Thursday 26 February 2009

Rowan Williams – brilliant strategist or man of God?

In a commentary posted on VirtueOnline on 25 February, David Virtue, my friend from Dar es Salaam and Alexandria, says the Archbishop of Canterbury sees the Anglican Communion as an open-ended chess game.

David senses that Dr. Rowan Williams is a brilliant theologian/strategist. If there’s one thing most people I talk with tell me, including the Archbishop himself, it would be that strategy isn’t one of his greatest gifts.

David goes on to describe the chess game this ‘brilliant strategist’ is playing. “It is a game which never really ends (there is no classic end game), no checkmate (no one can lay down his mitre or be thrown out of the communion), players go backwards and forwards, bishops, knights, rooks (castles) all move, but nothing is taken off the board. It is a game no one wins or really loses.”

“The odd pawn is sacrificed (like orthodox parishes in the US or the Diocese of Recife in Brazil), but the game goes on endlessly with the kings and queens (you may take the latter literally in the person of Gene Robinson), but even he gets to stay on the chess board as it is considered infra dig to hit on a queen.”

That doesn’t sound like a brilliant strategist at work. It sounds like David’s usual, slightly camp bitterness against a man he loathes. Rowan Williams is “the Grand Manipulator” according to David, who has “been able to duck and weave over black and white moral issues like homosexuality.”

David is angry that the closure many conservatives were confidently predicting has not happened. The schism hasn’t taken place. All the Primates gathered in Alexandria. Lambeth and GAFCON must somehow coexist. TEC and ACNA will muddle along glaring at each other across the great theological divide. The Windsor Report, in all its manifestations and permutations, lies in tatters. A Covenant, if it ever reaches a final stage, will have the value of toilet paper.

This is David’s estimation of where we are now (anxious liberals take note). He sees all this as failure. I see signs of success. The Communion holds, Primates and bishops meet and acknowledge one another, discuss and learn together. Different groups co-exist and muddle along. It’s an uncomfortable mess, for all of us, LGBT Anglicans and conservatives together.

The Rowan Williams I know is a person of almost infinite generosity and patience who givea himself daily to God, a contemplative whom God has called to very public high office. Rowan Williams’ “strategy” is to attend to God as openly and deeply as he can in prayer and contemplation. The resources for Archbishop Rowan’s “strategy” are to be found there. It is his Christian conviction that what matters most are relationships – with God, with ourselves, with one another, with friends and with those with whom we disagree. We are created to live the truth in relationship.

If David Virtue’s analysis of Archbishop Rowan as brilliant strategist, the Communion as finished and gays as damned is correct, why are we all still here, inside the church, working and praying for a future which holds us together in Christ? It is David’s analysis which is wrong and the strategy to bring about schism which is failing, thank God.

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