Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Scapegoating of the Archbishop of Canterbury

I wrote this little piece for Covenant blog yesterday (www.covenant-communion.com):

I am concerned about attitudes toward this present Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems by many of those of the GAFCon persuasion to have become the scapegoat not only for his own shortcomings in this confusing crisis, but also everyone else’s. I have found myself wondering what the attitude of the GAFCon loyalists would have been if George Carey had still been the ABC — and who/what the scapegoat would have been in those particular circumstances. Scapegoating is, quite honestly, a very easy way to shrug off one’s own responsibilities for the situation.

Yes, the office of Archbishop of Canterbury does seem to have colonial overtones, but again, is the anti-colonial argument pressed because it can be used to great affect against Rowan Williams whose public persona is eminently difficult for most people to grasp (especially when the media have finished messing with his idiosyncrasy)? It needs to be asked if the office would be disdained in this particular manner if John Sentamu was Archbishop of Canterbury instead of York: I rather doubt a once-persecuted Ugandan with a huge and extrovert personality and faith would be dismissed with the scorn afforded the gentle Welsh scholar who inhabits Lambeth Palace.

One of the frightening things about the whole turmoil of events since 2003 is that it has become so wrapped up in issues of personality that the principles of theology, ecclesiology, and anything else have been molded in response to attitudes toward people rather than truths and errors. Now I realize that it is almost impossible to separate persons from beliefs and ideas, but it does seem that increasing numbers are not willing even to try.

What has grieved me more and more as this whole sorry game has played itself out is that both grace and truth seem to have become victims of the fight. I suspect that it is going to be increasingly difficult as time passes for the scars of the wounds now being inflicted to be soothed — yet seeking some kind of reconciliation has to be our priority if we are truly bearing with Christ his Cross.

There were all sorts of responses to this piece, and several of them lashed out at Archbishop Rowan. So here is my clarifier:

Either I did not make myself clear or the point I was trying to make has been missed. In the first sentence of what I said I had hoped I had made clear that Rowan Williams has his shortcomings. He is in an almost impossible position and since his accession to the See of Canterbury I have felt that he may not necessarily be perfectly equipped for times like this; let's face it, few individuals are.

However, what has happened is that Archbishop Rowan has been turned into the issue and made to accept almost everyone's blame. I state quite clearly that he has not led as I would have liked him to lead, but this pickle has been stewed up and then made worse by people on every side of the spectrum. Conservatives, liberals, and everyone in between has made this mess, and everywhere we look instead of humility and grace what we see is self-righteousness and posturing.

For saying something like this I have been roundly accused of being soft, of having lost my theological bearings, of compromising biblical truth, and so forth. Although this is untrue, people have the right to their own perceptions, but nothing could be further from the reality. It is because I am committed to biblical truth that I say what I do. Rowan Williams should not be blamed in the way he is, we should all take upon ourselves the responsibility for the chaos and the seemingly endless stand-offs that just lead to a downward spiral. The Archbishop can surely be criticized for some of what has happened, but then so can everyone from the Primates and bishops down to you and me.

Brothers and sisters, this situation is about being honest and it is about the Cross. The Cross challenges me in ways that I do not find comfortable, but without that Cross I am lost and in hopeless despair. There is nothing comfortable about the Cross for it demands of us integrity, humility, and a willingness to put ourselves under God's microscope -- whatever other people might do. The Cross is not there for us to use to hit others over the head. The truth is that we have had rather an insipid theology and practice of Cross-centered Christianity.

Let me be brutally personal about what the Cross means. I have said (and done) some pretty awful things about those with whom I disagree in these troubles, and who I believe have played a major role in bringing this crisis on the church. I have been presumptuous, judgmental, bitter, arrogant, and unkind. I have had some of the worst years of ministry I can remember, and have wept copiously. Much of what I have done has been grounded in pride and self-rectitude. However, regardless of what I believe to be the errors of others, I cannot load the consequences of my sins on anyone else's shoulders. I must take responsibility for them, and then share them with the Lord who died for me and rose again -- if I do not do this then I am of all men the most to be pitied.

I would plead with those who seem to want to blame Archbishop Rowan for everything to reconsider and look first into their own hearts. This is a case of the one who is without sin throwing the first stone...