Rowan, Baron Williams of Oystermouth

From the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official website:

Peerage for the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury

Wednesday 26th December 2012

The Queen has been pleased to confer a Peerage of the United Kingdom for Life on the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams Lord Archbishop of Canterbury upon his retirement from the See of Canterbury.

Rowan Williams will be created a Baron for Life by the style and title of Baron Williams of Oystermouth in the City and County of Swansea.

Rowan WilliamsDr Williams does not actually retire until 31st December, but most likely his Christmas sermon yesterday was his last official duty. So today was an appropriate day to announce this honour for him, a customary one for retiring Archbishops of Canterbury.

Paul Trathen, on Twitter, commented:

Oystermouth?! Eh?!? St John Chrysostom gets to be ‘golden-tongue’ and +Rowan gets to be ‘Oystermouth’?!? ;-)

Oystermouth CastleWell, the name “Oystermouth” comes from the ruined mediaeval castle which overlooks Swansea Bay, and which was no doubt very familiar to Rowan as he grew up and went to school in the Welsh city of Swansea. In fact the name has nothing to do with the shellfish for which the bay is well known, but is a corruption of a Welsh word. But Rowan’s new title was asking for comments like Paul’s.

I replied to Paul suggesting that Rowan’s title might mean that he has

A mouth hard to open but when it does you find pearls of wisdom?

In response to this, Paul wrote:

As you are not much of a fan, I thought you might suggest indigestible, an acquired taste, or slightly fishy!?! ;-)

Well, I could have put it like that! It is undeniable (not least because it is well recorded on this blog) that I have had my differences with the retiring Archbishop. There was a time when, it seemed, whenever he opened his mouth it was to put his foot in it, rather than to bring forth pearls of wisdom. The Sharia law controversy was a particularly memorable example of that. He also admitted that he didn’t like the “political bits” of his role, leading me to suggest that he left it for an appointment where these “political bits” are not central. But I have to accept that he was landed with almost impossible tasks such as preserving unity through the 2008 Lambeth Conference and in the Church of England debate on women bishops. Could anyone else have done better with these tasks? Probably not.

Anyway, although Rowan is not dead, it seems to me bad form to speak ill of the newly ennobled. So I will repeat the substance of my tweet. As he transitions into his new appointment as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, I expect the new Lord Williams to live up to his “Oystermouth” title by opening his mouth in public only rarely, and only when he has genuine pearls of wisdom to offer to the church or to the world.

I wish Rowan and his wife Jane all the best as they return to the city and university where I knew Jane, and where she later met her husband.

I also wish all the best to Rowan’s successor, Justin Welby, now Bishop of Durham, as he prepares to move in the spring to Canterbury Cathedral and Lambeth Palace.

Restoring the Church of England to Sanity

An ancient poet, not Euripides, wrote:

Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

Archbishop Rowan Williams after today's voteIf we replace “gods” with the three persons of the Trinity, is this what is happening to the Church of England?

Certainly the church seems to have gone mad. Having decided in principle that it wants women as bishops, it has spent years going round in circles trying to find an acceptable formula for this, only to reject its chosen formula today, by a narrow margin. That is not the action of a sane and rational body. And it is a sad farewell for outgoing Archbishop Rowan Williams.

I’m not quite saying that today’s vote was irrational, because it may be that the proposed compromise with opponents was so insane that it was rational to reject it. Surely one can doubt the sanity of anyone who tries to push through a compromise which is completely rejected by one of the parties involved. But would that party have accepted any compromise?

It seems to me that the only way ahead now is the one suggested by Sam Norton in his post Please can we now do women bishops the right way? There is no future in trying to compromise between black and white. As the Apostle Paul asked, “what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV) Of course, each side will say that they are light and their opponents are darkness, but that just proves the point. So, just as on the first day of creation God “separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4), at this point there needs to be not a compromise but a separation. We just need to make sure that the kinds of procedures Sam outlines are followed. Then, unlike what has happened in The Episcopal Church in the USA, the separation can hopefully be an amicable one which does not lead to lawsuits and mutual anathemas.

