Thursday, 3 May 2012

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.
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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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 positive for the CofE! Frankly, we do not want a repeat of Margaret Thatcher fiddling around with episcopal appointments: particularly when such intervention follows criticism from the CofE of government policy.

The author's view that the CofE is basically a large public school where "Canterbury is HM, York deputy HM - and the rest of the House of Bishops are like public school housemasters, with the parish clergy as sort of prefects and the laity as the boys being educated and paying the fees." worries me in the sense that ++Rowan is criticised for not having gone along with it. What earthly (or heavenly) reason is there for the CofE being this way? Do the bishops, clergy, laiety actually want it to be this way? Not all of us were happy at public school...

"Rowan has tended to state what he thought - but imply that others must make their own minds up, which is not how generals win battles or headmasters maintain a school’s orderly sense of direction."

Does it need stating that the CofE is like neither battle nor school? I'm not quite sure what the CofE is supposed to be winning in a warlike manner? What IS winning for a Church/church?! Why should the pursuit of God necessarily result in an orderly pulling together in a single direction? The record of history would seem to suggest otherwise. Sure, the "Englishness" of the CofE is one of its distinctives, and one for which it is most fondly viewed. However, the "Englishness" of the Battle of Waterloo or Eton College would be well avoided in a twenty-first century Church of England.

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Monday, 30 April 2012 at 3:01pm BST

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 !

Posted by: Jean Mayland on Monday, 30 April 2012 at 4:03pm BST

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

Posted by: Lois Keen on Monday, 30 April 2012 at 5:46pm BST

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.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Monday, 30 April 2012 at 7:21pm BST

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 allowing one another latitude.

Posted by: John on Monday, 30 April 2012 at 8:26pm BST

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 the public-school culture of the C of E that Sutcliffe so admires, but that's doubtless because I'm even less properly English than Rowan Williams is. The Bishop of St Asaph recently described opponents of the Anglican Covenant as "little Englanders." It was an unfair caricature of a very broad movement, but Mr Sutcliffe seems determined to bear out the stereotype.

Posted by: rjb on Monday, 30 April 2012 at 8:27pm BST

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 played the religious figure who was above the fray; again he could be the "President" of the Anglican Communion, taking to himself powers no one had ever imagined the ABC to have.

+Rowan paid more attention in public to the Anglican Communion, trying to forge it into an international Church. In this vein, he expressed strong disapproval of decisions made in the American Church, while stretching so far to include extremely conservative African and other provinces that he had trouble expressing disapproval of their advocating the imprisonment and death of LGBT persons. Surely, most members of the CofE were as baffled by what he was doing as we were in TEC.

The tension between the role of the ABC as the Primate of All England and his role in the Anglican Communion became evident in this particular issue. How does the Primate of the established Church take a position that a majority of the British people, and members of his Church, regard as complicit with grave evil? How does the ABC so distance himself from the reality of life in the country where he heads the national Church that he has very little to say about gay bashing in England or LGBT teen suicide but fulminates against the election of Mary Glasspool as Suffragan in Los Angeles?

+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.

Action items can be taken from Sutcliffe's article which might influence the CNC's deliberations include:1. The nominee should be a moderate diocesan bishop who has established an excellent record in working with the various intra-Church parties in his diocese, while offering some leadership to the CofE that the average member regards as useful; 2. The nominee must be English and the more comfortably this person works with the realities of the established Church the better; 3. As to the Anglican Communion, the nominee should take seriously his role as primus inter pares and be capable of facilitating dialogue among the provinces with a vision of unity in diversity; 4. The nominee must have enough backbone to stand up to the intrusion into the CofE and the attempt to take over the Communion by other provinces.

Posted by: karen macqueen+_ on Monday, 30 April 2012 at 9:48pm BST

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.

Posted by: badman on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 at 10:39am BST

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.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 at 11:13am BST

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 of Archbishop Fisher, his former headmaster. But Carey's unremitting backing into the limelight ever since he retired has been insufferable and insulting, not least in coming from a man of such mediocrity. The Church of England will not recover from the consequences of this awful man's influence.

Archbishop Williams has been conspicuous for holiness and learning, factors that are no longer highly estimated or appreciated in current Anglicanism. The fact that he is not a politician is one of his principle strengths.

Posted by: John Bowles on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 at 12:20pm BST

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 many key areas including (but not limited to) questions around human sexuality, confused and unclear.

There is a cost to this confusion and unclarity, often borne (unfairly and painfully) by homosexual Christians.

But if there have been mixed signals and a lack of "decisiveness" in the Archbishop's actions - and I don't agree with all he's said and done - this is merely because he is reflecting the lack of agreement and clarity within the Church of England - an organisation which he served, sacrificially and thanklessly, during a difficult decade.

I don't think Archbishop Rowan wanted this job and he has done it as best he can.

Posted by: Philip Hobday on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 at 12:39pm BST

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.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 at 3:48pm BST

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.

Posted by: John Bowles on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 at 5:19pm BST

@ 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 the same churches to have priests and or bishops who are openly gay and partnered seems to me just a pretentious hypocrisy. It also seems to me to malign the god-given nature of some and their faithful covenant to each other as well.

