The appointment of Roman Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury has stirred up a hornets’ nest. Before he has even been installed, Evangelicals have begun to call for his resignation. At first it was Reform and the Church Society, groups that are regularly dismissed as small, right-wing and intolerant. None of these epithets are accurate and the insults are just liberal code for biblical Christians. Then they were joined, to the establishment’s horror, by the ‘larger and mainstream’ Evangelical councils and groupings. The battleground is homosexual practice and William’s open acknowledgement that he once ordained a man whom he knew to be in such a relationship.
Both this magazine and Forward in Faith have taken a more eirenic approach to Dr William’s appointment and have been criticized by some Catholic and Evangelical friends alike. Members of the media have suggested that this indicates a split between Evangelicals and Catholics along predictable lines. Life, as ever, is a little more complicated than that. Forward in Faith and this magazine, from the outset, have taken a firm biblical line on human sexuality. This was made clear in our first independent issue and at one of our earliest conferences. We have not changed in that but equally we see no pastoral point in banging on about it at every opportunity. There are, after all, greater human frailties. Nevertheless, our firm stand has cost us some friends. We are also conscious, as the Lambeth Conference made clear, that this is an issue that has the potential to tear the Anglican Communion apart. We understand, therefore, the distress of the Evangelical groups. But we have taken a different approach, from our Evangelical brothers and sisters, for a number of reasons.
1. Dr Williams has been quite open and honest about his action but promised, as Archbishop, to be bound by the mind of the Church and her teaching.
2. He is a man with considerable intellectual, theological gifts and a tremendous pastoral heart.
3) He has shown himself one of the very few bishops to deal justly and compassionately with orthodox Anglicans. The establishment of a ‘flying’ bishop for Wales was largely his work. He is one of the very very few figures in authority now with whom any orthodox might expect to have a sympathetic, understanding and fruitful dialogue.
Do we agree with the way Dr Williams was appointed? Of course not. Few have been as outspoken in their criticism of the Crown appointments Commission (CAC) as this journal.
Are we likely to agree with Dr Williams? On many key issues from feminism to sexuality the answer will be ‘no’.
What we do know about Dr Williams, however, is that he is a man who tells the truth. He has admitted making one decision contrary to the mind of the Church. This, as most clergy will tell you, makes him a mere amateur among many of his episcopal colleagues in crime. While filling their dioceses with scandal they instinctively find Nelson’s eye and routinely deny all knowledge. While the protests about Williams are understandable what is less understandable is the silence that preceded it. For the last decade Dr Carey and the CAC have been packing the bench with pastorally vicious and doctrinally bankrupt radicals beside whom Dr Williams is a pussy cat. Were we the only ones to notice?
We would not have chosen Dr Williams. Indeed, there was no choice for the orthodox. There are huge dangers ahead and the odds against Williams succeeding are immense. But if anything can yet be saved from the ruin of Anglicanism, Dr Williams may yet have a part to play. He does not have our uncritical approval, but he will not lack our prayers.