Archbishop-elect Justin Welby before today's voteOf course if the Trinity really wishes to destroy the Church of England, no human scheme will be able to preserve it. But it may not be too late for that body to repent, put its house in order, and find itself again under God’s blessing. Archbishop-elect Justin Welby looks like a good choice of leader for this difficult task. Today’s vote will have made the task harder, but the long term result just may be a cleaner and so stronger Church of England.

Rowan Williams to leave “impossible” job

Rowan WilliamsI don’t intend to write much about the departure of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. As some of my readers will remember, I have in the past (in fact in 2007) called for his resignation. I am not now rejoicing that he is going, but I do think he has made the right decision, and that it might have been better for him to resign earlier. However, I will resist the temptation to give this post a title like “Better late than never”.

I am glad that the Church Mouse has broken his silence to post Farewell Rowan, tempted by a tweet from myself and no doubt by many other encouragements. But Mouse’s post is very positive about Rowan. Much of this is justified, as indeed

his time as Archbishop has been an impossible one.

He has at least managed to avoid open schism in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion. But, to provide a balance to the hagiography, I added my own comment, which I am copying here, for wider circulation and for the record:

Thank you for breaking your silence on this matter. But I don’t see the need to extend the convention of not speaking ill of the dead to those who have merely announced their resignation. In many ways Rowan has been an excellent Archbishop. But I still think he failed to show the kind of pro-active leadership which was needed, especially around the 2008 Lambeth Conference. True, he had an impossible task, but I think a stronger leader would have brought about a better outcome.

So can a new man keep the Anglican Communion together and begin to heal the huge fault lines within it? If anyone can, I would think it is John Sentamu – not least because he is the only tipped candidate who is not white British. Or will the new man preside over the Communion’s formal dissolution? If so, I suspect that Rowan will go down in history as the archbishop who allowed it to happen.

Christians and Politics: Williams and Whitefield

I thank the publishers for sending me a review copy of The Politics of Witness by Allan R. Bevere. When I have time I will be reading and reviewing it, especially in the light of the discussion relating to my post Is every Christian in politics a “Dominionist”? But I am likely to be too busy to do this for the next few days.

Meanwhile I have a couple of links and quick thoughts to share on the subject of Christians in politics.

Archbishop Rowan WilliamsRachel Marszalek, newly ordained in the Church of England, reports on a visit to her diocese by the “notorious” Archbishop Rowan Williams. Part of her post is about a talk by the Archbishop “Making a Witness in the Public Square”. Here are some of his words as summarised by Rachel:

When you come into the body of Christ, you are to be loyal to God’s vision for the human race, over and above ethnic, National and even, swallow hard, family loyalties. It calls you also to be loyal to something that has not yet happened. For the Roman Empire this was seen as a rival claim. But we can not be loyal Roman citizens and in choosing not to be, death was the consequence for some. Christians work out a theology of citizenship which means that the country itself can not be treated as a god. …

The Roman Empire got it wrong in seeing Christianity as a rival claim. But the church was a great, big organisation. It was one legal system against another. The church has to step back and not compete for territory.

Rowan anchored much of what he spoke about in the work of William Stringfellow… Rowan quoted from ‘Conscience and Obedience,’ written in the late 1970s. …

When is it right not to obey the law, asks Stringfellow…when the law seems to be going in the opposite direction to God’s vision. Stringfellow proposes vocal advocacy – we do this and we take the consequences. Civil disobedience is not something Christians should never consider. We have to be able to say to the state – by what authority can you do this if it defies a Godward direction?

What can I say? Rowan Williams clearly wouldn’t endorse the kind of conservative Christian involvement in US politics which has been much discussed, and misrepresented, in recent weeks. But he would also reject the idea that Christians should keep out of political discussions and retreat to their own communities. These are thoughts I will bear in mind as I read Bevere’s book.

