Rowan Williams addressed Synod today in an attempt to quell bitter infighting over the ANCA, frustration from liberals at the delays in women bishops, the belligerence of those opposed to women’s Episcopal ministry and all the hurt and anger caused by various issues such as the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill and the election of Mary Glasspool. Sometimes, despite all my anger and frustration, I do feel sympathy for Williams, who would not given the impossible nature of his job? I do not think Williams is good at his role exactly, but who could shine in the impossible role of being everything to everyone?
And in the Communion? There is an undoubted good in the independence of local provinces, and there is an undoubted good in the fact that some provinces are increasingly patient, compassionate and thankful in respect of the experience and ministry of gay and lesbian people – entirely in accord with what the Lambeth Conferences and Primates’ statements have said. But when the affirmation of that good takes the form of pre-empting the discernment of the wider Anglican (and a lot of the non-Anglican) fellowship, and of acting in ways that negate the general understanding of the limits set by Bible and tradition, there is a conflict with another undoubted good, which is the capacity of the Anglican family to affirm and support one another in diverse contexts. The freedom claimed, for example, by the Episcopal Church to ordain a partnered homosexual bishop is, simply as a matter of fact, something that has a devastating impact on the freedom of, say, the Malaysian Christian to proclaim the faith without being cast as an enemy of public morality and risking both credibility and personal safety. It hardly needs to be added that the freedom that might be claimed by an African Anglican to support anti-gay legislation likewise has a serious impact on the credibility of the gospel in our setting.
I think many will comment on the balance of this speech, but to me it was almost too balanced. If you look at the sentences above, the clauses are almost like an equation, each aspect of that could be seen in a positive light could be equally balanced by a negative interpretation. There is a sense he wants to be fair to opposing viewpoints, to be descriptive and not prescriptive. The trouble is that so many on different sides do not want a description; they want action, whether that action is the disciplining of TEC or the ordination of women bishops.
William’s attempt to see the positive did appeal to me; he wrote of the good that he sees around the Communion. However, the good done, for example, in the Church of Uganda, does not prevent me from feeling anger when I read the appalling statement released by that Church today, a statement that equates homosexuality with paedophilia, recommending that the bill use,
Language that strengthens the existing Penal Code to protect the boy child, especially from homosexual exploitation; to prohibit lesbianism, bestiality, and other sexual perversions; and to prohibit procurement of material and promotion of homosexuality as normal or as an alternative lifestyle, be adopted.
(Church of Uganda’s response to 2009 Anti-homosexuality bill)
I also understand that the good done in TEC does not, for some conservatives, mitigate their actions in ordaining actively gay and lesbian bishops.
Ultimately, people do not want their differences described to them, so many within the Communion are tired of waiting, tired of waiting for equality for women, tired of waiting for honesty to truly acknowledge LGBT people within the Communion or, on the other side tired of waiting for “bibilical truth” to be affirmed and the errant rebuked.
What I found most ironic about William’s speech was the comment at the end that through loving each other,
“We may be able to show to the world a face rather different from that anxious, self-protective image that is so much in danger of entrenching itself in the popular mind as the typical Christian position.”
And this comes from a man whose default position is caution, who is handling the whole situation gingerly, as perhaps it warrants, who is looked to for action but impotent to take any, who is so very anxious and self protective that what he gives with one hand he takes away with the other. Williams is gifted in description above action, and here his words seemed to perfectly sum up the man himself.
( You can now watch this embedded below)