Rowan Williams to meet liberal bishops over gays
Melinda and I were in England in 2003 when Jeffrey John was elected as Bishop of Reading. It was widely known–both within the church and outside–that he is gay, and that his partner is another Anglican priest (although they don’t live together and never have, and profess to be non-sexual in their 20-plus-year relationship). Well, the conservatives went ballistic, using the old standby threat to storm out of the Communion.
[Sidebar: at that time, there was a cartoon in the Times of London on the front page, accompanying the article on the subject, in which this unsavory grizzled old man in clerical garb complete with tall pointed hat with a cross on it was sitting at the pub, leaning forward across the bar, smoking a cigarette, drinking, complete with beard stubble and flies circling around; the caption showed him saying something like, “I’ve just been appointed Bishop. Thank God I’m not gay.”]
Rowan Williams called Jeffrey John to London, where they had an hours-long meeting (five or six, as I recall), after which John announced that he would continue as priest but would not be serving as bishop. On television, John was shown making his announcement standing outside at the top of some steps, with all of the media people arrayed before him; Williams was a presence back behind him at the door, almost hiding–trademark eyebrows were the most evident feature.
People who knew both of them said that Williams had pulled every card from the deck, using “psychological torture tactics” to get John–a very strong character himself–to back down; these same people said that Jeffrey John would be fine, but that Rowan Williams was most likely changed forever, since he had been identified with the liberal wing of the denomination up to that incident.
Everything that has happened since then has, in my opinion, demonstrated this to be true. Of course, even though I have been disappointed with him as archbishop, I have great empathy for Williams–being in what is clearly a no-win position.
It will be interesting to see if this meeting does take place and what will come out of it.
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Williams to meet liberal bishops over gays
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
The Archbishop of Canterbury bowed to mounting pressure today and agreed to meet the liberal American Anglican bishops in a last-ditch bid to prevent a disastrous split over homosexuality.
In a move that will dismay conservatives, Dr Rowan Williams said that he will meet the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops later this year even though they are still refusing to toe the majority line on gays.
Speaking at a press conference in Toronto, Dr Williams, who is on a short trip to Canada, said: “These are complicated days for our Church internationally and it’s all the more important to keep up personal relationships and conversations …
“My aim is to try and keep people around the table for as long as possible on this, to understand one another, and to encourage local churches.”
Although no date was mentioned, it is understood that he will fly to America in September, accompanied by a small group of primates and senior advisors. Conservatives said they feared that Dr Williams will succumb to American pressure and weaken the hard line taken by the Anglican primates at their summit meeting in Tanzania in February.
One conservative leader said: “The worldwide Church is unraveling fast and he is doing nothing stop it.”
At the summit, the primates, the heads of the 38 provinces that make up the Anglican Communion, issued an ultimatum to the American bishops, giving them until the end of September to reverse their pro-gay agenda or face expulsion from the worldwide Church.
The Americans last month rejected a key part of the primates’ plan, saying that they could not accept to the creation of a “parallel” Church for conservatives in America who have rejected their liberal leadership.
They have yet to respond to the primates’ demand that they unequivocally agree to moratoriums on the consecration of actively gay bishops and on same-sex blessings, though a number have said they will not exclude gays.
They also called for an urgent meeting with Dr Williams and senior primates, complaining that he has listened far more intently to the conservative wing of the Church.
Dr Williams described their initial response to the primates’ ultimatum as “discouraging” and said that the situation needed further clarification.
Pressure on him to agree to the meeting with the American bishops before the September deadline mounted after they learned that he was taking June and July off as study leave and August as annual holiday.
Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, the liberal primate of Canada, urged Dr Williams to hold the meeting a week ago, just before Dr Williams’ trip to Toronto and Niagara to deliver a spiritual retreat to the Canadian bishops.
He also called on Dr Williams to postpone next year’s Lambeth Conference, the ten-yearly gathering of all Anglican bishops in Canterbury, in an effort to defuse tensions.
In a lecture to theology students in Toronto this evening, Dr Williams warned both conservatives and liberals against “rootless” and “limited” interpretations of the Bible on issues such as homosexuality.
“Take Scripture out of this context of the invitation to sit at table with Jesus and to be incorporated into his labour and suffering for the Kingdom, and you will be treating Scripture as either simply an inspired supernatural guide for individual conduct or a piece of detached historical record – the typical exaggerations of Biblicist and liberal approaches respectively,” he said.
“For the former, the work of the Spirit is more or less restricted to the transformation of the particular believer; for the latter, the life of the community is where the Spirit is primarily to be heard and discerned, with Scripture an illuminating adjunct at certain points.”