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The Tragedy That is Rowan Williams



By David W. Virtue

The Anglican Communion is at a cross roads, some say it is in the process of an international ecclesiastical meltdown.

The liberal Western provinces largely dominated by post-modern, pluriform thinking -loose on doctrine and morals; faces a vastly outnumbered Global South Anglicanism that is at once orthodox in faith and morals with a high view of the authority of Holy Scripture.

It is an unbridgeable divide.

But what is truly tragic is that the leader of the Communion’s 70 plus million Anglicans is squarely on the side of the Western mindset. That is not opinion, it is fact.

And almost weekly, the utterances of Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury lends credence to that fact.

His latest gaffe was to welcome and affirm the writings of a certain Mr. Pullman whose books have been condemned by The Catholic Herald as being 'fit for the bonfire’; whilst the Association of Christian Teachers argues that they are 'shamelessly blasphemous'. The reason for such condemnation is Pullman's portrayal of the Church as a repressive organization, and his blurring of the boundaries of good and evil.

Dr Williams, on the other hand used an address on Religious Education in schools to advocate the study of Pullman's books as part of the RE curriculum. He also warned: 'I only hope that teachers are equipped to tease out what in Pullman's world is and is not reflective of Christian teaching as Christians understand it'.

What is going on here? In England recently I asked a knowledgeable insider why Williams would side with an atheist, even an erudite one and not see the implications of his words.

His reply was enlightening and instructive. “Dr. Williams has spent most of his life at high table in Oxford conversing with atheists and skeptics, and he went straight from there to being a bishop and Archbishop. He has never gotten his hands dirty in the messy world of the pastorate so he hasn’t a clue how ordinary people think or function. He has lived all his life in the rarified world of academe and as a result he is a poor judge of character.”

Ironically C. S. Lewis also spent his life at high table but came up against his cultured despizers and skeptics with a vigorous Christian apologetic.

So Williams says things that you can get away with as a scholar but you can’t get away with as the leader of millions of Anglicans, because they are watching you like a hawk and listening to every word you are saying.

“He has no perception of how his words will be received in Abuja, Lagos, Nairobi, Kampala or Singapore. He assumes people will understand what he is saying and wisely nod their heads,” said the source.

But that is not true. People are more literal and far less nuanced than the brainy Welshman, and they frankly don’t understand what he is talking about most of the time, and when he sides with an atheist and recommends teachers use his books, this grows out of Williams total confidence that people can discern what is going on and perhaps counter it.

But that is a fiction, most people can’t. In fact most people are having difficulty trying to interpret the Bible in the 21st century and not discard it as a lot of myths. Tragically, because of what the majority of Episcopal seminaries turn out, most Episcopalians barely have a grasp of the essentials, as most newly minted rectors coming out of the major liberal seminaries barely know what the Bible contains, being more comfortable with the Op-Ed page of the New York Times talking up social issues where they feel more comfortable.

So Williams has an enormous credibility gap that widens by the day.

He has not repudiated his stance on homosexual behavior, (the Body’s Grace) because he has an ‘academic’ or scholarly view of the whole business. Had he been a vicar and visited men dying of AIDS in hospices because they had had anal sex with multiple partners, and seen the effects of sexual sin, he might have thought otherwise. Also his biblical hermeneutics is questionable and his exegesis of certain texts is equally debatable.

His stance on Islam has Evangelical Anglicans cringing. Dr Williams recently said: "Muslims and Christians share the conviction that the God who creates so generously also communicates with his creation, and they see the sending of prophets as a crucial part of that communication. So it's an exciting prospect for Christian and Muslim scholars to spend three days together studying the different ways in which our scriptures understand prophecy.”

This is a wonderfully ecumenical statement, irenic and hopeful, but it flies in the face of the facts about Islam.

The truth is Muslims and Christians share very little in common. Muslims claim to believe that Jesus is only a prophet and not even the greatest one. Christians happen to think he is the Son of God, the Savior of the world who came to earth to die for the sin of the world. The Muslim understanding of god is vengeful, bloodthirsty and tyrannical with many Christians believing that if Islam ever got the upper hand in Western countries they would happily go to war to destroy us. The Koran (which I have read) is full of texts about death to the infidel – Christian and Jew. Christianity has a God of infinite love, Islam has absolutely no notion of a loving God, therefore the idea of a moderate Islam is an oxymoron.

Williams either doesn’t see that, or he doesn’t want to wrestle with those truths.

He has taken a line on Islam that is in complete opposition with what the Anglican Province is doing in Nigeria for example. There, Anglican evangelists are converting whole Muslim villages to Christ and turning them around. This writer has seen these villages. This flies in the face of what Williams articulates in cozy huddles with leading Islamic figures in universities and mosques.

What would Dr. Williams say if he learned that my evangelical Episcopal parish has sent several missionary couples to Islamic countries to preach the gospel make disciples and start Christian (Anglican) churches. What would be his word to them?

One doubts that he would have a word, just an embarrassed silence.

And on this subject what does Williams have to say now to his predecessor, George Carey who recently attacked Islam saying it was authoritarian, inflexible and under-achieving. Carey went on to denounce moderate Muslims for failing unequivocally to condemn the "evil" of suicide bombers. He also attacked the "glaring absence" of democracy in Muslim countries, suggested that they had contributed little of major significance to world culture for centuries and criticized the Islamic faith!

His statements must be acutely embarrassing to Williams who is busy making nice with Islamic leaders in the Middle East, many of whom might be laughing at him privately even as they plot to destroy the last vestiges of Christianity in the UK. The latest figures show that there are more Islamic worshippers – 1.2 million – versus about 800,000 practicing Anglicans. There is Mosque in Regent’s Park London not more than a quarter mile from where I studied theology in the 60s. The college has gone, sold to make way for a hospital for wealthy Arab Sheikhs.

And there is growing evidence that Islam is making inroads into Britain’s upper classes as well, according to well publicized newspaper reports.

And Williams dealings with the American Episcopal Church show he just doesn’t get it. He still makes nice with bishops like Griswold and Shaw, whom he regards as friends, totally oblivious to the fact that these bishops hate orthodoxy with Shaw himself getting rid of orthodox rectors in his diocese like the Rev. Dr. Judith Gentle Hardy and preventing an evangelical clergyman The Rev. Simon Barnes from being ordained in his diocese even though the man had done all his theological training in that diocese with a promise of ordination at the end of the process. It never happened.

Either Williams doesn’t know or want to know. If he does know he is simply being naive and is a poor judge of character and if he doesn’t want to know it is because information is either being kept from him about the true nature of American Episcopal revisionism or he is turning a blind eye hoping against hope it will all resolve itself.

He said as much in a recent statement. “I have to admit that over the past twelve months I’m not sure what God has in mind for the Church of England or the Anglican Communion. Half the time I haven’t any idea. But in the end, I believe it will work itself out.”

That is not the language of leadership. It is the language of capitulation. Can you imagine Athanasius saying that in the face of Arius, or Luther saying that in the face of a morally and theologically bankrupt Catholicism, or Wesley in the face of a weak institutional Anglicanism more concerned with its own entrenched power than with the gospel?

No, what the Anglican Communion needs is someone with passionate biblical convictions coupled with the backbone of an Athanasius to lead us through this crisis.

But we don’t have that and probably never will again. If there is going to be a new leader it will probably come from Africa in the person of Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria. But if that happens the shape of Anglicanism will change forever, and if that occurs a lot of people are going to be very unhappy, mostly and including archbishops like Rowan Williams.


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