Saturday, May 28, 2011

No Anglican Communion? I wonder.

The reports out of the UK the past few days regarding expose by Dean Colin Slee of Southwark Cathedral have really aired the Church of England’s dirty linen. Thinking Anglicans line up of commentary show the tawdry state of affairs the hierarchy of the CofE. And now that it has been posted all over the world now should let the whole Communion know that the leadership of both archbishops of the CofE has lost dignity and respectability. Their actions are neither in keeping with the Scriptural expectations of bishops (1 Tim) nor are able to stand the scrutiny of even the most modicum of the infamous British sense of ‘fair play’. [It is interesting to hear from some of my CofE buddies the dismissal of them both as ‘not really English’ doncha know?--++Williams is Welsh; ++Sentamu, Nigerian] Where ever they are from, it is clear that something has seriously gone off the rails.  Nothing  seems to embody much constitutional authority there at all.  It sounds like the same ole stuff that King George III used to do and he was mad, I believe.

At the Crown Nominations Commission responsible for nominating the new bishop candidates for the diocese of southern London (Southwark), last year the nominations for Dr. Jeffery Johns and Nicholas Holtam were proposed by the people of the diocese and vetoed by the archbishops of Canterbury and York. The description of the way that this was handled was described as ‘high handed’ and brutal. The voice of the people lay and ordained was overridden. John, a gay man in a civil but celibate relationship with a partner was told to stand down from the position. And it was the leakage of this story that incurred the wrath of the ABC.

When one reads the whole of the revelation by the now deceased Dr. Slee, one sees what kind of bully pulpit that the Archbishop of Canterbury maintains. And the more I learn of ++Rowan Williams the more discouraged I am about the Anglican Communion. Even more, it has shown how byzantine the mechanics of accusation and personal pique are part of the character of ++Rowan. Rather than address leaks he accused Slee of, ++Williams accuses without any substantiation. He refuses to see his own complicity in the leaking of information to the press. The paranoia at the upper levels of the Church of England is clear and fearful. And it should serve all in the Anglican Communion that there is something sincerely ‘rotten in Lambeth’.

I have a hard time trying to follow ++Williams’ thinking. Without a doubt he does not like the US of A or The Episcopal Church (TEC). He sees US as profligate and unprincipled. He was, at the beginning of his episcopacy, seen as a liberal theologian. His writings in support of the LGBT community have been highly touted. However, the weight of the episcopacy and certainly the archiepiscopacy he has not born well. He has demeaned our Church because we have tried to address a serious moral and legal issue within our nation. He has reversed his initial writings by declaring LGBT folk as unfit for the episcopacy. He has demeaned women in general, women priests in his own church and our Presiding Bishop with petty and spiteful comments and actions while never chastising those ‘flying bishops’ from Africa who invade our church with regularity. He has consorted and colluded with those who teach schism in our church. And in doing so he has contributed to those who would undermine the spirit of Anglicanism in Africa (Cf. the Chapman Report and Jim Naughton’s “Follow the Money.” And it could be construed by his actions in Africa to support those who would replace our constitutional government both in the nation and the church with an oligarchy. And now he is trying to strong arm a document (The Anglican Covenant) that will forever change the fabric of Anglicanism by making himself an “Instrument of Unity?” I don’t think so.

I have throughout my career been a supporter of the Anglican Communion. I have found real comfort in our via media approach to the broad house of Christianity throughout the world as a beacon of hope as many faiths become more and more particularized and marginalized by hard lines and pre-modern stances. I have given to Anglican relief efforts. I have studied and visited churches throughout the world finding the same kind of welcoming spirit despite this world’s continuing effort to shatter the love of Christ with factionalism, power and greed. I have welcomed clergy from around the world to the parishes I have served. I have believed the kind of Anglicanism that I have known which is welcoming and accepting is the kind of church I want for the future. And yet, and yet…

With the revelations of the machinations of the upper echelons of the CofE, I question if it is a good and holy thing to continue to support the Anglican Communion. Personally I am proud of TEC and its willingness to take on the LGBT issue with dignity and integrity. Yes, it has cost us. But as our world continues into this post-modern era, the LGBT issue will pass away so that in 2 generations no one will understand what the flap was about. We need but note that African American educated thirty-somethings do not even know about Selma 40 years hence. Perhaps it IS time for us to walk apart to show that the Church does not necessarily have to mire itself in pre-modern understandings of Scripture or praxis to convey a Gospel of love and caring for humankind. Perhaps it would be better if our brand of Anglicanism was free to live a transparency that seems totally at odds with the hierarchy of the CofE.

I do not deny that TEC has its own problems with those who play power games. It is quite obvious in those dioceses that have felt the dishonesty of the schismatics who have wandered into a pseudo-anglican never-neverland alphabet soup where wholesale fraud and embezzlement have marked their departure. I do believe that we will have times in TEC when we will have to look deeply into our actions and root out the sins that mark us all. That is part of the human condition and the saving work of Christ. But at the present moment, the leadership of the present Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be trusted. The Anglican Communion does not get to be his bully pulpit simply because the English feel that they should be ‘nice’ to THEIR Archbishop. The character of the Anglican Communion cannot be tailored to meet the desires of a single crown appointed fellow that hasn’t got the integrity of a jellyfish.

