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Archbishop of Canterbury Sees Anglican Communion as Giant Chess Game

Archbishop of Canterbury Sees Anglican Communion as Giant Chess Game


By David W. Virtue

Watching and observing the Archbishop of Canterbury at work, most recently in Alexandria, Egypt, one senses that Dr. Rowan Williams, a brilliant theologian/strategist, sees the Anglican Communion as an open-ended chess game.

It is a game which never really ends (there is no classic end game), no checkmate (no one can lay down his miter or be thrown out of the communion), players go backwards and forwards, bishops, knights, rooks (castles) all move, but nothing is taken off the board. It is a game no one wins or really loses.

The odd pawn is sacrificed (like orthodox parishes in the US or the Diocese of Recife in Brazil), but the game goes on endlessly with the kings and queens (you may take the latter literally in the person of Gene Robinson), but even he gets to stay on the chess board as it is considered infra dig to hit on a queen.

Pieces move effortlessly and soundlessly around the board (from Canterbury to Alexandria) with the Grand Master (Williams) always in control and determining pre-ordained moves and counter moves. A bishop (archbishop) moves sideways up the board angrily denouncing sodomy, but is blocked by a knight (Kenneth Kearon and the ACC) and moves back several squares. Akinola moves to the right. Aspinall to the left. A pawn moves in to block any progression a right-thinking archbishop might make. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The game goes on with no winners or losers. The Anglican Communion is a zero sum game.

Theo Hobson, in an article in The Spectator, appropriately titled "Mainly Monk", captures a singular truth (there is more than one) about Rowan Williams.

"He decided as a boy that he would be a priest and theologian, and never had any trouble getting there. He never had a period of adulthood, or even adolescence, in which he wondered what to do with his life, in which he dipped even a toe into another form of life. He has always belonged to the subculture of Church, and since undergraduate days it was obvious that he would have a successful career in it, and the universities joined to it. Contemporaries rightly saw him as a donnish prelate-in-waiting. So his life has been sheltered by the institutions of Church and Oxbridge, to a remarkable degree. He has never had to seek employment, or existential meaning, outside this world. He has almost always been housed by either Church or university, thus being spared a major form of worldly responsibility and angst. He happens never to have driven a car, another reprieve from dirty worldliness," wrote Hobson.

Is it any wonder then that Williams has become the Grand Master? His skills were evident from the beginning. The chess board was his. It was only a matter of time. He has also emerged as the Grand Manipulator.

He has been able to duck and weave over black and white moral issues like homosexuality, because he could say his personal beliefs would never interfere with the generally accepted views of the communion at large and the received teaching of Scripture.

Scriptural authority might be negotiable for Williams but, as Hobson observes, the authority of the Church is utterly non-negotiable to him, for the simple reason that he has never imagined living outside of its subculture. His reforming radicalism has always been analogous to that of the young aristocrat, who is hot for change, as long as nanny and cook are still there to look after him.

And a chess board is nearby.

He is for the ordination of women (advance the queen), but he wants Forward in Faith's views acknowledged (advance the knight). Women bishops will be ordained (the queen has threatened, smiles, and then retreats, she has won. No need to take any players off the board). The knight is made to feel he is still a player, but he gets little support from the Grand Master. The knight is threatened by a pawn that has moved forward en passant. The knight retreats. Everybody breathes a sigh of relief. The game is temporarily halted. Everyone breaks for tea and crumpets. Pleasantries are exchanged. A joke or two is shared, then it is on to Evensong, dinner and another day has passed. No one has been checkmated. The game goes on.

A lengthy article in "The Atlantic" magazine (March edition) by Paul Elie titled The Velvet Reformation profiles Williams and draws attention to him as the Great Temporizer.

Elie frames the challenge facing Williams and the Anglican Communion in terms of "anti-gay" versus "gay-friendly" parties, tacitly assuming the rightness of the latter.

"They [questions having to do with homosexuality] are not going to go away, and we shouldn't pretend that they are," Williams said. Williams' position is disingenuous in implying that the Church, as Church, has not addressed the question."

Nonsense. She has addressed it, and has definitively answered it. "Sodomy is an open question not among churchmen qua churchmen, but among the fashion-conscious professoriat, and it is in his role of academic rather than archbishop that Williams seeks a vocabulary of sexual accommodation. The striking characteristic of (First World) Anglican bishops is their "faculty meeting" approach to Christian doctrine. None of them pretends that a layman might make a real-world decision as a consequence of what he might say. None pretends to speak with authority greater than his most enlightened lay associate. None pretends that the '"mind of Christ'" on an issue is something knowable, immutable, and distinct from the conflict of bias, fashion, and political self-interest that generates new theologies in every age," writes Elie.

Perhaps, it's not surprising that the contrarian atheist Christopher Hitchens has keener insight into Rowan Williams than does Paul Elie. Two years ago, in a Vanity Fair column, Hitchens recounted a fortuitous meeting in a Georgetown bistro: I lean over. "My Lord Archbishop? It's Christopher Hitchens." "Good gracious," he responds, gesturing at his guest -- "we were just discussing your book."

As Hitchens cynically notes, what does Williams care what some Bronze Age text says about homosexuality?

The brilliance of Williams is his enormous ability to sabotage closure. Witness what happened in Alexandria.

A number of orthodox archbishops in Alexandria said the Anglican Communion is irretrievably broken. There are two different understandings of the Anglican faith at work, two religions even, but still there was no schism. Lambeth and GAFCON now must somehow coexist. TEC and ACNA will muddle along glaring at each other across the great theological divide. The Windsor Report, in all its manifestations and permutations, lies in tatters. A Covenant, if it ever reaches a final stage, will have the value of toilet paper. Will another decade of blue ribbon committees change anything? Of course not, but keep everyone talking, keep everyone at the table.

Williams is always "listening", always searching, but never coming to a knowledge of the truth, for if he did, the communion and the chess game would be over. Keep everyone talking and "listening", mainly of course to the whine of gays like The (Rev.) Colin Coward and (Bishop) Gene Robinson. Is anyone listening to Bishop Robinson Cavilcanti?

As Elie notes, if you hope for gay lib to triumph, moral leadership is the last thing you want to provide. "The game is to keep things as blurry as possible while the tide of secular sentiment carries society as a whole to the place you want it to be."

Elie is absolutely right. The Western Anglican branch of Anglicanism is stoically, if not joyfully, following the culture. Is it any wonder then that patriarchal Anglican theologian Dr. J.I. Packer, called on Williams to resign? The smell of good faith "searching" of which Williams is a past master grows more rancid with time.

In the meantime, the Anglican Communion's western provinces will continue to wither and die, victims of their own liberal theological diseases and pansexual rot. The Global South provinces will continue to grow and expand exponentially driven by a clear precise understanding of the gospel of God's grace of repentance and faith.

There will be no checkmate. The players (archbishops and bishops) simply will not turn up to play on Williams chess board any longer. The liberals will scream victory even as defeat claws at their throats. There overthrow is written into the warp and woof of their post-modern gospel - a "gospel" that, at the end of the day, saves no one and nothing.


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