Rowan Williams and the ‘women bishops’ vote

Posted: December 2, 2012 by J in Church

How uninspiring to hear the supposedly liberal-minded leaders of the Church of England venting their spleen on their lay leadership.

Sarah Coakley, Canon of Ely Cathedral, was bad, dismissing the house of laity as “contain[ing] more than its expected share of conservative, elderly or bureaucratically-inclined church people.”  Telling them that thanks to them to church has “signed its own theological death warrant.” Over-dramatised, disrespectful and bullying words.

Rowan Williams was worse. Assuming he was reported accurately – how unseemly for the Archbishop to be seen berating the church’s lay leaders publicly for not toeing the clergy line! They have caused the CofE a ‘loss of credibility’. For a man normally so sensitive to power issues, this was a sad lapse. Couldn’t he sense the delicacy of the situation – with the clergy pushing ahead and the laity resisting? Wasn’t this a make-or-break moment for exposing what the clergy really think of the laity they ‘serve’? How sad to hear him issuing these reprimands to those weaker than himself.

Saddest of all was his comment that the worst aspect of the thing was  “it seems that we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities in … wider society.”

Crikey. Is that what the church is here to do? Make sure it keeps pace with the priorities of wider society? Is that the path the clergy have taken, which the lay leaders are now expected to follow? These are not well-chosen words from the Archbishop. It is most regrettable that a man of the stature of Williams was driven to speak so unwisely in the public arena. He knows better.

If the CofE will has a bigger credibility problem than it did before, it is from these public expressions of clergy hubris and weakness, not from a laity which refuses to be hard-selled. I hope Rowan Williams can recover some of the lost credibility soon, with some more-sensitive public remarks on the situation.

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