Friday, January 19, 2007

Bethlehem Challenges Canterbury

Yes, I know this is old news now, but since folks still seem to be floating it about, I decided to stop fighting the current. Also, there's some new commentary regarding Bethlehem vs. Canterbury now available that might be worth discussing.

The news, of course, is a scathing letter that Bishop Paul Marshall of Bethlehem sent to the members of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops. It is in regards to the leadership, or lack thereof, of Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. Here's a taste:

...I am sadly impressed that my friend and neighbor Bob Duncan, peace be to him, and a few of his supporters, have had more time with Rowan Williams than has our entire House, or even our Church gathered in Convention. The long-distance intervention in our process during the last moments of the Columbus convention has made us a laughing-stock. (Katharine wonderfully rolled with that without losing her integrity, a marvelous first inning.) The public words of welcome he gave to our new primate would have made a Laodicean proud for their restrained enthusiasm. The widely-publicized Lambeth Palace photograph of Rowan, Frank, and Katharine all standing as far away from each other as the camera lens would allow has not been without its effect on many among us. A dismal icon of formal communion without a hint of affection or connection has been sent to the entire inhabited world...

...The situation of the shunning of North American bishops would be painful under any circumstances. The pain is more intense here because it comes from the withdrawal of a human who was friend, teacher, and colleague to many in this church – with no notice that either his opinions or commitments were in flux. The archbishop has appeared to my knowledge only once in the US since 2003, and that was the briefest of visits to raise money for a function of the Communion. He cancelled a date for a joint meeting with Canadian and US bishops with no real excuse, and has made no effort to reschedule what could have been a fellowship-redeeming encounter...
Andrew Gerns offers a good summary of how this letter has been addressed within the blogosphere. And for the sake of keeping peace with our friend from across the pond, note that Mad Priest was the first to report it.

The Episcopal Majority offers us some thoughts on Bp. Marshall's letter from Dr. Gordon Gritter of the Diocese of El Camino Real. Dr. Gritter suggests that Canterbury's aloofness towards TEC does not necessarily indicate that he is either antagonistic or dismissive of us. To understand Dr. Williams' actions, or lack thereof, one must consider various factors; his concern to maintain the proper structure and function of the Communion, the fear of the US that exists in parts of the developing world, the most unChristian behavior of some of the Southern Primates and the apparent alliance these Primates have formed with conservatives in TEC. In light of these factors, how should the Archbishop proceed? Here is Dr. Gritter's estimation:

...In my opinion, Archbishop Rowan has every reason to expect that the Episcopal Church will continue to be his ally, even though he hears our indignation at having been snubbed. He can rely on us to understand his dilemma and to behave rationally in the long run. There are other people within the Anglican Communion about whom he can have no such confidence. Indeed, some of them are capable of planting "bombs" and behaving very destructively. He sees the urgent need to try to maintain constructive communication with them lest the entire Anglican Communion go up in flames because of disastrous sectarian leadership.

I applaud Bishop Marshall for his honesty, candor, and insistence upon accountability, while at the same time maintaining respect and dignity. I do not applaud those others who are being partisan, rude, and insulting, thus confirming the worst stereotypes about Americans.
Two perspectives, both expressing respect for Dr. Williams while still questioning his behavior. Without becoming "partisan, rude, and insulting, thus confirming the worst stereotypes about Americans," how do you think the Archbishop of Canterbury should proceed?

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