George WhitefieldMeanwhile Scot McKnight writes about Politics and Religion, the American Odyssey. A large part of this post is a discussion of the role of George Whitefield in pioneering Christian political action in North America. He finishes with some questions about how far Whitefield’s example can be followed today (emphasis as in the original):

Many may be uncomfortable with Whitefield’s attention to political issues in England and the USA, but there’s a big question here we need to discuss: Can a Christian pastor completely ignore the political? While the Anabaptist vision, as compared with the Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed views, may prefer more separation from the State and political issues, can the Christian preacher ever avoid the implications of the gospel for politics?

I will ponder these questions, and maybe some time I will attempt to answer them.

Archbishop Rowan’s New Statesman media triumph?

Archbishop Rowan WilliamsLate last week, while I was busy with other things, the press and the Christian blogosphere here in the UK went wild over what Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in the New Statesman magazine, in an issue for which he was the guest editor.

But was this affair really the media disaster for the Archbishop which some have made it out to be?

Even before his article was published a storm broke out in the press. The Daily Telegraph started it by portraying Rowan’s words as “a sustained attack on the Coalition [government]”. But the Church Mouse, in a very sensible post about the matter, summarises what the Archbishop actually wrote:

In the entire article, Rowan does not actually criticise a single government policy.  What he does say is that people are afraid of them, and the government needs to explain what is going on better.

After a few days of uncharacteristic silence, Doug Chaplin weighed in with some comments suggesting that this was another PR disaster for the Archbishop, like the 2008 Sharia law affair:

One point I haven’t seen made in the stuff I’ve read – although I’m sure someone has made it – is to ask what’s happened to Rowan’s media person? Surely this is something where they should have got their leak and spin in first? … That kind of news release followed up by phone calls should have trailed the New Statesman well in advance and tried to set the agenda. Did they try and fail, or were they asleep at the keyboard?

In a comment on that post, I mused on whether “Rowan’s media person” even existed. After all, as I reported at the time, in May 2008 the Archbishop decided not to replace his press officer who had resigned. But it seems that rather quickly Rowan saw the error of his ways and, not later than September that year, appointed a certain David Brownlie-Marshall as his press officer.

David Brownlie-MarshallIt wasn’t hard to find out more about Mr Brownlie-Marshall, as his LinkedIn profile and his personal website, not to mention his page looking for work as a model, were easily found with Google. This is how he describes himself at LinkedIn:

I am an ambitious, energetic and entrepreneurial individual, who has worked in PR, Marketing and Social Media roles in London, New York and Edinburgh. My current role at Lambeth Palace involves managing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Social Media strategy.

Somehow, after reflecting overnight on this matter, I don’t think this young man presided over a PR disaster. He is clearly highly creative, even if not an expert in traditional ways of handling the mainstream press. He may well agree with Brendan Behan that

There is no such thing as bad publicity.

So my guess would be that Brownlie-Marshall deliberately provided “their leak and spin” to the Daily Telegraph to provoke the reaction seen in their article, fully intending to start the kind of controversy which we have seen. Perhaps he wants the church to be portrayed as somewhat left-leaning and opposed to government policies. After all, he knows that that will win it a lot of friends. Of course it will also make enemies, but mainly among people who I suspect Brownlie-Marshall, and perhaps also Rowan, secretly despise. I’m sure they would both be very happy to put a final nail in the coffin of the old myth that the Church of England is the Tory Party at prayer.

This matter has got the country talking about issues of social justice and how the Christian faith relates to them. And it has enhanced the Archbishop’s reputation, at least among that majority of the country suspicious of government policies in this area, for taking a strong stand on these issues. It has had, I would think, a very positive effect on the Church of England as a whole. Rowan Williams and David Brownlie-Marshall are to be congratulated for how they handled it.

