Monday, July 14, 2008

Sorry, more women bishops stuff.

My latest post at the Wardman Wire yesterday ('More Women, Vicar?')was an attempt - probably vain - to explain in laymans terms what the CofE is up to over women bishops, and to reflect on whether taking time over big decisions is an expression of Christian love, or just faffing about to delay the inevitable.

Thunderdragon has picked up on the post, and compares Rowan Williams to Gordon Brown, in a not very flattering way. I don't think Williams is a ditherer of Brown proportions, I think he's trying his best to keep everyone together (which is what Jesus prayed for), and to slow down people who are in a mad rush to purge the church of everyone who disagrees with them.

Ditched the normal sermon last night to talk with the evening congregation about the Synod vote and the events surrounding it. Some of the folk there were strong supporters of women bishops, some adamantly opposed, but we have the choice of whether to be the kind of church which can discuss these things, or whether we sweep them under the carpet.

The most common observation was that we seemed to be wasting time talking when we should be sharing the gospel. The problem is that the media don't report the gospel work, they only report stuff which relates to disputes or decline in the church. That's the danger of taking the secular press as your guide to what the Church of England is doing. By the time we'd set the record straight, everyone seemed a lot happier, and less unsettled.


  1. Maybe I was being unfair to Rowan Williams in comparing him to Gordon Brown - but that certainly is the impression that the general public has!

  2. I think, as the Sunday Telegraph 'power list' shows, that we use non-religious criteria for evaluating religious leaders, whether from business or politics. Rowan Williams isn't leading a country, so he doesn't have to take snap decisions, and he can, quite rightly, resist pressure from other people to do so.

    Brown seems to decide one thing, then change his mind or do it half-heartedly. Williams, on the other hand, takes his time before coming to conclusions, and tries to debate with people in a way which keeps the conversation open, rather than saying 'thus saith the Lord' and guillotining the debate. I think that's partly about wanting to do the 'Church of England' thing well - to listen to and represent all viewpoints, rather than be sectarian and partisan.

    From that point of view the 'dithering' of Williams is actually generosity, patience and taking time to listen. It's the same way we 'dither' with friends and loved ones who annoy us, rather than putting them right straight away and damaging the relationship because we've been too blunt.

  3. He's not leading a country - but he is leading a massive religious organisation. He has people looking to him for decisions and for leadership, and he simply isn't providing it.

    The difference between them comes down to this: Brown can't make a decision; Williams won't.

    They both have the same basic role - to provide leadership for their respecive organisations. Neither is.

  4. The question is, whether Jesus originally intended Christian pastors (they are not referred to as 'leaders' in the New Testament) to be 'leading a massive religious organisation... (with) people looking to him for decisions and for leadership' at all. Or did Jesus have a different model in mind?

    The problem is that the secular world is applying secular criteria of leadership to bishops in general and Rowan in particular. But Christian pastors, shepherds, elder, whatever you want to call them, are committed theologically to a different model.

    Also, the Anglican Church around the world is not a 'massive religious organisation' - it's a voluntary association of over thirty independant Christian families. Rowan only has legal authority in one of them - the Church of England. In all the others, he has absolutely no power. This is not the Roman Catholic Church and he is not the Pope.

  5. Williams decision is to listen and try to keep people on board, which given the amount of stick he gets for it, is quite a courageous thing to do. I'm not sure he communicates as well as he should do, but there are so many partisan voices getting quoted in media and blogs that he'd need about 10 full time press officers to stay on top of it all.

    He has more to do than just respond to the latest news headline, and sometimes we forget that. My job is much less high powered than his, but this is the first 5 mins I've had today to catch up on the blog, and it will be the last until late this evening.

    Thanks Tim - agree with you. Bishop Alan posted the following on his blog, which makes a similar point:

    "What kind of entity (notice that I am not calling it a structure, yet) would be about setting free, instead of creating boundaries? What kind of entity would be about improvisation rather than writing a script? What kind of entity would be about leading to the next level rather than justifying the current level? What kind of entity would be about the actors, rather than the stage, the set, or the director?" and if that's the kind of thing the church is called to be, then it requires a different model of leadership to what's modelled in politics or elsewhere.

  6. Tim - if Jesus had a different model in mind, all modern Christian churches have failed miserably.

    Rowan Williams may only have authority in the C of E, but he hasn't led even that.

  7. Its a question of what you do with authority, do you use it to lay down the law and squeeze out people you don't agree with (Thatcher, Blair), or do you use it to encourage unity (Mandela). Ok Im not sure Williams is doing great on the unity thing, but that's more to do with people who are determined not to have it than it is with him.