Thinking Anglicans

Does the CofE offer any moral leadership?

Bruce Anderson wrote a column for the Independent earlier this week titled The great ethical questions that society chooses to ignore, in which he discusses assisted suicide and related topics. But he concludes with this passage (emphasis added):

The arguments are finely balanced. But that brings us to another problem. There is no argument. The level of moral debate in modern Britain is pathetically, contemptibly low. That is another undeniable sign of decadence, and we should all be ashamed. This applies a fortiori to the churches, which should be taking the lead. Instead, they appear to be suffering from a collapse of intellectual and theological self-confidence. That is especially true of the Church of England, which has ceased to offer any coherent moral leadership.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is said to be clever. The main evidence for this is his ability to dress up accessible thoughts in incomprehensible prose. Not many years ago, if a question such as attempted suicide had arisen, everyone would have wanted to know what the Archbishop thought. Now, no one is interested, and he is probably too busy anyway, writing another speech about homosexual clergy. He must be the most ineffective Archbishop of all time. Under his lack of leadership, his Church is giggling its way to oblivion.

Other sources of moral guidance must be found. The Roman Catholics have a difficulty: their version of the homosexual imbroglio is still causing difficulties and undermining their self-confidence. Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, is an impressive figure, though less good at publicising himself than his predecessor, Lord Jakobovits. If it had not been for a couple of millennia of disputes, Margaret Thatcher would have loved to make him Archbishop of Canterbury.

But even if the Anglicans were in better shape, the churchmen cannot do everything, while too many philosophers are solely concerned with the meaning of meaning. If one wants to find contemporary intellectuals who are capable of addressing the big ethical questions, the best source is the judiciary. We need a Royal Commission, chaired by the retiring senior law lord, Tom Bingham.

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Leonardo Ricardo
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That sums it up. Sorry, but it does.

Prior Aelred
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Prior Aelred

This contemptuous dismissal of the ABC is so very sad — and so very accurate.

Father Ron Smith
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Father Ron Smith

I am inclined to believe that Bruce Anderson, in his dismissive account of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s leadership role in the present situation of moral ambivalence in the U.K., is rather missing the point – especially in his comments on the ABC’s seeming lack of initiative on the treatment of problems of sexuality in the Anglican Church. Although many of us may be frustrated with the lack of progress with these issues in the Communion as a whole, it must be acknowledged that the ABC is really in a deeply-cleft stick. Whatever he does, in promoting the cause of one… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
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What Leonardo said!

MH
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MH

“Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is said to be clever. The main evidence for this is his ability to dress up accessible thoughts in incomprehensible prose.”
This is a cheap and ignorant remark, as anyone who has given themselves to reading his work with a serious and open mind will know.

Christopher Shell
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Christopher Shell

When even intelligent people sometimes find you opaque, it’s time to take seriouslly the message that clarity at its best can equal being so much the master of one’s subject-matter that one can then put it into simpler English. All of us can learn buckets from CS Lewis or Chesterton, and from Tom Wright.

dodgey_vicar
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dodgey_vicar

I remember being in a Bishop’s Palace full of clergy listening to Rowan, many, many years ago.
Talking to folk during the day and afterwards not one of us had a clue what he was going on about.
This included a number of us who could argue the toss about Wittgenstein.

Did I dismiss him because of that?
No, but I have plenty of other grounds as evidenced in this thread.

RosemaryHannah
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RosemaryHannah

It seems to me that the ABC is making the mistake of trying to keep everybody happy. It cannot be done. It is not leadership. Leaders need to make sure everybody is heard, and all issues are aired. Then they need to find a way forward knowing that some, may be many, will be hurt and distressed. That is what leadership IS.

Erika Baker
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Erika Baker

Why should the internal sexuality debate stop senior representatives of the CoE to think and write about the theology of assisted dying?

Neil
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Neil

Yes Fr Ron – of course the ABC will be accused of taking sides by opposing parties. In those circumstances the moral choice is pretty simple…to do the right thing as he believes it.
This he clearly has not done – though in the end he will have to answer for it on Judgement Day.

MikeM
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MikeM

It may or may not be the case that the ABC is up to the job of keeping the welding between the divergent groups withing the AC up to scratch, and it might be stated that that particular task is beyond anyone. But just because people conflate several things it does not mean that one of the conflated bits isn’t correct. I personally feel that the ABC does obfuscate matters, and even in such a short exposition as “Silence and Honey Cakes” the style is not so much dense as plainly unclear in the way the ABC goes about unpacking… Read more »

Merseymike
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Merseymike

The problem with this analysis is that it starts from a particular view of what is ‘moral’ and expects any organisation to make those sort of noises

As I think I would probably disagree with Anderson’s opinions, I have, thus, no interest in the institution of right-wing morality

ettu
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ettu

One wonders whether the ABC has the humility and insight to learn from comments others make about his actions and his communication limitations. His actions speak either of intellectual inability or dishonesty (apparently unlikely?!?!?) or a stiff neck and an insistence that the world rise to meet his “standards” rather than a flexibility to meet the world on it’s own terms. Fortunately, it is never too late for prayers.

