Thinking Anglicans

Tom Sutcliffe: Lost in the Wilderness

Updated Thursday

Tom Sutcliffe has provided us with an improved version of his article about Archbishop Rowan Williams which we have published as a web page here.

Readers may like to know that an earlier, much shorter version of this article originally appeared here.
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Tom Sutcliffe has written a very perceptive article about Rowan Williams which has been published by Anglican Ink.

The title is Lost in the wilderness: Rowan Williams’s via crucis as Archbishop of Canterbury, and the future without him.

This is well worth the time to read in full, even though it is over 6000 words.

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Alastair Newman
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A fascinating read. I can’t agree with quite a bit of what the author says though, in particular the author’s view that ++Rowan’s failure to “play the game” was failure per se. (I do agree that the inconsistency with which ++Rowan applied his previously expressed views once in office was enormously frustrating.) “No other Archbishop would so readily have accepted the downgrading constitutionally implied by Gordon Brown’s decision as prime minister to abdicate the choice between two candidates for CofE bishoprics – including Rowan’s successor whoever he or she may be.” – I personally view such a move as extremely… Read more »

Jean Mayland
Guest
Jean Mayland

I think this article is quite brilliant and analyses perfectly the situation we are now in as the Church of England. It should be read by everyone involved in the appointing of the next Archbishop of Canterbury and also by those who fancy themselves in the position !

Lois Keen
Guest
Lois Keen

Wow! Yes, indeed, well worth the full read. I now understand what happened in a deeper, more helpful (to me) way.

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

Well, I am going to be in a minority, but I think Giles’ piece on Rowan having followed his own star is much closer to the mark.

This VERY long essay says more about its author’s failed expectations and Rowan’s failure to aspire to them too.

John
Guest
John

I certainly found it very interesting. The degree of ‘personalisation’, however, I found disturbing. And when one is talking about/assessing general policy, it always seems imperative to consider crunch cases and analyse alternatives concretely. So, the Jeffrey John affair (x2). I think he called it wrong x2. But if he’d called it right, there would have been adverse consequences which might – MIGHT – have outweighed the good. I think the only thing that might have worked was to say loud and clear in the ‘honeymoon period’: look, there are these things we disagree about, let us ‘park’ them, by… Read more »

rjb
Guest
rjb

Mr Sutcliffe would have been well-served by a vigorous editor. There is much of interest here, especially in the last part, where he surveys some of the institutional and structural problems around the Archbishop’s office. I think he is less perceptive in his summary of Rowan Williams’ legacy to the church, in part because he seems deeply unsympathetic to much of the Archbishop’s ecclesial theology. Mr Sutcliffe refers to the historic faith of the Church of England as “episcopal Protestantism,” a description I suspect Rowan would not accept (and which I most certainly don’t). I’m less than enamoured, too, with… Read more »

karen macqueen+_
Guest

Very thoughtful analysis of +Rowan William’s weaknesses as Archbishop. I particularly like Sutcliffe’s insights comparing Runcie and Williams. Most of us who were happy about +Rowan’s appointment expected him to pay primary attention to his role in the CofE and to exercise a liberalizing influence on the moral aspect of social issues in England, after the rigid conservatism of Carey. We were baffled when it seemed that +Rowan had no clear and consistent view of his role. At one time he was the moderately liberal Archbishop who criticized the reduction of benefits to families with children; at another time he… Read more »

badman
Guest
badman

The shrewdest insight in this piece is the recognition that the Church of England exists at its broad base, in the pews, much more than at its episcopal or archiepiscopal apex, and that Dr Williams has wasted too much time to no purpose in pursuit of an even more elevated and insignificant point of the Anglican pyramid, relations between “Primates” at international level.

Spirit of Vatican II
Guest
Spirit of Vatican II

Rowan has been a great archbishop, a beacon to the nation and the world. The institutional issues raised here are very complex and sound like measuring the present by a vanished past.

John Bowles
Guest
John Bowles

This is an interesting, if over self-referential article. Two points strike me. Sutcliffe takes pains to depict Archbishop Williams as an outsider with little experience of the Church of England. Surely that is contradicted by the substantial periods of time he spent in English academia in which he also participated in parish life? Many of his friends are parish priests as well as bishops and one assumes he knew what to expect. Another factor is that no recent Archbishop of Canterbury inherited a mess as considerable as that left by his predecessor. Archbishop Ramsey had to endure the retirement interference… Read more »

Philip Hobday
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Philip Hobday

Sutcliffe’s analysis of the structural and organisational problems around the office of the Archbishop – and the confusing and confused lines of accountability and responsibility in the National Institutions – is spot on. These problems will need tackling urgently, whoever is appointed. His account of Archbishop Rowan’s personal contribution is far more tendentious. There seems to be a widespread unwillingness to accept that there’s a legitimate and sincere view (not the only one, of course) which says the Archbishop’s job is to deepen, distil, and reflect the mind of the Church. The mind of the Church of England is, in… Read more »

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

I would agree with much Philip Hobday says.

But I think Dr Williams did want the job and actively sought it – in the most saintly and holy way possible, of course.

