Saturday, April 14, 2007

Why the church must ease the pain of Rowan's Passion

Richard Harries
Sunday April 8, 2007
The Observer

Richard Harries (Lord Harries of Pentregarth) is a former Bishop of Oxford and an honorary professor of theology at King's College, London.

I once said to Rowan Williams: 'God has given you all the gifts and, as your punishment, he has made you Archbishop of Canterbury.' I might have added: 'at this time', for the issue over which the Anglican Communion is so divided is one that might have been specially selected to tear Rowan in two. And it has been a particularly bad Passiontide, with almost all the newspapers ranged against him.


But the pivotal point was his refusal to go ahead with the consecration of Jeffrey John, whom I had nominated as Bishop of Reading. In retrospect, the archbishop and I could have handled things differently, but there were two things against us. One was the fact that the Anglican Communion was already dividing on the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in the United States, and opponents, quite wrongly in my view, put Jeffrey John in the same category (because Jeffrey had been celibate for a considerable period of time). Second, we did not anticipate the flood of emails from round the communion, stirred up by one or two evangelicals in the Church of England, which put huge pressure on Lambeth.

It became clear to the archbishop that if he was going to have any hope of holding the Anglican Communion together, he could not be associated with the consecration of Jeffrey. That remains a great sadness, Jeffrey, while doing a great job as dean of St Albans, would still make a superb bishop. For Rowan, it was a devastating decision to have to make. All his sympathies are with gay and lesbian people, and he is an old friend of Jeffrey. But he has a very high regard for the doctrine of the church and, as archbishop, it is his responsibility to safeguard its unity.


The extent of his personal trauma - trying to hold together his convictions and his role as archbishop in what claims to be a branch of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church - became clear at a private meeting of the House of Bishops where he simply shared what was in his heart for more than an hour. There was a profound receptivity and one tough-minded bishop, of a rather different mind from that of the archbishop, was reduced to tears.


Passiontide is when Christians try to enter more deeply into the anguish of Christ. It has been a particularly painful Passiontide for Rowan. After the American church made it clear that it will not go along with the compromise hammered out at the bishops' conference in Tanzania (alternative pastoral oversight for dissenting congregations), criticism came not just from evangelicals, but also from his natural constituency who believe Rowan has not been supportive enough of gay people.

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