining the whole basis of scriptural authority.' So I think there are major ethical and cultural anxieties about sexual ethics here, and that it is not just about the authority of scripture.

'There are also issues of perceptions of power or influence. And there is a great deal of -- not unfounded -- anxiety about where decisions are made in the Communion, which we are unclear about.'

Dr Williams is careful to convey that he takes the concerns of those who attended GAFCON seriously. Our conversation is peppered with references to these 'serious concerns'; but GAFCON's Jerusalem Declaration, and its inherent attack on his authority, is clearly a significant source of his frustration.

And it may be this emotion that leads him to dwell on the potential for division within the GAFCON movement. 'It is not as if it is a single-issue thing. There are motivations and perspectives even there, which pull in slightly different directions, and, I think, depend on different visions in the Church.

'Someone like the Archbishop of Sydney, whom I greatly respect as a theologian, has a very clearly worked out theology of the Church, which is much more federal and locally independent. I am not sure that would be exactly the theology you would find in some of the traditionalist American bishops. I will watch to see how some of the theological discussions evolve.'

He insists that, despite the Jerusalem Declaration, the Anglican Communion will still continue in some form, albeit weakened. 'The kind of fellowship we will have may be different, less immediate. That is hard. That is a loss, and there will always be a sense of loss and not feeling all right. But the reality is: we are where we are. We may be less obviously at one for a few years, but that doesn't let us off the obligation to keep listening to each other.

'The Communion went through a difficult patch in the early 20th century, so in many ways we have been here before,' he says. And, of course, the 1000-plus GAFCON participants were careful to say they wanted to remain within the Communion.

'Anglicanism, by its essence, is certainly plural and certainly diffuse. We have always talked about diffused authority as part of our model. If we did have a tight central model, we would cease to be the kind of Church we have always set out to be.

'So the issue -- as I have been saying ad nauseam -- is not about establishing a central commissariat, but about establishing mutual covenants of responsible, mutual protocols.'

But how diffuse can it be before it fails to remain a Communion?

'That is rather a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string? question. Because, if you look back at the history of the last 150 years, the actual contact with members of the Anglican family has been pretty slight. At one of the first Lambeth Conferences in the 20th century, some bishops were declaring themselves out of communion with each other before they arrived at Lambeth.

'Something still rallies people to this vision of a Catholic, reformed, and not centralised Church, which gives us the incentive, the impetus to get back on course with it all.'

DR WILLIAMS's optimism is far from blind. He wearily accepts the troubled times ahead, but is trying, perhaps, to take the longer view.

'I am not looking to one great thunderclap of breakage. There will be fractures -- there are fractures already, and some of them will get more difficult -- but I would hope that the Lambeth Conference will be an occasion where people get their motivation back a little bit -- in terms of this mutual responsibility, and, crucially, what we have to offer together to the world in terms of mission.'

So, does he see his task as one of trying to hold it together at all costs, I ask. 'That's what they tell me, isn't it?' he says, sounding frustrated again. 'Any kind of bishop has to do a kind of mediating job, a kind of: 'Have you heard what they are saying yet? Let's try and stay in the room for a little longer.''

Some say they have heard the door slam, but, insists Dr Williams: 'There are still some rooms we can occupy. To try and hold it together is not unity at any price, because that becomes completely empty, but to try and make sure that, when people disagree, they know what they are disagreeing about.'

MANY HAVE blamed the current disintegration on Dr Williams's perceived failure to act decisively after the inauguration service for the openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson. I ask whether, with the benefit of hindsight, there is anything he would have done differently.

'Everybody makes mistakes, but I do not think we could have avoided getting to a point of real radical encounter.'

What makes things different from the past is the way that news of a single act in one province can be beamed instantly around the world. 'Without modern communications, we wouldn't have got to this point so quickly.'

Yet, though a bit of a technophobe himself -- he admits to using email only when he is forced -- he believes that something material has changed. The internet must have a knock-on effect for provincial autonomy, which has hitherto been a mark of Anglicanism. 'This no longer serves us very well when you have got global communications. When something which happens in one province is instantly around the world, you have to go for a more coherent structure.'

DR WILLIAMS sounds positive about the Lambeth Conference, instead of being filled with dread, as some might expect. He hopes the strong mission agenda might put recent issues, such as sexuality and women bishops, into perspective.

He speaks warmly of some of the early Lambeth arrivals, bishops from Churches in Melanesia, Burma, Sudan. 'Hearing of their arrival, and the hospitality they will be having in dioceses, has made me feel, yes, this is the heart of it: it is about the solidarity we can show to Churches who feel themselves cut off. Our Church is doing extraordinary things in many contexts. It is punching above its weight.

'For an awful lot of people in the pews, GAFCON is probably a marginal issue. I am not making light of that: it is there because of serious concerns. I am genuinely not writing it off. But for a lot of bishops coming to Lambeth, the issues will be a bit more obviously life and death.

'The Communion will survive, I am sure of that, and, however deep the ruptures are, it is interesting people have not yet said we want to tear up the Communion. Part of the agenda for the next ten years will be rebuilding relationships with those who feel distanced -- going on listening to their concerns, but also, I hope, focusing on some of the concerns which come up in the actual business of Lambeth itself.'

HE SOUNDS as if he is in for the long haul, I suggest. Aged 58, he is still a relatively young archbishop. He has been in post for five years, but has still plenty of years to go if he wishes. There has been much speculation that he will step down early, however.

His answer is, not surprisingly, enigmatic. 'This happens to be the job I have been called to do at this particular time, so I try and do that. There are lots of sayings of the Desert Fathers about people wanting the vocation they thought they could do, and getting the vocation God wanted them to do instead. So there you are.'

If this sounds resigned, it is also defiant. This Archbishop has changed a great deal in the way he responds to the press in recent months, no doubt prompted by the drubbing he received over his comments on sharia. He seems resigned to not getting a fair hearing, and says what he has to say anyway. I ask what the biggest misconception about him is.

'If I'm being really whingeing, the biggest misconception is that I am incapable of talking to the person in the pew. Yet 90 per cent of my public speaking is unscripted talking to people in the pew.'

It is these encounters that have kept him going, he says. 'Actually, people are movingly loyal and generous. When somebody hands me a little card from a rural parish in Lincolnshire or Cumbria that just says 'Hi. Lots of prayers,' it is not a thankless job. I am supported by that extraordinary generosity.'

IT HAS BEEN a gruelling few months. He has a short holiday before Lambeth -- 'if I'm not hiding in a foetal position under the bedcovers' -- but, despite the pressures, he seems remarkably resilient, robust even, defying again the image of him so often touted in the press.

I ask if any of this -- rows over sex, over women bishops, over his views on sharia -- keeps him awake at night.

He laughs. 'What keeps me awake at night is what keeps everybody else awake at night: the personal worries, the day-by-day things, and that fundamental worry of 'Am I in any sense being a faithful Christian?''

'There will be fractures . . . but I would hope that the Lambeth Conference will be an occasion where people get their motivation back a little bit.'

Anne Coletta said...

Thanks, Anon! Greatly appreciated.