Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Cautious Voice of Rowan Williams

In a recent interview, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, discussed a number of topics. His restrained language offers little new insights into his personal views regarding various concerns within the Church, with the possible exception of a rather clear indication that his restraint is intentional, and will continue:

...I've been given a responsibility to try and care for the church as a whole, the health of the church. That health has a lot to do with the proper and free exchange between different cultural and political and theological contexts: people are actually able to learn from each other. And it's got a lot to do therefore, with valuing and nurturing unity, not, as I've often said, not as an alternative to truth, but actually as one of the ways we absorb truth. That means that, structurally speaking, in the church as I believe it to be, it really is wrong for an Archbishop to be the leader of a party; in a polarised and deeply divided church it's particularly important, I think, not to be someone pursuing an agenda that isn't the agenda of the whole. Now, on this question of what the agenda of the whole is or should be, is a long job to decipher or untangle ... And I suppose what I'm, therefore, saying, and it's not something new, is if the church moves on this, it must be because the church moves, not because, rather like getting rid of Clause 4, a figure of leadership says, "right - this is where we go." My conviction, my views, my theological reflections on this and, indeed on other matters, they are things which I have to bring to that common process of discernment. It's not as if I can say simply, "I know this is right, this is where we've got to go, come along, whatever the cost." And if you ask is that a comfortable position to be in, no, not particularly, but I think it's part of what's intrinsic to the role of any bishop and, therefore, a priori, Archbishop, which is to try and make sense of people to each other in such a way that whatever movement there is, is just one bit running ahead with its agenda.
The interviewer, Alan Rusbridger, summarized this postion well; a summation affirmed by Dr. Williams:

AR: Don't we get back into this danger of being, sort of a ring holder, appearing to -

AC: Sure. Not having any convictions except being able to hold together, as it were.
Does this sound to you as coming close to a stance of "unity at any cost"? If not, read on. The next topic is Archbishop Peter Akinola:

AR: Yeah, again. None of this is news to you but looking from outside, it seems as though you're, well, you haven't made any fuss in public about the recent pronouncements of Archbishop Akinola, or the Archbishop of central Africa and yet they seem to be equal participants, of equal weight in this debate, as the people on the other side.

AC: Again, what is or - or should be said in public is something I would - see previous remarks - weigh very carefully, what actually moves things on. I don't believe that all of this should necessarily be conducted on the internet, as some do. I think the situation in Central Africa is - is dismal and deeply problematic. I wish I knew how to resolve it. It doesn't mean ignoring it.

AR: Right, so we can take of that, that it's a situation where you are saying things privately?

AC: The correspondence continues...

AR: And what about Akinola and his troubling statements about Muslims (not being allowed to bear arms) which was followed by 80 people being macheted to death?

AC: Hmmm. I think that what he - what he meant as, so to speak, an abstract warning, you know, "don't be provocative because in an unstable situation it's as likely the Christians will resort to violence as Muslims will." It was taken by some as, you know, open provocation, encouragement, a threat. I think I know him well enough to - to take his good faith on that, what he meant. He did not mean to stir up the violence that happened. He's a man who will speak very directly and immediately into crises. I think he meant to issue a warning, which certainly has been taken as a threat, an act of provocation. Others in the Nigerian church have, I think, found other ways of saying that which have been more measured.
Is this a rebuke or a justification of Abp. Akinola's irresponsible remarks? And why is there no mention of Akinola's support for the civil legislation that makes even advocating for civil rights in Nigeria a criminal offense?

There are some rather concrete statements contained in this interview regarding creationism and "faith schools" which may be of interest to some. Personally, I found myself quite discouraged by Dr. William's cautious pronouncements. I do not think a "ring holder" will lead us into any kind of unity that one could still consider Christian, let alone Anglican.


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