03 September 2008

Rowan's Waterloo

For several months, I have been thinking about this post. I wanted to say all of this back when our friend, mentor and teacher, Fr. Jake, was still up and running. The time didn’t’ seem right and there were so many other interesting things to say. Now with a recent development in the United Kingdom, I believe the time for this post has arrived.

I must admit that I truly feel sorry for the Most Rev’d. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England, and pater Communio Anglicana.

When he accepted the historic see, he took the role seriously. So seriously that he put aside his personal convictions about many things and picked up the party line of the backbenchers in the Church of England. When he did so, I’m certain that he never saw the fundamentalist reformation that was looming on the horizon like a hurricane just waiting for a good excuse to come ashore.

First there was the Jeffrey Johns fiasco in 2003. Jeffrey was a friend and mentor of Rowan who was appointed Bishop of Reading in the Diocese of Oxford. A few backbenchers raised unholy hell and Rowan bowed to the pressure and asked Jeffrey to stand down, which he did.

Steven Bates of the Guardian puts it this way:

When five years ago, John was proposed as bishop of Reading, his appointment was endorsed – twice – by his old friend Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, announced by Downing Street and confirmed by the Queen, only to be challenged so vociferously by a coordinated international campaign of conservatives and evangelicals that Williams got cold feet and forced John unwillingly to stand down.

John's sin, of course, was honesty: he was discreet about his homosexuality and had certainly not flaunted it, but had argued, quietly and academically, for a more Christian understanding of gays. Evangelicals who assiduously sought evidence of promiscuity and sinfulness could not find it, even though they trawled the electoral register to see if he was living with his partner.

So they demanded repentance instead. But he would not ostentatiously renounce of his orientation, apologise for his views, or spurn his long-term partnership as they demanded. Of course, even had he done so, they would not have been satisfied: a motley collection of bishops said that if John asserted he was celibate, they would rejoice; but when he did so, it made no difference to them (nor did they disown or condemn those African archbishops who claimed homosexuals were the devil's work and worse than beasts). A vicar at whose vicarage bishops of Reading customarily parked their cars told John he would not be welcome to do so ("After all," his wife told me, "That's not the sort of person one wants to meet in one's drive in the morning, is it? It was nothing personal ..."). Welcome to the Church of England in the first decade of the 21st century.

If only John had kept quiet, if there had been no evidence in his writings to hold against him, he would have been a bishop already then. After all, at least two current bishops in the Church of England are widely understood to be gay, and there are almost certainly more.

I do not agree with the practice of “outing” but, perhaps that is what needs to happen for all the “quite” gay bishops.

Less than a month later came the canonical election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. The fundamentalists went into the biggest celebration since the Nazi’s surrendered in August of 1945. Why, you ask? Because they now had the perfect cover to launch their putsch.

Events escalated from “bad” to worse as the Communion headed into Lambeth Conference. How could he keep “Peace in our Day.” So, he did the wrong thing and didn’t invite the Rt. Rev’d. Gene Robinson. But that wasn’t enough. The fundamentalists, focusing on the Episcopal Church in the United States, demanded TEC be expelled from the Communion. If that did not happen, they fundamentalists would boycot the conference. They would have their own conference. They would form their own communion.

They did have their own conference where they issued their Donatist manifesto. And then came Lambeth Conference itself, and all seemed to be well, or at least as well as could possibly be expected.

Then came the post Lambeth fundamentalist conference at the conclusion of which they released a “communiqué” which one fundamentalist blog said sent “chills” though Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion office. They announced that their ship has sailed, goodbye Rowan, Anglican Communion and apostate religion. They are off to “puritan-land.”

And now, there is a new headache for the Archbishop – it comes in the form of his friend and mentor, Jeffery Johns. Yes, the same Jeffrey Johns.

The Rev’d. Mr. Johns may be nominated for the see of Bangor in North Wales. And, he has the backing of all the senior bishops and clerics in the Church of Wales. The senior bishops of the Church of Wales have said they will consecrate a gay man, if that man is qualified for the role of bishop. Sexuality is not a bar to ordination/consecration as far as they and the Welsh church is concerned.

In the Welsh Church, the process of nominating a bishop is as secretive as the papal conclaves. No name is placed in nomination until the Welsh committee is sequestered and when it is over, they are not allowed to release details of the nominations or debate.

If he is elected, and from all indications, he well could (most likely will) be, Then Rowan cannot keep his head in the sand.

This will mean the churches in Canada, The United States, Scotland and Wales, and Ireland are or have been willing to challenge the “gays aren’t welcome” recommendation. Rowan will have to make one of two choices. He can accept the consecrations and anger the fundamentalist who are still in the Communion, or he can expel the four provinces. He is doomed whichever choice he makes.

What I find interesting is that, given the secrecy that the Welsh church places on the nominations, why and how was John’s possible nomination made public? Obviously people talk about possible candidates before the conclave. The delegates can’t arrive with no candidates in mind.

You’ll never guess who “broke” the story. The Rev’d. David Anderson. Yes, THE David Anderson who is one of the American conservatives who led the fight against the consents for Gene Robinson. The very same Anderson who ran around like a chicken with its head cut off, spreading assiduous lies about Robinson and never offered an apology.

You might ask what the appointment of the bishop of Bangor has to do with someone living in Atlanta, Georgia, especially given the church's supposed agreement not to trespass on events in other provinces, but of course, Anderson is part of an international coalition ever vigilant against gay clergy. One of Anderson's close associates is Canon Chris Sugden of Oxford, one of the campaigners against John in 2003 and now an organiser of the conservative coalition known as Gafcon whose member bishops boycotted Archbishop Williams's recent Lambeth conference. And, funnily enough, Sugden's daughter, Joanna, is employed as deputy to the Times' religion correspondent who broke the story. Of course, this may all be a coincidence.

Andersons “intervention” is a not so subtle attempt to invigorate fundamentalists once again to oppose Johns nomination/appointment and to give legitimacy to the fundamentalist's un-Christian actions.

Johns, who is currently Dean of St. Alban's, says “one should not judge God by his church.” Sometimes it is hard not to do so. When one examines the fundamentalist communion, it’s nearly impossible not to do so because the fruits are not of God.

Rowan’s handling of the appointment of Johns as bishop of Reading was William’s Waterloo. When he capitulated to the fundamentalists, he lost everything – it was the ‘time of death’ for the communion. The fundamentalists knew they "had" Williams and that they could do anything they wanted to do, and Williams would not stand up to them. Had he stood up for his own conviction and against injustice, we would not be where we are now. But he didn’t and everything that has happened since that moment has been just quibbling over the will.

My thanks to David Allen for pointing out that my Spell check confused Reading, England, with Redding, California.