NOTE FROM BB: From the London Telegraph. I knew that the Telegraph reporters who are reporting that Rowan’s days are numbered are quite mistaken. And again, I ask the question – who would greatly benefit from a fast exit (stage left or right) of the current Archbishop of Canterbur? Of course, it would be his most-severe of critics, the progressive activists who thought they had a henchman in place only to discover he’s the real deal, a true classical liberal. Turns out evangelicals are not so “fundie” as the progressives thought (where have they been these last twenty years?), but far more “classically liberal” (and those of who are Wesleyan Arminianists, this is particuarly true). The reports of Rowan’s demise are rather premature – and perhaps wishful thinking. NOTE TO TELEGRAPH: Check your sources and ask why these reports are not finding their way into the Guardian. And keep your wits about you.
I support Rowan: we are working together
By George Carey
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to the Vatican last week was a timely reminder to Anglicans that we don’t expect our leaders to be infallible and neither do we want them to be.
Anglicans have moaned about and criticised their archbishops, aided and abetted by national newspaper commentators, for as long as I can remember. For at least the past two decades, successive new Archbishops of Canterbury have been welcomed as a breath of fresh air, contrasted favourably with their predecessors for a short honeymoon period until familiarity sets in and people begin to long nostalgically for a cherished past or an impossibly utopian future.
The same commentators who are now suggesting prematurely that Rowan Williams’s days are numbered said the same about me when I was in office. Those who accused Robert Runcie of interfering in my ministry in an unprecedented way are now criticising me.
The contrast with the Roman Catholic Church is persuasive. Whereas popes do not retire, the age limit for Anglican bishops and archbishops is 70. The trend to retire around the age of 65 on the part of Anglican clergy is increasing. That means the old convention that they retire to a life of beekeeping, train-spotting or boredom can no longer hold true.
It is a theological point that no one retires from Christian ministry. Once a priest always a priest. So retired Anglican leaders never stop preaching and presiding at Holy Communion and helping out when they’re needed. The only really substantial accusation of interfering with my successor’s ministry that has been levelled against me is that I have taken up an invitation from the Bishop of Virginia to confirm adults. Yet, like all retired bishops, I have conducted these confirmations with the proper permissions and the full knowledge of Lambeth Palace.
Furthermore, I have communicated regularly with Lambeth, met the archbishop and taken his advice, and have cancelled meetings at some considerable personal cost in order to further his ministry in the Anglican Communion.
It is therefore completely untrue to claim that I am undermining or working against my successor. He has my support and my prayers during a very difficult period in the life of the Anglican Church.
Like all retired people, erstwhile Anglican leaders develop new interests, volunteer their time, and continue to use the skills they’ve developed over a lifetime. The problem of what to do with retired archbishops has never been resolved. Dr Williams, for example, is still in his mid-50s and could be a relatively young and energetic man in his 60s when he hands over the keys of Lambeth Palace. If he re-enters the academic world, will his every utterance on theological matters have to pass the test of loyalty to his successor under the scrutiny of a media who too often see the Church through the lens of a more familiar political world?
The fact is that, just as Anglican leadership is different from that of the Roman Catholic Church, all Christian ministry is distinct from political leadership. The strong man or woman needed in the political world contrasts powerfully with the role of Church leaders to be servants to the people of God. Bishops symbolise this powerfully through the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday to follow the example of Jesus.
Perhaps more than in any other Church, heading up the Church of England is not primarily about strong leadership, in a political sense that brooks no doubt or questions, but about giving space for the entire breadth and comprehensiveness of the Church to be heard. Each archbishop is charged with presiding over its unity by presiding over what some think is chaos. And while they preside they also give some shape to its priorities.
For Robert Runcie, the hallmark of his ministry was to give voice to the poor in a period when Britain was emerging from a period of high unemployment and inflation. When I succeeded him, it fell to me to carry through the ordination of women, confront a major internal financial crisis, and to renew interfaith dialogue under the shadow of 9/11. Rowan Williams’s great challenges will be to carry this forward, after the 7/7 bombings in London last year, and to confront the Anglican Communion’s greatest internal tension — homosexual priests.
Yet standing side-by-side with the Pope, the major task of the new generation of Christian leaders together is to defend Europe’s Christian heritage against the rampages of a particularly zealous and unpleasant form of secularism. Rowan, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Pope Benedict are both strong leaders and servants of Europe in this struggle.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have already been joined by most Christian people in their despair over the attitude of British Airways to the wearing of a small cross by one of its employees. Everyone in public ministry knows that this is merely the thin end of the wedge. Secularists are clearly determined to do away with religious schools, even though the entire education system of this country was founded upon them.
As we approach Christmas, we will all continue to count the number of “Happy Holiday” cards we receive. The encroachments upon the Nativity become a more serious issue year-on-year. The annual rash of “winterval” stories in the press about local authorities that ban Christmas lights, or schools that deem nativity plays to be politically incorrect, merely highlights the problems.
This country is in danger of losing sight of its Christian heritage. One of the most telling recent cases is the action taken by student unions against Christian organisations on university campuses. I was among those who earlier this year spoke in Parliament and voted against a proposed law that would exempt religion from free speech. Yet, I am beginning to wonder whether the principle of free speech can even be preserved on university campuses. In the past, I have been a frequent speaker at Christian Union meetings in many leading universities. I am appalled, along with many others, by the withdrawal of privileges by some student groups from Christian Unions.
Are we beginning to see the menace of censorship and political correctness in the very places where we expect liberality and generosity?
What I can warn authorities is that this will not weaken Christian Unions, or Christian leadership in this land, but will make us more determined to stand out – in complete unity.
Lord Carey is the retired Archbishop of Canterbury.