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 at 7:03pm BST

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

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Tuesday, 1 May 2012 at 10:50pm BST

"+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 given - considering the conservative provenance of the Global South Leaders, who have encouraged ongoing schismatic activity in Churches of the Communion.

The Homophobia endemic to Provinces of GAFCON has been the root cause of a challenge to Abp. Rowan's role as Primus-inter-pares in the Communion - a factor which had been harnessed by his predecessor Abp. George Carey. To have to cope with the ethos of the ramifications of Lambeth 1:10, presided over by Carey, would have been a massive barrier for anyone - let alone someone with the integrity and spirituality of Rowan Williams - whose default position has always been - Unity at any price.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 2 May 2012 at 12:55am BST

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.

Posted by: Randal Oulton on Wednesday, 2 May 2012 at 3:06am BST

'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 would be another blow.

Posted by: LaurenceR on Wednesday, 2 May 2012 at 9:41am BST

"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 knows about the integrity of Gay relationships - as an ex-ABC.

I believe he might become more useful - as an ex-ABC, anyway, than his predecessor - provided he is willing to stand up for what he knows to be the Gospel truth.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 2 May 2012 at 10:42pm BST

"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.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 3 May 2012 at 8:36am BST

"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... :-(

Posted by: JCF on Friday, 4 May 2012 at 12:42am BST

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 CofE and Anglican Communion will hardly collapse in the meantime.

Posted by: Anthony Archer on Friday, 4 May 2012 at 1:18am BST

"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.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Friday, 4 May 2012 at 6:03am BST

"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 of those who won't accept Jeffrey John because he once had a full relationship with his partner.

I am prepared to listen to Rowan in an area where he has not shown that there is a huge discrepancy between his words and his actions.

Also because he could actually still have a positive influence on society there and that's worth having regardless.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 4 May 2012 at 8:13am BST

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 will continue to call him, to know him, and to liberate him.

I pray, as well, in the continued call of God to men and women to become who they uniquely are, and fulfil ministries they are uniquely equipped to perform: that people of all genders, all orientations, or none, may recognise the same call of God knowing us, loving us and liberating us to serve and be given in love.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Sunday, 6 May 2012 at 2:13am BST

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.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 6 May 2012 at 12:00pm BST

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 that he is a fellow Christian, given to God in his heart, and moreover a Christian with a deep prayer life who understands carmelite spirituality profoundly.

Spirituality will, with God's grace, translate itself into action in our world and in our lives. It should. At the same time, spirituality is primarily about God, in my opinion, and I hear Rowan (in his writings) recognising this, and understanding this deeply.

Carmelite spirituality is sometimes critiqued as 'cut off from the world' but this supposes prayer is somehow not real, or a fundamental form of action in itself. Moreover, and I think you correctly state this, contemplation does or should translate itself into the whole of the lives we lead.

I have absolute belief in Rowan Williams' desire to please God, and sincerity of prayer, and givenness to God - even to the point of a kind of crucifixion.

Others are being crucified too, and justice should not be delayed, when injustice can be challenged and overthrown. And therein lies the point at which I don't identify with the majority of bishops, many of them very privileged, and at that point I fail to endorse or even understand the shortfall of leadership that appears to have occurred.


Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 7 May 2012 at 2:53pm BST


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, sometimes it brings a flash of conviction and insight, a wholeness of truth, a sharing of love: God sharing love and consciousness with us.

At that point, anything becomes possible: change, new insight, and immolation in the fire of God's judgment and love.

This may propel individuals or whole churches into new life and creative love in action. Sprituality is a prerequisite, not a luxurious extra.

Rowan has made choices that I wouldn't have made (though who am I, and for sure, I am partisan when it comes to sexual and gender justice). But that just means he seems to me to be a fellow traveller, fallible, vulnerable, liable to weakness. I know that path too well.

But his devotion to God, and his sincerity, and his spiritual roots: I believe in them. I believe most sincerely, along with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual women and men, that he too has travelled a way of the Cross, and suffered.

I still believe in him.

I'll conclude, as a matter of justice, not with Rowan, but with my views on the goodness, the naturalness, the decency of gay and lesbian love, and the recognition that there are all kinds of diverse experiences of sexuality and gender, in our midst, in the real lives of people in the church, and people outside it.

I pray for open acceptance of people as people, without the need to *tell* them who they may love. I pray for a church that celebrates fidelity and constancy, celebrates love and care and intimacy, regardless of sexual orientation. I endorse and admire the courage of Christians who take a stand - in the face of theological vilification - for justice and flourishing for *all* and for the coming alive, growing whole, and sheer joyful liberation we can find together, when we stop trying to control a person's sexuality, and instead, seek unity in Christ: a unity in diversity.


Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 7 May 2012 at 2:55pm BST


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 stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the conservative politician or the rabid ('Family Values') lobbyist, but the Christian moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice..."

"...who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the (gay or lesbian person) to wait for a 'more convenient season'. Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

-adapted from Martin Luther King's 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail' to argue the case against delaying and suspending justice. Again, I'm not equating racism and homophobia. I'm pointing out the tendency of the moderate Christian leader to make decisions that ignore the urgent 'now' of oppression, for those who are already suffering exclusion, stigma or worse.


Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 7 May 2012 at 2:58pm BST

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 has just become part of who I am. I cannot imagine ever un-knowing it or ever being able to lay it aside for whatever reason.

I cannot imagine that I would ever be persuaded that any other goal, however worthy in itself, is furthered by excluding those people I know in my soul to be equal in God's eyes. I try to be more understanding but the symbol of Gene Robinson outside Lambeth is too real, too stark.

At a very deep level I can understand people who do not know this better than I can understand people who do know it yet manage to lay that knowledge aside as if it were of no great consequence, as if it were not of absolutely overriding importance.

And I know I should grow out of this black and white thinking, I should be able to ignore the revulsion inside myself and not to judge. I know!
But for now - I can't.
And it doesn't matter how complex and beautiful the theology around it all, it doesn't matter how deep an understanding of spirituality there appears to be - at the core, to me, there is a grave lack of understanding that I cannot ignore, much as I would like to.

For me, it is that simple. It is what is meant by the thought that we must become like children. That we must not allow our thinking to become so complex and convoluted that we no longer see the core truths about what we have been called to become.

Sometimes I think I may be too arrogant. How dare I judge like that, not knowing the pressures... and yet, and yet... there are many who DO live the life I admire. It is possible... I must cling on to that.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 7 May 2012 at 7:56pm BST

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 would argue not, as the ordained priest is simply the exemplar, the model for the true priesthood, which is all of us. However, taking up the mantle of ordained priest is not simply a career option, but a sacrificial full-giving. The priest stands at the center as exemplar - how can a priest be exemplar if he is not held to a higher standard? Priesthood is a dreadful thing to be called to! A great weight of responsibility falls on the ordinand. The priest stands as representative of Christ, and look what happened to Him.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Tuesday, 8 May 2012 at 7:25am BST

"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 and free to move on, we could expect our clergy to be truly human too. But as so often – society is streets ahead of us while we still cruelly insist on impossible standards that we know we ourselves couldn’t live up to.

We can't even agree on what is moral and of God. Was Gene Robinson immoral for agreeing, together with this wife, that he could no longer life in a straight relationship and that this hurt his wife as much as it hurt him? Was he immoral for subsequently loving a man and sharing his life with him?
You see - the bayers for blood are baying. The voices for a different, more humane morality are still struggling to be heard.

All our demand that priests and bishops are whiter than white has resulted in is closets in which people hide their frailty, become bitter, full of self-loathing, often abusive.

If you were asking for priests who live a life that shows a genuine walk with God even where it includes difficult choices, mistakes, forgiveness - I'd be with you!

But for that we must become the kind of people who know that we are likely to destroy those we have first lifted up with our unrealistic expectations and our inhuman insistence that no mistakes will be forgiven. Until then, all our expectations only guarantee that we end up with far too many hypocrites or moralists who have not much to say about what Christ truly stands for.

Let's recognise that God calls the frail and that it is not he who crushes them, but us.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 8 May 2012 at 8:54am BST

That *is* what I'm asking for, Erika.

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


Posted by: MarkBrunson on Wednesday, 9 May 2012 at 4:46am BST

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 same standard I hold any other person. For me, there is no second tier of standards reserved for clergy.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 9 May 2012 at 10:52am BST

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 the Archbishop of Canterbury who has betrayed the eirenic basis of Anglicanism. It is the insistence of the louder clamour of anarchic Pharisaism that has refused to 'hear the cry of the poor' among Women and Gays in the Church.

The schismatics, and intentional schismatics are directly responsible for the break that has occurred in our beloved Communion of Churches.

The ABC advocated Unity. They have chosen - through their advocacy of a separate governance scheme in the 'Jerusalem Statement' - a culture of Schism. Unity can never be achieved by a culture of separatism.

That is my interpretation of the situation.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 10 May 2012 at 12:39am BST

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 have and have been. I've explained why. I don't know what there is to debate, unless you're trying to make me see things as you do.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 10 May 2012 at 4:51am BST

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 because they're the ones we'll be talking about without their interference".

When the choice was to take Jeffrey John into the fold and THEN talk about unity, he chose a unity that reaffirmed gay people as outsiders and scapegoats.

When the choice was to leave out Gene Robinson or some African Bishops, he again chose a unity that reaffirmed gay people as outsiders and scapegoats.

And then he did the same thing to JJ for a second time.

And then there's that strand from the Catholic side where it is said that he promised the Pope he would work for a more structured Anglican Communion so that ecumenical talks would become more of a realistic possibility.
And again, that would mean a conscious acceptance of structural unity over inclusion.
And again, it would mean seeking closer ties with a church that is virulently anti-gay at the expense of gay people in his own church.

It's this that really offends me. It's only ever been about structural unity - the real thing was not possible while gay people had to be excluded. Yet, time and time again he chose external structure over what, to me, is a much more important gospel value.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 10 May 2012 at 8:13am BST

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.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 10 May 2012 at 8:16am BST

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

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 10 May 2012 at 11:32am BST
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