I will continue to pray for ++Rowan.  He needs it.  I will continue to pray for the CofE.  But it too has to look to itself and root out the sin that is within it.  The duplicity of denying the episcopacy to superb candidates simply because they are gay or women is anti-deluvian and sinful in a nation that embraces female and gay leadership all of the time.  No amount of dictatorial behavior is going to be able to lead the CofE that is trying to 'listen' to one another.  The laity and the clergy of the CofE are going to have to bite the bullet and claim the honesty that the Church of England desperately needs.  They must be willing to 'buck' a system that is rotten with privilege and purple and find shepherds that will claim the high calling of serving Christ rather garnering honors for themselves.  And if there are no mechanics to do so within the CofE, it is time to make them for the future of the Church.


JimB said...


One item the GafCon conservatives have brought up from time to time is the default status of Canterbury as "primus inter pares" ( "First Among Equals",) and his automatic standing as an "instrument of unity." They have discussed the idea that they may choose another archbishop and another city based on a selection by their churches.

While these are folks who would probably like to burn the two of us at the stake, they are not always wrong. :-)

Seeing Williams and Sentamu exposed for the corrupt bullies Slee portrays leads me to think this one such time.

Maybe it is time to say "no" to the "covenant" and look for new structures and new leaders.

The idea that any primate would willingly subject him or her self and their church to the bullying Williams and Semantu use in lieu of leadership is amazing.


June Butler said...

Excellent, Muthah. I value the Anglican Communion for the relationships with Anglicans around the world, different though we may be. However, the revelations of Rowan's recent behavior serve to stiffen my spine against the daft covenant. I do not want this man to have control over our church life. We already know he doesn't like us. Why would we think he'd have our best interests at heart?

steadyonthewheel said...

Hi Muthah and blessings on this Memorial Day.

Due to various reasons, I have not been able to keep up with much of the commentary about the Church at large or more specifically, the Anglican Covenant. Please forgive me for that.

I want to speak of my own personal acquaintance with Rowan Williams. I was fortunate to have spent two summer study sessions at Oxford in the mid-90's. One of those sessions was highlighted by the scholarship of Rowan Williams, who was then Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at the University. I listened in awe to his lectures, we prayed together, shared meals and conversation and I simply enjoyed his presence. We both knew a bishop in the UK who was most influential to us and we shared many good stories about him. I found Rowan to be a sincerely kind person...salt of the earth. At the time, I had no idea he would eventually become A of C.

My focus is back on the Church. How can a person of such wisdom, intellect and prayerfulness become so universally disliked? There are obvious answers... people change, life and issues change, certain mistakes are made as issues embolden, or perhaps someone is simply in the wrong position, etc., etc. Yet, the contrary may also be true: Bishop Williams is prophetic and simply upsetting everyone. I do not know.

My question: Is it possible to carry-on into the future as Anglicans with the weight of our divisions resting on one person? This question gives me pause as to the future constitution of our leadership and polity. I would hope (perhaps in vain) that the position of Archbishop of Canterbury can be retained as a symbol of unity, and an advocate for uniting disparate parties within the church. To lose the potentially valuable resource of the A of C could deepen the crisis and destabilize the Church even more. Prayers for the mission of the Church and its unity in Christ in these difficult times.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond and many blessings.

Paul Powers said...

Sentamu is from Uganda, not Nigeria.

Muthah+ said...

Thanks for the comment. It is disheartening when you see someone who has failed to come up to the expectations of his call. I too thought ++Rowan was the man for the job. But like many, power can corrupt--not that I am saying the ++ Rowan is. But it HAS taken taken him away from the center of Christ. He is more worried about the institution than he is his own integrity.

But it is in our personal integrity that others find Christ. If one jettison's one's personal integrity for any reason, one loses the focus on Christ.

I find it a sad commentary on us clergy, but it that power, and our desire for personal advancement that is the greatest temptation. It isn't sexual misconduct. And when it becomes the culture of the Church, the Church loses its ability to proclaim the living God.

Muthah+ said...


I KNEW that. Thanks for correction.

Paul Powers said...


I kind of figured you did. :-)

A couple of years ago I read The Shack. I didn't like it that much, and I don't recommend it, but there was a passage that stuck with me where the "Jesus" says that he never cared about institutions. He was more interested in relationships.

Perhaps that's a big part of the Anglican Communion's problem. People become so worried about the institution (e.g. who is and who isn't getting invited to Lambeth) that they ignore the relational aspects.

I see Anglicanism at its best when I read Lisa Fox's moving comments on her blog about her experiences with her diocese's companion diocese in the Sudan.

I also see it in Katie Sherrod's work to make people in the U.S. aware of the hardships that LGBT people endure in many African countries.

I also see it in the work that Summer Twyman, a missionary and social worker from Fort Worth, is doing in Cambodia with victims of child sex trafficing (Yes, I know that Summer is part of the ACNA Diocese of Fort Worth, but in the context of the work she is doing, does it really matter?)

These relationships (and similar ones) should continue regardless of who gets voted on (or off) the Island because this is where we find Anglican Christianity at its best.

Muthah+ said...

Paul, I too would hate to lose our relationships among those who come from the same roots as we. And like you I found Lisa's relationships in Sudan more important than the 'stuff and bother' coming from Lambeth or so-called 'instruments of unity.'

Personally I don't think we need an instrument of unity. Unity is not kept in place by covenants or contracts. Unity is what comes when there is good will. Good will has been severely trashed by those who have 'witheld communion'.