Cynthia Gilliatt
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Cynthia Gilliatt

“When even intelligent people sometimes find you opaque, it’s time to take seriouslly the message that clarity at its best can equal being so much the master of one’s subject-matter that one can then put it into simpler English.” When I was in college, a member of the history department taught a course in teaching methods, and a friend of mine took it. He told his students that they could call themselves masters of a subject when they could prepare a lecture on it for a university seminar, for a high schoool history class, and for a grade school class.… Read more »

David Bieler
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David Bieler

I’m wondering if I am alone in hearing a subtext of people wishing that ABC would spend more time on the real job he was appointed to in the CofE than he does worrying about the Communion issues that go with the honorific primus inter pares. If he spent more time with his local church, would he perhaps better understand communion issues? Perhaps he has become too isolated from the real life of the church in situ.

New Yorker
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New Yorker

Considered simply as a piece of prose, Dr. Williams’s latest effort is almost illegible.

But perhaps he wanted it that way.

Columba Gilliss
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Columba Gilliss

Much of the reason Rowan and others cannot lead is that we – I at least – do nt want to be lead. One reason I could never be RC is that I want to have the freedom to think for myself.
Columba Gilliss

peterpi
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peterpi

Perhaps the author decries a lack of moral clarity within the CofE and the ABC’s office because his idea of what is “moral” doesn’t square with what others’ idea of what “moral” is? Perhaps he perceives onje vision of what is “moral”, and others have a different vision? If he’s calling for open, honest, vigorous debate in which all sides respect the moral and ethical integrity of those they disagree with, I’m all for it. But, to exaggerate, if he pines for the days of autos-da-fe for those considered immoral or degenerate, one could argue those were days of absolute… Read more »

drdanfee
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drdanfee

I’m with RosemaryHannah. I think. If RW simply had led in favor of Anglican space and intellectual best practices leeway? So that the differences were graciously and accurately aired? Then we’d have that much at least. Not so, alas. No sooner had top levels gotten the account asked, To Set Our Hope On Christ; than it was shelved. In no sense considered an Anglican Report at the level of, say, Windsor? RW could go on to lead, all in favor of a global big tent where we could simply agree to disagree in this hot button queer folks area, and… Read more »

Martin
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“The Roman Catholics have a difficulty: their version of the homosexual imbroglio is still causing difficulties and undermining their self-confidence.” And the point is …? In fact, our Catholic reality is that we have a 120 strong congregation of predominantly LGBT Catholics, the subject of a formal agreement with Catholic diocesan authorities, and including arms-length ‘expression of interest’from the Vatican, worshipping and undertaking other pastoral and educational activities in one of Soho’s Catholic parishes. The liturgy includes a bidding prayer on the 3rd Sunday of each month for those who have requested prayerful support as they enter civil partnerships or… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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Father Ron Smith

How good to hear on the web about a thriving Roman Catholic Parish in the heart of London that consists of a majority LBGT congregation – with the implicit authority of the local diocese and without being hounded by the Vatican! Would that the C.of E. could proudly witness to the same sort of inclusiveness – a quality not normally associated with our co-religionists in the RCC. Thank you Martin, for sharing this heartening news with us here on Thinking Anglicans. Would that we had more encouraging news from our own patch to share with you and your friends. May… Read more »

Robert Ian Williams
Guest
Robert Ian Williams

Ron the parish is not a gay one..it is a church where a Mass for gay and transgendered persons is held twice a month.

Rome are rather slow in their actions and they just closed down a similar provision in a US diocese.

There is apparently a battle going on behind the
scenes.

Ford Elms
Guest
Ford Elms

“There is apparently a battle going on behind the scenes.”

So much more honest and resepctable than the very public struggle we are having.

djr
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djr

I’m rather frustrated with the disparaging comments about Rowan Williams in this thread. However frustrating his decisions as archbishop, I have to admit that I don’t find his theology particularly, well, obscure, though I do find it much less riddled with logical incompetence and mere rhetorical flair than Chesterton, Lewis, and the bunch. I think I’d agree that Williams is not so good at writing simpler expositions (Tokens of Trust is better than a lot of creed-based books, but it’s not especially good, especially for Williams). Perhaps you all like your theology to be nice and simple and easy to… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“Perhaps I’m just more patient than the rest. Then again, I’m an American, so it’s probably a bit easier for me.”

That depends – are you personally affected by it?
If not, it’s easy to be patient.
It makes a difference when something isn’t about a nice theological problem but about your life.

I love Rowan William’s theology and I can see the absolutely impossible position he is in. And yet, if you ignore the hurt tone from some here, you have to accept that the arguments are nevertheless largely fair.

Father Ron Smith
Guest
Father Ron Smith

“Perhaps you all like your theology to be nice and simple and easy to understand without much effort; I, for one, think that all such theology is plainly not up to the task of retaining a proper sense of mystery and all too often just keeps Christians dumbed down.” – djr – I must say that I agree with ‘djr’ on this point. Rowan Williams may not be as understandable at first sight as some might like. But then, even Jesus taught in parabolic style. Perhaps, if one prefers the more direct, and combative, style of theologising, one should look… Read more »