National Commentary

Anything But Straight: A Feckless Leader

Has there ever been a more feckless, less respected religious figure than the "Arch-Baby" of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams? Liberals ignore him, conservatives walk over him and through his stunning lack of leadership he has lost control of the Anglican Church.

The wheels came off the car in 2003 when openly gay V. Gene Robinson was selected as Bishop of New Hampshire. Since then, conservative Episcopal factions in America – egged on by anti-gay peers in developing countries – have threatened to bolt and take every bit of property that isn't bolted down to the church floor.

In the face of such insubordination, Williams had a clear-cut decision to make. He could side with liberals and crush the cabal of right wing turncoats. Or, he could stand on the wrong side of history and defrock Robinson and those who approved his consecration. Instead, he has taken a series of wishy-washy positions that have pleased no one and revealed weakness – which has encouraged further conservative mutinies.

After the unassuming Robinson assumed his new position, some conservative parishes warned they would opt out of the Episcopal Church and place themselves under the authority of theologically like-minded African Bishops.

It was at this point where Williams should have flexed his muscle. A commanding leader would have threatened to fire any pastor who defied the Episcopal leadership. He would have told troublemakers, such as Nigerian Archbishop Peter J Akinola , to can his rhetoric or get canned.

As a result of Williams' habitual indecision, on December 8, delegates to the Episcopal Church's Diocese of San Joaquin voted to leave the denomination and align themselves with a South American province in the Anglican Communion.  This was followed a day later by the Church of Nigeria placing four new North American bishops under its banner.

The spineless Williams responded with a wordy letter that incoherently chastised both sides. He blamed the liberals for departing from the Orthodox interpretation of Scripture and told Bishop Robinson he wasn't invited to the splashy Lambeth Conference next summer.

He also reprimanded the foreign conservatives for appropriating American parishes and told them the conservative Americans from breakaway parishes were also not invited. In other words, the Anglican Church is on the verge of a schism and the best Williams could do is tell the dueling sides they could not come to a big church party. Now, that's leadership!

In a laughable act of desperate futility, Williams suggested the warring factions join "professionally facilitated conversations." The clueless Archbishop of Canterbury is so out of touch, he might as well be the Archbishop of Xanadu.

What exactly are these two sides going to resolve? The liberals believe that homosexuals are equal in God's eyes and therefore should be treated as human beings. The conservatives believe that gay people are sinful and should be treated as subhuman. Williams believes in nothing – other than keeping the Communion together, even if that entails engaging in the immoral act of harming gay people within the church.

The thing is, once people have the epiphany that gays and lesbians deserve equality there is no turning back. The Archbishop can't expect parishioners in the Episcopal Church who believe in fairness to abandon their principles and ditch their gay friends and family members – in the name of the false idol of "unity."

Chicago Consultation, a coalition of church liberals, blasted Williams for his lame letter, saying he pandered to conservatives and slighted gay members of the church.

"The archbishop's lengthy letter contains not a word of comfort to gay and lesbian Christians," the group said, responding to Williams. "We are especially troubled by the absence of openly gay members on the bodies that may ultimately resolve the issue at hand. The archbishop's unwillingness to include gay and lesbian Christians in this process perpetuates the bigotry he purports to deplore."

The bottom line is that Williams will have to finally choose sides and squash dissenters. There is no getting around a schism and there is no way to bridge the gap and offer more than band-aide solutions.

It is a shame that it has come to this, but Williams' lack of moral clarity is responsible for the likely break-up of the Anglican Communion. He has stood for nothing – and nothing is what he will end up with if he doesn't get his act together. Forget a facilitator for the opposing sides – he needs to get one for himself so he can find out who he is and what he ultimately stands for.