Friday, 10 December 2010

Defending Rowan Williams

Almost every day reveals yet another attack on the Archbishop of Canterbury. Be that in the press, Christian or secular; in blogs, priestly or lay; on Twitter and so many other places besides. These attacks are public, intended to be public - intended that the deliverer of the attack of the moment may have his or her 'moment' having queued so long for it. Attacking Rowan Williams is, I think, the new blood sport of Anglican Christians. The tooting horns toot, the slavering hounds slaver, and the bearded man of God is chased while others revel in the spectacle.

This all means that what I am about to write makes me very unfashionable and counter-cultural, which is just fine.

We are all entitled to our views. Dialogue generated from those views is healthy on the whole, but as with all things, it needs to be appropriate and held in the right place and time. An army lives by a code of loyalty and obedience to its senior officers, and more especially to its Commander in Chief. When that breaks down in the field of war, people die. That is not to say that soldiers do not have their views or that they are universally in favour of every utterance made 'at the top', as I know that they are not. They are intelligent people and not robots after all. In business, loyalty to 'the Firm' is expected. This is normal and largely healthy (there are, of course, exceptions). Employees do as they are asked (or told) because that is their job - and company loyalty is a very strong force in people. A public statement condemning a business decision by the CEO would largely bring with it a difficult outcome for the employee concerned. 

It seems that in the self-imposed ivory tower existence of some in the Church, where choices are limitless, media exposure is on tap - that some feel that the boundaries of loyalty that most people in the pews abide by don't apply. Again, I say that it is right to have views, to disagree with the Archbishop, to be vehemently against him at time - but this is stuff that should happen in private.

I am saddened by every attack on our leader. They not only degrade 'the Firm', they do damage to a person because he cannot reasonably defend himself - in other words, he cannot fight back with the same freedom that his priests and bishops can launch attacks. I have not yet read one attack on him by a person with the skills to do his job more effectively. Yes, Rowan Williams has not acted like a perfect human being, and let's face it, the only perfect human in our history lead his own followers to a martyr's death. Attacking the leader might be fashionable, and it might attract readers - but it is disloyal and, in my opinion, wrong - and slowly but surely fatally weakening the organisation. If we are a church who seek to be 'of the world' and walking alongside those who are in the world, then I think we should live by the scruples bound up in loyalty that they all live by.


  1. I whole heartily agree with your post – in an age when the power of speech is widely available to us by a variety of mediums – I am constantly amazed that an individual chooses to abuse this privilege not for betterment but purely because ‘I can say this and I will’ irrespective of consequences and the fact, as you so rightly point out, it is a momentarily thought and whim – of which we have many during the course of the day; however, the damage is done. How, in your opinion, do we counteract this?

  2. Well, pausing first is always a good start - or else the bigger choice - put up, shut up, or ship out? As a friend on Twitter just commented - the Romans don't have this issue. A typical Roman Catholic would sooner cut our their own kidneys with a teaspoon than make public statements against Benny XVI - to me it is just 'poor form'!

  3. So right Father. Well said. It is high time society recovered an understanding of the difference between what is appropriate in public, and what is appropriate only in private. If those who insist on hounding our Archbishop were to make a commitment to pray for him every day then he and they would be greatly blessed - and it would be a far better use of everyone's time and energy.

  4. I have wondered before how many people bow their heads in prayer for him, then to get up and write an article condemning him. Odd!

    Thanks for the comment.

  5. Amen and amen.

    I've just been looking at the epistle for next Sunday, Advent 3. It includes this verse:

    Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

    Just saying...

  6. You've said what I would like to have said - in your post and response to comments. I think ++Rowan deserves and needs all the support we can give, especially by prayer. Support does not necessarily mean always being in agreement. What I find sad is that so many off the cuff attacks on him are responses to soundbites taken out of the context of what he actually said or wrote. He has the unenviable role to be a focus for unity among warring factions, so it's not surprising he draws fire against himself. As you reminded us, Jesus faced the same.

  7. As seeker so rightly points out, most of the more virulent attacks on Rowman Williams are totally out of context, and a small phrase has been used as 'bone' and worried to death by a legion of half-informed terriors.
    Whether or not one agrees with all his thinking there is nonetheless a duty of respect, required for his position. One which in my opinion, he fills with unusual intelligence and grace.



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