Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Commentary: rebellion in the Church's ranks

[Times Online] 22 Oct 2008--As bishops inside his own church line up against the Archbishop of Canterbury, circulating "whispers of discontent" about the quality of his leadership, commentators at the Lambeth Conference with long memories have begun comparing Dr Rowan Williams to Harold Wilson.

It is said of Wilson that his greatest achievement was holding off schism in the Labour Party, as he battled with the trade unions in the face of attempts to modernise his party. The division happened anyway, though later, and today we have the LibDems as a result. His reputation might not have been damaged had the SDP been founded under his watch, but his legacy would have been different.

For a man whose strategies seem rooted in the quasi-Marxist student politics of the 1970s, it is perhaps not surprising that Dr Williams reponse to dissent is so Wilsonian. Organise as many meetings, commissions and reports, the logic goes, and everyone will be too engaged or simply too tired to walk away.

At Lambeth, Dr Williams has set up not just one, but four of these things. There are probably even more, hidden away between the small print of the 37-page "reflections" document that has come out of two weeks of African-style conflict resolution in "indaba" groups. The documents, meetings and commissions all have the same end in mind, to avoid a decision, ever, and thereby avoid schism.

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