Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rowan in the Dock

The news broke on Episcopal Cafe this past week that the Archbishop of Canterbury will be making a visit to Anaheim during General Convention this coming July. This is not in itself big news; all of Dr Williams' recent predecessors have done the same one or more times during their tenures. 

But the Anglican climate being what it is, the announcement has provoked what is at least a teapot-sized tempest in its venue-of-origin, as well as on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv (HoBD), though, while I have not done an exhaustive search, apparently not elsewhere in the blogsphere. Those from the port side of the vessel who have ventured to opine are near-universally cynical about the prospect, with suggestions ranging from sending him across the street to Disneyland for a photo session with Goofy to granting him no more than a booth in the Exhibit Hall.

Leaving aside the obvious observation that Rowan really won't have to go to Disneyland to have his picture taken with Goofy--a group shot with either house of General Convention would serve that end--there are some recurring themes among his liberal critics (his conservative critics, who are legion, being largely silent on this one) that would seem to merit at least a small degree of attention.

It has been suggested that Rowan has never actually taken the trouble to listen to the voice of the Episcopal majority, while he has gone out of his way to be hospitable to American dissidents like Bishop Robert Duncan and Southern Cone Primate Gregory Venables. So, if the Archbishop comes to Anaheim, it should be as a listener rather than a talker. He needs to learn who we are as Episcopalians and how we do things in "this church," since, despite his prodigious academic accomplishments (the man can write a book faster than I can read one), he is under-educated in those areas. I find the combination of naivete and hubris in such suggestions mind-blowing. I have no doubt that Dr Williams understands the Constitution and Canons of TEC better than most members of the House of Deputies and that he is eminently up to speed on all the relevant dynamics of how controverted issues are dealt with on this side of the pond. To infer from his behavior that he is somehow not sufficiently "curious" about our church is to manifest myopia trending toward megalomania.

The perception of Rowan's cluelessness is to some degree fueled by an inordinate obsession with whether he has actually ever worshipped in a congregation of the Episcopal Church since taking offce. (He has had multiple opportunities to do so, having recently spent a sabbatical in Washington, D.C.) No one actually spells out precisely why this is important, but the implication seems to be that he is intentionally avoiding contamination by post-Robinson Episcopalian cooties. Could this perhaps be to maintain his street cred among the Nigerians and other assorted Africans and North American Anglicans who are beholden to them? If so, it is an astonishingly unsuccessful strategy on his part. Just scan the comments on any number of Stand Firm posts for a quick read on this Archbishop's standing in that community.

Rowan is also taken to task for having thrown Jeffrey John under the bus way back when. Dr John, currently dean of St Alban's, was named to the (suffragan) See of Reading in 2003. He was known then, and still is, to be in a partnered gay relationship. At the time, he offered assurances that the relationship was no longer sexual in nature--making him, some contend, a virtual "poster boy" for the sort of gay cleric that even a conservative could accept in high ecclesiastical office. Yet, in the midst of loud and constant pressure from the Evangelical party of the C of E, the Archbishop entreated Dr John to step back from the appointment, which he then did. Dr Williams was wise in making the request, and Dr John was wise in acceding to it. In a visible and highly-charged political environment, it is indeed not enough to simply be doing the right thing. One must be seen doing the right thing. In an ideal world, whatever goes on between Dr John and his partner would be nobody's business but their own. Alas, this is not an ideal world, and as their domestic arrangements have the appearance of impropriety, Dr John is not an appropriate candidate for the episcopate. Rowan did not throw him under the bus. Rowan enabled the Anglican Communion to live to see another day. That is a noble end, and that the means to that end were awkward and unpleasant does not make them morally illicit.

I am glad that the Archbishop will be in Anaheim. By virtue of his office, he will personally encapsulate for us the rest of the Anglican Communion. If, as it seems plausible to expect, we continue our slow but steady journey away from the mainstream of Anglicanism and toward sectarian isolation, we will have to do so while we look Rowan--and, through him, the rest of the communion--in the eye. It will be good for our character.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

"If, as it seems plausible to expect, we continue our slow but steady journey away from the mainstream of Anglicanism and toward sectarian isolation, we will have to do so while we look Rowan--and, through him, the rest of the communion--in the eye. It will be good for our character."
Fr. Dan,
I simply don't understand what you think will be good for "our character" about the steady journey away from the mainstream of Anglicanism while looking Rowan in the in the eye. How will this improve your character? Dcn Dale

Dan Martins said...

Dale, is it not always healthier--and therefore "character building"--to be honest and transparent about what one is doing? If TEC is going to thumb its collective nose at the WWAC, it's salutary to be forced to do it while Rowan is in the room--or at least recently there.

robroy said...

Re Jeffrey John, you state, "a virtual 'poster boy' for the sort of gay cleric that even a conservative could accept in high ecclesiastical office."

Mr John's relationship, we are assured, is platonic. (One wonders why? Something that the erectile function medicines might help.) But he is still a radical advocate for homosexuality in all aspects of the church (and not just celibate or platonic ones). After all, Rowan states Mr John was very influential in Rowan concluding that "homosexual relations can be equivalent to Christian marriage."

What are you talking about here?: "In an ideal world, whatever goes on between Dr John and his partner would be nobody's business but their own." So the next candidate for bishop maintains an open marriage...but they keep their orgies in the bedroom. No problems??? How about upholding biblical criteria for bishops?

You have been hanging around Ed Little too long.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Dan,
So open disrespect for authority is better than being sneaky about misbehavior. To me it is not necessarily more honest, just more cheeky and insolent. Maybe this would be a signal that TEC is moving from childhood to adolescence.
Dcn Dale

Randy Muller said...

Re In an ideal world, whatever goes on between Dr John and his partner would be nobody's business but their own.

In an ideal world, Christians would keep their sins secret, and would feel repentant about them, and approach God every day seeking forgiveness, and continually seeking God's help to amend their lives.

In the real world, some folks enjoy prolaiming their sins from the rooftops. They are interested in denying their own sin, and making it everyone's business.

robroy said...

In contrast to Randy Muller's ideal world, here is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said (quoted by Kendall+ here.

Confess your faults one to another" (Jas. 5:16). He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. This pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. so we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!