N.T. Wright to retire? Not really

Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream, quoting the Durham Times, announces that

THE Bishop of Durham is to retire.

But that is in fact a misleading way to put it; the Church Times Blog is more accurate in its headline Bishop of Durham to step down. The truth (at least I assume it is the truth – here quoting the Church Times post but the Durham Times confirms it) is that Bishop N.T. Wright “will be moving to the University of St Andrews to take up an academic post”. Maybe, at age 62, he is able to collect his pension from the Church of England, but he can supplement it with an academic salary. Of course that won’t make him rich, and he will have to vacate the mediaeval castle which is his official home as Bishop.

The bad news is that he is leaving not just the Church of England but also England itself, for the remote but prestigious small Scottish town of St Andrews. The good news is that, in his new appointment as a research professor, he will have more time to give to his important academic work.

Meanwhile this will leave a vacancy in the Church of England’s third most important diocese. I can already suggest a candidate for this post: Archbishop Rowan Williams. He would make an excellent Bishop of Durham, traditionally a post for a top theologian as the diocesan responsibilities are relatively light. By accepting this move Rowan can set aside with honour the political bits he doesn’t like of being Archbishop of Canterbury, and spend the last decade of his working life (until retirement at 70, in 2020) in a post more suitable for his skills.

The last act for the Anglican Communion?

Since the busy summer of GAFCON and the Lambeth Conference, nearly two years ago now, there have not been so many stories around about the imminent break-up of the Anglican Communion. It was beginning to look as if a typical Anglican fudge had worked, with only a few Anglicans actually leaving their troubled church.

That is not to say nothing has happened for nearly two years. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA), which arose from the GAFCON conference in 2008, doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact. More significant was the formation of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), bringing together conservative Anglicans in the USA and Canada who had left the official national Anglican churches. ACNA has become so significant that even the General Synod of the Church of England recently gave it some kind of official recognition, although formally it remains outside the Anglican Communion.

But the process which led to the crisis is continuing, and the papered over cracks are gaping open again. Some people had hoped, and perhaps even believed, that The Episcopal Church (TEC), the official Anglican church in the USA, would abide by the moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops, as it had reportedly agreed. But, as I noted at the time, in July last year the bishops and other General Convention members of TEC in effect voted against this moratorium. The Communion survived this vote because, as everyone realises, such a decision is meaningless unless put into practice.

Now, however, things are about to change. A little over a week ago the leaders of TEC officially confirmed the election of the lesbian Mary Glasspool to be a bishop in Los Angeles. If TEC ignores, as is to be expected, some last minute pleas which will no doubt be sent from various directions including Lambeth Palace, and the consecration of Glasspool actually goes ahead on 15th May, then something clearly new will have happened. No longer can people say that the election of the gay bishop Gene Robinson was a one off aberration, and no longer can they claim that TEC is at least more or less abiding by the various moratoria it had supposedly accepted.

Another thing that is different this time is that this move by TEC is being condemned only by those groups in the Church of England which can be written off as extreme. As John Richardson has noted, strong words are also coming from the generally moderate Open Evangelical group Fulcrum. The Fulcrum leadership team has published an important paper about the issue, in which they write:

We are now indisputably in a radically new situation. TEC as a body has determinedly, perhaps irrevocably, chosen autonomy over “communion with autonomy and accountability”.

It is important that this is not simply a matter of disagreement about biblical interpretation and sexual ethics although these are central and important. It is now very clearly also a fundamental matter of truth-telling and trust.  In September 2007, at the Primates’ request and after meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, TEC bishops confirmed they would “exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion”. They made clear that “non-celibate gay and lesbian persons” were among such candidates.

When asked recently how they could therefore now proceed to confirm Mary Glasspool in the light of that assurance, one TEC bishop said this simply expressed where the bishops were in 2007 and they may be somewhere different now. At least where they are now is crystal clear.  Both moratoria have been rejected. In addition, TEC is pursuing legal actions, with widespread concern its leadership intends aggressive action against the diocese of South Carolina which upholds the Communion’s teaching.

