What can you say? Over at Stand Firm we’ve opened up a “bloggers’ comments” post. Here’s my initial contribution.

Despite all his undeniably admirable personal qualities, Rowan Williams will sadly be remembered as the Archbishop of Canterbury who presided over and contributed to one of the most divisive eras in the history of the Anglican Communion. He had the unfortunate effect of pleasing neither side in our ongoing tensions, which probably came as more of a surprise to the liberals who surely thought they had received an ABC who would pursue their agenda. But agenda-seeking was never Williams’ modus operandi and he far preferred to keep everyone at the table to talk. and talk. and talk all the way up to Lambeth ‘08 where any credibility he had left evaporated and the liberals who had caused all the problems were warmly welcomed to tea with the Queen.

How will he be remembered? Rowan began his term as ABC being famously referred to as a Druid but leaves Lambeth Palace as the Imam of Indaba. Most tragically of all he leaves the Anglican Communion fractured (perhaps beyond repair) due to his simple unwillingness to uphold right order and doctrine and discharge the enormous responsibilities of his office. A tragic legacy indeed.

I remember way back in the depths of blogging history, when davidould.net was “Drinking at the Whitehorse Inn – quaffing with Cranmer”, pointing out that the appointment of Rowan was a disaster and getting very roundly criticised for that opinion from all sides. What is remarkable today is that all those sides now appear to be critical of Rowan. He has managed to please nobody. Not that that’s in itself a bad thing. A newly-installed rector friend of mine recently observed to me, “I’ve worked out that being rector means deciding who I’m going to disappoint today!”

The liberals naïvely thought he would bat for their side – nothing could be further from the truth; Williams’ Hegelian methodology had him view himself as referee or arbiter, not team captain. The conservatives, on the other hand, knew what they were getting but didn’t like it either. Some noted that he was, apparently, orthodox on key issues such as Trinitarian theology. But even there it was hard to grasp why. For Williams it was all about where the church was currently at and his own duty to uphold that consensus. His own personal apophatic approach made it impossible for anyone to get a clear positive affirmation from him. Coupled with a verbose style of communication it quickly became clear that he was not so much out of his depth, but that his own depths were going to get everyone else lost.

And lost we all became. The most important Instrument of Unity simply didn’t do what was required. At key moments in the past decade he could have put a clear choice before the revisionists of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada by refusing to invite them to key meetings, most notably Lambeth 2008. But he didn’t. He let things roll on as before and they have only rolled in one direction – towards the liberal agenda. For all his desire to see the synthesis of ideas emerge he has only really helped to promote the antithesis of theological liberalism. Ironically, rather than helping the Communion “balance out” we now have institutions that are more liberal than ever. I am not one of those who believes he deliberately connived to bring this about. On the contrary, every personal account of him is of a gracious, humble man. In many ways a model for us in personal behaviour. He courageously took on a task he must have known would be incredibly difficult. And yet he should not have done so.

Thus the tragedy of Williams: He simply could not fulfill the expectations of any of the varying parties in the Anglican Communion. But more telling than that, by his own measure of success – integration, synthesis and discussion – he has been an unmitigated disaster. He woefully failed to discharge the duties of a Biblical bishop of upholding truth and driving away error, and he couldn’t even prosecute his own definition of the role. And we’re all the poorer for it. It’s sad to say, but Magdelene College’s gain is our gain too.

And now onto the next ABC. Could it be even worse?

5 comments on “Farewell Rowan

  1. A well written piece, David, and one which deals graciously with its subject even though offering some hard criticisms. As to your closing sentence, it could be worse indeed, but by the grace of God and with much prayer who knows what might happen?

  2. thanks Bob. The last 10 years have been close to carnage and it does us good to recognise why so we don’t make the same mistake.

    I’m not optimistic myself. I don’t see someone with enough mettle getting past the Crown Nominations Committee.

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