Canterbury's Time diplomacy

ArchbishopWilliams2Time's profile of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is a well-timed and mutually beneficial piece. Time has landed the in-depth "get" interview that religion writers will envy, especially since Williams withheld a few invitations to the Lambeth Conference. Williams has taken another opportunity to telegraph signals to his fellow Anglican bishops -- especially those who would prefer that he take sides in the conflicts about homosexuality and church order. Time reporters David Van Biema and Catherine Mayer efficiently describe how Williams' past writings were in clear sympathy with Britain's Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and how he has "banked down" those convictions as he strives to keep all parties at the Anglican table.

Williams comes across as emboldened by his decision to withhold Lambeth Conference invitations from Bishop Gene Robinson of The Episcopal Church and Bishop Martyn Minns of Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Minns was consecrated by Nigeria's Peter Akinola after being elected by that church's bishops as a missionary bishop to the United States.

Time does a fine job of interpreting where those withheld invitations, which provoked much criticism from both the left and right, now leave Williams:

It was, of course, a gamble. Akinola threatened to pull his country's 90-some bishops out of Lambeth. Robinson said he hoped that the U.S. church as a whole (with its 111 dioceses) would "respond" to his exclusion. But the act of self-assertion seems to have energized Williams. As his hearth logs crackled, it became clear that he saw himself, the U.S. Episcopalians and Akinola as facing the same broad challenge: in the absence of bright guidelines, to subsume their more extreme philosophical impulses to the preservation of Anglicanism's unique assets. As for their real differences, Williams cited a theology he says springs from the Apostle Paul's reference to the church as the "body of Christ": God intends that people in one church "have something to learn even from the people we most dislike or instinctively mistrust. 'Here they are. In an ideal world, no doubt I'd have chosen differently, but it wasn't up to me.'"

In a sidebar Q&A, Williams says this about those bishops (left and right) who say they may not attend the Lambeth Conference because Williams withheld invitations from Robinson and Minns:

I don't particularly want to be -- I wouldn't say blackmailed but pressured by either extreme on this. I think they'd lose by not coming. I think they need to talk to each other and listen to each other without prejudice."

The report appears as the cover story for Time's European and South Pacific editions. In the U.S. edition it's not mentioned on the cover, which is devoted to the immigration debate. (Time also offers a fuller audio version of Van Biema and Mayer's interview with Williams at Lambeth Palace. It's well worth a lesson for those who have not heard Williams' Welsh baritone.)

Time notes wryly that Williams will spend the next three months "engaged in a little light recreation, working on a book about Fyodor Dostoevsky at Georgetown University in Washington." He will meet with the bishops of The Episcopal Church in late September, as they provide a formal response to the primates of Anglicanism's 38 provinces.

At the end of Time's main story, Williams sounds a note that isn't heard much these days:

He is "hopeful," he told Time, but not "absolutely confident" that the whole structure of Anglicanism can be kept together. And if it should fall apart around his shoulders, leaving him standing in the rubble of his calling? Would he be able to sustain the blow? "Well, yes," Williams said, and then took a long pause. "Yes. Because I trust my God and I believe that whatever mistakes I make and whatever disasters may occur, there is always grace."

Time has done an exceptional job of moving beyond the one-note samba of "Anglicans on brink of schism." There's a much more complex song to be heard, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is singing it.

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