John Bowles
Guest
John Bowles

Martin Reynolds.

What evidence do you have that Rowan Williams ‘actively sought’ Canterbury? From what little I know of him, I understand he kept pining for Oxford and wished he had never left.

Sara MacVane
Guest
Sara MacVane

@ Philip Hobday – I would presume though that anyone appointed (assigned, elected, as the case may be) to a particular office is so appointed because of who he/she is and what he represents. So I think quite srongly that RW should have been ‘himself’ and promoted as inclusively and generously as possible those opinions and beliefs which he espouses. The pretense (as I would call it) that it is OK for the C-of-E (or any other church of the Communion) to have priests and bishops who are tendentially gay and indeed in some cases partnered, but not OK for… Read more »

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

This put me in mind of the deceased prefaces to Crockford.

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“+Rowan’s efforts to keep the very conservative provinces within the Communion has failed in all but formal separation. His role as a spiritual leader in England has not been a great success, either. Sutcliffe’s piece ought to be required reading for the Crown Nominating Commission.” – Karen MacQueen – I think that Karen’s comment has much to commend it – especially that the article by Tom Sutcliffe became required reading for the Electors of the next ABC. There can be no doubt that Rowan’s apparent inability to bring the Communion together on issues of gender and sexuality was already a… Read more »

Randal Oulton
Guest
Randal Oulton

I think he’s tried to play the Queen’s role as governor a bit! To remain above the fray and stow his personal opinions on contentious matters away.

Let’s see if his personal opinions actually start coming out next year.

LaurenceR
Guest
LaurenceR

‘Let’s see if his personal opinions actually start coming out next year.’ The trouble is they have lost their currency for some of us. I am really not interested in them. What would be the point for me ? I have heard him with my own ears speak for gay relationships, I read the post-Lambeth letter he signed, with its pledge to lesbians and gay men. All later over-ruled by his words and actions. If he starts spouting pro-gay ideas again – when it will cost him nothing, and he is no longer, in any position to help us, that… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

“If he starts spouting pro-gay ideas again – when it will cost him nothing, and he is no longer, in any position to help us, that would be another blow.” – LaurenceR – Well at least, Laurence, it would not be as toxic as the activity of his predecessor in the post. As ABC, Rowan had to try to keep everyone, from every viewpoint, together. He saw that as his highest objective. As an academic, he will no longer be responsible for that, and may be able to be more useful to the LGBT community in promoting what he really… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“provided he is willing to stand up for what he knows to be the Gospel truth.”

No, Fr Ron, it’s not that simple. Gospel truths are to be lived, not just spoken. To speak them, then fail to give even a hint that you might still believe in them when they conflict with another one of your goals, and then to speak them again later is not credible.

I’m afraid, I for one, will never read another word he writes about this.

I look forward to his commitment to social justice, to evening out economic inequality. In that area his integrity is intact.

JCF
Guest
JCF

“Rowan has been a great archbishop, a beacon to the nation and the world.”

Oh, {{{SV2}}}. When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you’re a “SV2” Roman Catholic, every Archbishop of Canterbury looks like a VAST improvement over what you’re stuck with.

We remember +++Temple, +++Ramsey, and even +++Runcie. By *those* standards, +++Williams… 🙁

Anthony Archer
Guest
Anthony Archer

Fortunately for the Canterbury CNC, Tom Sutcliffe will not be a member. While there is much to commend in this self-serving piece, including the general theme that ++Rowan did not do leadership, the fact remains that Archbishops of Canterbury have to deal with the landscape as they find it. ++Rowan neither sought the role, nor were there any other real candidates of equal measure. My concern is that the paucity of candidates remains a constraint again. My support for the Archbishop of York is well documented, but perhaps it would do no harm to suspend presentation for a time. The… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest

“I look forward to his commitment to social justice, to evening out economic inequality. In that area his integrity is intact.”

Erika, I don’t even want to hear from him about that – I take it too seriously, and having someone speak on it who’s so ethically compromised himself elsewhere can only hurt the cause.

A servant who is not faithful in small things, will not be faithful in large ones, and people know that, Christian or not.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Mark, “A servant who is not faithful in small things, will not be faithful in large ones, and people know that, Christian or not.” But then we’re getting dangerously close to wanting priests and bishops who are no longer human, and part of the problem of our church is that we already expect them to be role models in a way no normal person could live up to. Certainly, there is a myriad of ways in which my own integrity is compromised, if you’re that strict. If you go down that route,you end up in the liberal equivalent moralistic camp… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

I will always be willing to listen to Rowan Williams when he speaks on spirituality, and Carmelite spirituality in particular. I have learnt some really profound truths through him. I hope he may know the grace and peace of God, and the presence and love of God, with him in all the times to come. I recall words he wrote on vocation, about how God doesn’t just give us a one-off experience of vocation, but how God continues to call us into being, and becoming who we uniquely are. Rowan is known and loved by God and I believe God… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Susannah,
I find listening to Rowan on spiritualy particularly impossible. For what is spirituality, if not a way of discovering how God acts in our own lives?