The key question is ‘what happens next?’…

They go on to call for “clear and decisive action by the Archbishop of Canterbury”, and conclude:

Although decisive action is necessary, Archbishop Rowan’s limited powers within the Communion and his laudable desire to keep on going the extra mile to enable dialogue mean many think it unlikely. Some long ago gave up on him. Many, however, both within the Church of England and the wider Communion (particularly in the Global South which meets next month) have been patient and sought to work with him by supporting the Windsor and covenant processes. They need now to make clear that unless he gives a clear lead then all that he and others have worked for since the Windsor Report and all that is promised by the covenant is at risk because of the new situation in which TEC has placed us.

Indeed. The time for “going the extra mile” is past, or will be on 15th May. If Archbishop Rowan continues to take no action, he will now lose the respect not just of extreme conservatives but also of those in the centre, like Fulcrum, whose concern is not so much with homosexuality as with “a fundamental matter of truth-telling and trust”. How can TEC remain within the Anglican Communion while continuing to deceive its communion partners? Rowan Williams’ position will be untenable without the support of the centre of his own church. So he needs to act – or depart and leave his successor to act.

It is not yet quite the end for the Anglican Communion. But we are past the end of the beginning. This is surely the beginning of the end, at least of the Communion as we have known it.

Should errant Christian leaders be restored?

While I am taking a break from my series on Authority, power and rights in the New Testament, my near neighbour (at least from a global perspective, but we have never met) Sam Norton has started a series on a related topic: Does the priest have to be pure? In this he talks about the Donatists, whom I discussed here nearly two years ago. Sam gives an excellent explanation of why they were wrong to teach that the ministry of a Christian leader is invalidated by their personal sin.

This doesn’t mean that the sins of Christian leaders should simply be ignored. Unrepentant sinners like Michael Reid certainly should not be allowed to continue in ministry. But it does mean that those who fall should be allowed to repent and be restored, the process which was at least starting with Todd Bentley (but I haven’t kept up with that story) – and which the Donatists did not allow with the original traditores in late Roman times.

But this argument against the Donatists has its limitations in that it is not really applicable when a Christian leader not only falls into sin but also teaches that that sin is in fact right. This, arguably, is what many of the practising homosexuals in Anglican and other churches are doing: they are not only sinning (at least according to traditional biblical standards) but also teaching that what they are doing is right. But the argument against Donatism doesn’t mean that these people should be accepted, because unlike the traditores they are unrepentant.

Indeed the same can be said corporately of The Episcopal Church, which has this week demonstrated its lack of repentance over the Gene Robinson affair, as well as its contempt for the Archbishop of Canterbury, by approving the consecration of another practising homosexual bishop. This is a direct challenge to the rest of the Anglican Communion, which will renew the tensions which have brought it close to falling apart. But this teaching in effect approved by TEC is also rife in the Church of England.

I am now looking forward to the continuation of Sam Norton’s series. He promises to answer the question “what do we do when the priest isn’t pure?” In a comment I challenged him also to consider what happens when the priest is not “holding fast to the truth of the faith”. I hope he also applies these principles to the current situation in the church and the Communion in which he is a priest.

PS: I will not allow any comments here concerning Todd Bentley, unless they include significant and verifiable new information about him.

Archbishop preaches to Queen, Blair and Brown about “wickedness in high places”

It seems to have been the kind of sermon which an Archbishop would only dare to preach at a memorial service, and one which only at such an event he would have had the opportunity to preach to this kind of congregation. The Queen and much of the Royal Family, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair were among the congregation in St Paul’s Cathedral as, in Ruth Gledhill’s words in The Times (see also her blog post on the same subject, and the BBC report of the event) Archbishop Rowan Williams

condemned policymakers for failing to consider the cost of the Iraq war as he led a memorial service today for the 179 British personnel who died in the conflict.

