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Nigerian Anglican Primate Rips Archbishop Williams as he Flees Lambeth Palace

Nigerian Anglican Primate Rips Archbishop Williams as he Flees Lambeth Palace for Academia


By David W. Virtue
March 22, 2012

In a blistering attack not seen in modern memory, the Metropolitan and Primate of the Anglican Province of Nigeria ripped the Archbishop of Canterbury saying his sudden resignation announcement will leave behind a Communion in tatters: highly polarized, bitterly factionalized, with issues of revisionist interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and human sexuality as stumbling blocks to oneness.

Archbishop Nicholas D. Okoh noted that when Dr. Rowan Williams took over the leadership of the Anglican Communion in 2002, it was a happy family. He is leaving it with decisions and actions that are stumbling blocks to oneness, evangelism and mission all around the Anglican world.

Okoh went so far as to say that it was like being "crucified under Pontius Pilate".

The leader of the world’s most populace Anglican Province (20 million) said the lowest ebb of this degeneration came in 2008, when there were two "Lambeth" Conferences -- one in the UK, and an alternative one, GAFCON in Jerusalem -- that saw more than one third of the Anglican Communion’s bishops as “no-shows” at Canterbury. The trend continued recently when many Global South Primates decided not to attend the last Primates' meeting in Dublin, Ireland.

The Nigerian archbishop said that because Williams did not resign in 2008 over the split Lambeth Conference, he should have worked assiduously to “mend the net” or repair the breach, before bowing out of office. Okoh also blasted the covenant proposal saying it was “doomed to fail from the start”, as "two cannot walk together unless they have agreed".

Okoh concluded his rip by saying that the announcement did not present any opportunity for excitement. “It is not good news here, until whoever comes as the next leader pulls back the Communion from the edge of total destruction.”


Dr. Peter F. Jensen, the Archbishop of Sydney, was more nuanced, but also recognized the underlying failure of Dr. Williams to lead the communion. In a statement on the resignation of Dr Williams, Jensen wrote, “The Archbishop of Canterbury is universally admired for his intellectual stature and his personal warmth. In his time as Archbishop, the Anglican Communion has been subjected to unprecedented stresses, which have hastened an inevitable tendency to regional independence and decentralisation. With the majority of Anglicans now from theologically conservative churches of the Global South, the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the future will demand a deepening appreciation of their place in the Communion.”


Across the Anglican Communion, liberal bishops and archbishops praised Williams’ tenure. Nearly all conceded that he was leader at a difficult time in the Communion’s history. Here is a sampling.

The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, Episcopal Diocese of Texas said Archbishop Williams was called to serve the Anglican Communion during a most difficult time. “His encouragement to strive for unity for the sake of mission is and will continue to be a guiding principal of my ministry.”

Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to Archbishop Hiltz, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said Archbishop Williams' time in office was a time of significant challenges "and throughout those challenging times, we benefited from his thoughtful, pastoral presence. One of the great joys for the Canadian Church was his visit in 2007 to our House of Bishops where he gave some very moving addresses on Christian Leadership as the Bishops prepared to nominate for the election of a Primate at the 2007 General Synod. I am certain that the whole Canadian church joins in wishing him well as he returns to teaching." (Archbishop Fred Hiltz, is currently en route to Melanesia)

The Rt. Rev. Matthias Mededues-Badohu, Bishop of Ho Diocese, Ghana, said, “it’s a great pity Cantuar should go at this time when women bishops and covenant issues are still pending. However, it is a very difficult job to hold on to for years especially when the Church has been absorbed by a secularized society where ‘political’ votes are the only things that count.”

The Most Rev David Chillingworth, Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, noted that Archbishop Rowan’s time as Archbishop of Canterbury had been marked by great difficulty. “To be the person who is called to foster and to embody unity will always be a costly ministry. He has fulfilled that ministry with a wonderful grace and personal warmth.”

Calling Dr. Williams “an able theologian and deeply spiritual thinker,” The Most Rev. Dr. Thabo C Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town, said Williams “has exercised remarkable gospel-shaped leadership during tumultuous times for our Communion, in which his commitment to consensus seeking, rooted in his refusal to take quick and easy solutions that fail to address the more fundamental issues, has shown great courage and deeply profound rootedness in the faith to which we are called.”

The Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade, interim dean of Washington National Cathedral, released a statement saying “Rowan Williams has been a steadfast and compassionate leader during two decades in ministry as a bishop—half of them as the central figure in our Anglican Communion. In the meantime, religion across the world has been used as a justification for violence and conflict rather than the unifying and healing role that we know that it can play. As a people of faith, we must use our abilities to seek commonality instead of difference, and unity instead of discord, as Archbishop Williams has done throughout his ministry.”

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt. Rev. James Jones said The Archbishop of Canterbury “served the Church of England, the Nation and the Anglican Communion tirelessly, courageously and beyond the call of duty. We are grateful to him and Jane for bearing the burden of this office especially through such turbulent times and pray for God’s blessing on this new chapter in their life and ministry.”