If it remains in the realm of something that happens in our heads or that touches us deeply at some vague emotional level but that doesn’t then help us to translate our insights into our actions, what’s the point?

Once a man’s understanding of spirituality has led him to selling his friends down the river for a perceived higher good, he’s no longer talking about the God I know.

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

Well Erika, I agree with you on many things. I’m only saying that personally, for me individually, Rowan’s writings have helped me. In saying that, I am not trying to gloss over the continuing injury sustained by LGBT Christians because of a failure of courage (in my opinion) by many bishops, in viewing justice as something that can be suspended or postponed, in the interests of placating those who would perpetuate injustice. Rowan, the human being, is probably as fallible as you or as me. Each of us fail, sometimes at crucial times in our lives. However, I am convinced… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

(contd…) However, I am not well informed. I have never spoken to Rowan face to face. I have not listened. I have not met God with him as we conversed. I can’t really know where he’s travelled these past few years, what has driven him, how he has suffered. I would need to do so, to fully understand. Meanwhile, I do not find it impossible to listen to him, to what he writes. I hope I can journey on, as he journeys on, with scope for sharing and learning, and always, a waiting and openness before God. When perfection comes,… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

(contd…) To me, the Episcopal Church in the US has acted prophetically, been a beacon, demonstrated courage, insisted on the urgency of justice. To adapt a speech of Martin Luther King (with the proviso that race and sexual justice cannot be simply elided, but I translate race to sexual orientation here, simply to make a point): “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the Christian moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that (the gay or lesbian person’s) great… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Susannah, you are a better woman than I am. And I truly do mean it. For myself, I just cannot do it. I can listen to him from one human being to another, walking side by side. And I can welcome his insights into much that is wrong with our world. I do hope he will have influence there for years to come. But for me, there is a point I cannot cross within myself. Having truly understood the deep equality of all people before God and the true moral equality of women and lgbt people, this is something that… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest

I can only tell you, Erika, that the man has lost any credibility with me. He is not a figure that is trustworthy, and has terribly compromised himself, to the point that he will do no more than harm the causes he speaks for. In my experience, his actions have been so regrettably public that this disdain for him is widespread, and will harm those causes. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. As for non-human clergy, no. But clergy should and *must* be held to a much higher standard than others. Is that a double standard? Perhaps. I… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Mark “The priest stands at the center as exemplar – how can a priest be exemplar if he is not held to a higher standard?” That might work if we understood our Christianity better and if we were not the kind of people baying for blood and seeking out weakness. If we read our bibles properly and truly understood what it means that God calls the frail and fallible to his service, not those the world would idolise. If we were truly Christian in our own approach, accepting that people grow, change, make mistakes, repent and are then truly forgiven… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest

That *is* what I’m asking for, Erika.

What I’m giving Rowan is the reflection of his own pastoral example.

Okay?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Mark, but are you not asking Rowan to be more perfect than he is? And are you not saying that he should be better because he is a bishop? I can’t take what he says about many things seriously any more, I agree that he is too compromised to speak to me personally in that respect. I wish he could have been a stronger man in supporting what he knows to be right. What I would not want to say is that he ought to have done so because he is a priest and bishop. I hold him to the… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

I still cannot help thinking that – according to his own conscience – but outrageously bullied by the conservative Primates within our Communion – The Archbishop of Canterbury sought to maintain what he discerned to be the ‘Unity of the Church’. That this has, for a season, allowed conservatives to beak away from the Anglican Communion, is not due to Rowan’s desire for Unity but, I submit, the direct result of a misplaced emphasis on the perceived need to keep everyone ‘In Communion’ – at the expense of the ‘Listening Process’ that the ABC, and Lambeth, prescribed. It is not… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest

Fine, Erika. I’m tired of pointless arguing with everybody over every nit-picking thing. It’s absolutely useless. I’ve already said that I believe we should hold clergy to a higher standard. I don’t know how I can be clearer. Holding them to a higher standard doesn’t preclude forgiveness, but repentance has to be demonstrated, otherwise nothing has changed. You, frankly, are trying to hold *me* to a standard of your own in this, as I’m not arguing that *you* have to see it that way, simply that that’s how I believe it must be to reverse the incredible problems the churches… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Fr Ron, it is true that the gay issue was hijacked by people who have very little interest in it but who were playing a different power game of their own. And I believe that Rowan did not understand that. He genuinely thought that if you ask gay people to wait a bit longer and if you can get everyone round the table to talk,then there is a chance that you can properly include gay people in the life of the church while preserving unity. But in practice, getting everyone round the table has always meant “everyone but gay people… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Mark,
I’m sorry.
I thought we were having a conversation teasing out different kinds of thinking and their reasons for them.
It is an important conversation and one the church will eventually have to have: does holding priests to a higher standard cause the problems we face or is it the solution to them.

I did not want to offend you, far less persuade you to see things my way. I’m sorry if I upset you.

MarkBrunson
Guest

I’m sorry, too, Erika. I’m just very tired and depressed and somewhat pained.