Rowan Williams has found himself at the head of a church torn by disputes that are ostensibly over homosexuality.
Both sides unhappy with archbishop of Canterbury
Plan to reunite flock disappoints
WASHINGTON - The archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is not a popular man these days. Beset from both sides of his fractured flock, it seems that he can’t do anything right.
His latest proposal to hold together the warring factions, a two-track system that could give his rebellious US Episcopal Church a secondary role in the Communion, has disappointed just about everyone.
“It’s well meaning, but, I think, a futile attempt to paper over two irreconcilable truth claims,’’ said Bishop Martyn Minns, former rector of Truro Church in Fairfax City, Va., who heads a group of congregations that has broken from the Episcopal Church because its members think the church does not follow the Bible closely enough.
Those on the other side aren’t happy either. Bishop Peter James Lee of the Virginia Diocese said, “Even though he explicitly says this is not a first-class, second-class division, it feels that way.’’
Rowan Williams, 59, an acclaimed theologian who spent much of his career as an academic before becoming archbishop of Canterbury in 2003, has found himself at the head of a church torn by disputes that are ostensibly over homosexuality. The division became pronounced when the Episcopal Church elected its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
But the dispute goes much deeper, church leaders and analysts say. It has brought to the fore simmering racial and class tensions between the Anglican Communion’s wealthy Western arm and its growing membership in the developing world.
The Communion is a fellowship of churches in more than 160 countries and includes the 2.3 million member Episcopal Church as its US constituent.
Of the Anglican Communion’s 80 million members, about 40 percent live in Uganda, Nigeria, and South Africa. In Africa, leaders teach a relatively strict interpretation of the Bible. Their opposition to full acceptance of gay men and lesbians is shared by conservative Episcopal parishes.
Most Episcopal Church leaders embrace the idea that there can be more than one way to interpret Scripture, and they see the inclusion of gay men and lesbians as a Christian imperative.
Divisions are not uncommon among faith groups, and other denominations are watching the conflict closely.
The situation is most pressing in the Anglican Communion, and it has fallen to Williams to broker a solution. Before becoming archbishop, Williams preached a muscular Christianity that combined liberal social activism with a deep respect for the theology and traditions of the Christian church. Now, he struggles to balance the disparate interests.