It was in the second reading at the service, from Ephesians 6, that these sentiments were expressed:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Ephesians 6:12 (KJV, as quoted by Ruth Gledhill)

Now I’m sure Her Majesty, Blair and Brown are all biblically literate enough to understand that these words “the rulers of the darkness of this world … spiritual wickedness in high places” refer not human leaders like themselves, but to the devil and his minions. Maybe not all of the congregation would have understood this so clearly. So it is good that, according to the words from this verse which Rowan Williams quoted, the reading actually seems to have come from NRSV, which makes the enemy unambiguously other-worldly:

For our* struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12 (NRSV – thanks to Rachel for the link)

So Ruth Gledhill was being somewhat naughty to quote the potentially misleading KJV rendering of this verse, rather than the clearer version read out at the service. In NRSV the reading was clearly not referring to anyone in the congregation, and the archiepiscopal sermon was not directly so either. Instead, it contained something even more shocking to some.

We have come to expect bishops to abuse worship by condemning political leaders in their sermons. But we no longer expect them to preach about the devil or any other evil spiritual forces. Somehow it is not considered politically correct within the liberal establishment. Now even this morning the Archbishop was apparently politically correct enough not to use the words “evil” or “devil”. But he did speak of the “invisible enemy”, and in the context the meaning of that phrase was clear.

So what exactly did Archbishop Rowan attribute to this “invisible enemy”? Apparently it, or he,

may be hiding in the temptation to look for short cuts in the search for justice — letting ends justify means, letting others rather than oneself carry the cost, denying the difficulties or the failures so as to present a good public face.

The implication behind these words seems to be that during the Iraq conflict short cuts were taken, indeed perhaps that the whole western invasion of Iraq was a short cut and “letting ends justify means”. So the Archbishop was suggesting that Satan tempted our political leaders, in the UK context primarily Tony Blair but with Gordon Brown then his right hand man, into launching this invasion, and the leaders gave in to this temptation.

This is not so much Blair the Antichrist as Blair the devil’s dupe. Perhaps the Archbishop’s sermon was after all an indirect criticism of the leaders who sat in front of him. So no wonder that

Mr Blair looked solemn as he listened intently to the Archbishop’s address.

Archbishop Rowan: a prophet after the event

There is irony in the way that Ruth Gledhill praises Archbishop Rowan Williams:

Repent, or be doomed, is the Jeremiah-style message of the Archbishop of Canterbury over our financial excesses. … Our Archbishop is at last fulfilling his prophetic potential.

But is this truly prophetic? Rowan may look the part of the Old Testament prophet, but is he really speaking from God? Ruth also reports:

We were ‘intimidated by expertise’, Dr Rowan Williams said when asked by Jeremy Paxman [in a BBC interview] why the Church of England had not spoken out earlier on how finance appeared to be operating, and what it seemed to be generating in terms of wealth rather than community.

But the Old Testament prophets were never intimidated by anything. This is not a “Jeremiah-style message”, but only the pale echo of one. The Archbishop has at last found the courage to speak out a year after the events of last autumn. But, as I reported last October, the true prophets were fearlessly proclaiming what God had to say about those events before they even happened. Prediction is not the essence of true prophecy, but nor is comment after the event.

As Ruth writes in her Times Online article,

Dr Rowan Williams … has consistently taken a left-of-centre line on economic issues …

Indeed. His new criticisms of our financial excesses are not so much prophetic as another example of the Church of England timidly following trendy politicians. Now I agree that in this case those politicians and Rowan are right in most of their criticisms. But that is not because God has given me a prophetic message about it, but because my God-given sense of justice confirms it to me.

If the Archbishop cannot find any truly prophetic messages for the country about political and financial matters, he should stick to speaking about the Christian faith and the church.