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said she was grateful for Rowan Williams’ service as Archbishop of Canterbury during an exceedingly challenging season. “We can all give thanks for his erudition and persistence in seeking reconciliation across a rapidly changing Anglican Communion.”


There is apparently no evidence that Williams was asked to leave or was forced out of office. The decision was entirely his alone, according to sources in London.

Following his unexpected announcement that he is to leave Lambeth Palace at the end of the year, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s candor about his desire to retreat from the outside world is being interpreted as an insight into his tortured state of mind. There is some truth to this.

Almost from the day he became leader of the 72 million-strong worldwide Anglican Communion, Dr Williams has been an isolated figure, distrusted by both wings of the Church in equal measure, noted one writer.

Traditionalists regard the open-minded academic as too liberal, while liberals feel betrayed by his climb-down over the issue of homosexual bishops. His views on Shari’a Law (that it be adopted into England’s legal system), his limp, pathetic response to the riots in London, his “hairy lefty” political views coupled with his ability to strangle syntax in nearly everything he said or wrote has frustrated ordinary Anglicans who could not make head nor tail of what he said, let alone what he meant.

Where his predecessor, Dr George Carey, would take difficult decisions and wait for the storm to pass, Dr. Williams agonized endlessly over how to placate all sides of the Church, never grasping the simple truth that you cannot please all of the people all of the time.

The timing of the archbishop’s announcement suggests he took time to reflect on the implications of an inevitable defeat as he spent a day on retreat in Rome earlier this week, said a London columnist. “The worst aspects of the job have been the sense that there are some conflicts that won’t go away, however long you struggle with them, and that not everybody in the Anglican Communion or even in the Church of England is eager to avoid schism or separation. A number of what I call watersheds seemed to make this a reasonable moment, at least, to think about moving on.”

Controversy has dogged Williams at every turn during his 10 years at Lambeth Palace. In 2002, a year after his appointment, he faced the first test of his pluriform thinking. He did so by forcing his friend Jeffrey John to refuse his appointment as Bishop of Reading. The row spilled over again in 2010 when Dr Williams blocked John’s attempt to become Bishop of Southwark.

His ability to stay above the fray boiled over during a meeting where he allegedly lost his temper in a shouting match that reduced some observers to tears. Some within the Church accused him of having a “lack of courage” while one Anglican pointed out that, “even Judas only betrayed his friend once”.

On the other side of the ecclesiastical fence, Williams lost the trust of orthodox Anglicans when he failed (repeatedly) to discipline The Episcopal Church after it elected a homosexual bishop in 2003 and then a lesbian bishop in 2010. A good portion of Lambeth Palace’s budget comes from The Episcopal Church leading cynics to observe that he has no interest in biting the hand that feeds him.

In a series of letters, written shortly before his appointment and subsequently leaked, Williams expressed his belief that homosexual relationships could “reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage”. Coupled with this was his argument in The Body’s Grace that homosexuality is acceptable in the framework of commitment.


The issue led finally to 22 Anglican provinces, mostly in the Global South, to form a breakaway movement in GAFCON. A number of Anglo-Catholic clergymen resigned or accepted the Ordinariate offered b y the Pope to join the Roman Catholic Church.

The issue of homosexuality in the Church “isn’t going to go away in a hurry”, said Williams, “Crisis management is never a favorite activity … It has certainly been a major nuisance.”

At the end of the day, Williams has failed to appease either side; his heavily nuanced mind and mutterings failed the communion. There is simply no way forward. He has nowhere to go but out. That will become even more evident when the GAFCON Primates and some 200 evangelical Anglican leaders from 30 provinces gather in London – an event to which Williams has not been invited.

He will leave with the consecration of women bishops likely to be approved by the General Synod in July, which observers say will almost certainly prompt more walkouts. The British press say that gay marriages is almost a done deal and that, sooner or later, clergy will have to open their church doors to allow such “marriages” prompting more clergy to resign.

Historians will recall Dr. Williams’ tenure as a colossal, tragic failure. His inability to understand the rise of the Global South with its evangelical emphasis on Scripture, faith and morals (the legacy of men like John Stott, J.I. Packer and Michael Green) reveal a spiritual blindness and a myopia that is hard to fathom.

History will not be kind to him. The only question now is who will follow him and is it too late. Any compromise candidate will be anathema to archbishops like Nicholas Okoh (Nigeria) or Eliud Wabukala (Kenya) and the rest of the Global South including Southeast Asia and Latin America (Southern Cone).

A de facto split already exists in the Anglican Communion, the question now is will it be de jure?

The rise of the Global South will not be stopped. GAFCON/FCA has, to all intents and purposes, replaced the Lambeth Conference while the Jerusalem Declaration has replaced the Covenant. It only remains to be seen if a new Archbishop of Canterbury can pull a rabbit out of the hat and make it all come together. That seems most unlikely considering the candidates (Bishop of London and Archbishop of York). The truth is neither man has much credibility with the Global South. Surely, the Queen must know that.

Whatever happens and whoever is chosen, the grand Anglican realignment is underway and nothing can or will stop it.

Also read Canterbury to bid adieu by Dr. Peter Moore for more excellent commentary here: http://tinyurl.com/74hve6r

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