February 24, 2011

Unity in Our Time

In September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned home from Munich. Having appeased a bully, he famously declared that he had achieved “peace in our time.”

Chamberlain and WilliamsPrime Minister Neville Chamberlain (L)
and his philosophical descendant Archbishop Rowan Williams (R, photo courtesy of Brian)

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has done much the same thing within the Anglican Communion. The bullies, in this case, are the “orthodox” schismatics in America and their Third World allies. Williams’ document of appeasement is called the Anglican Communion Covenant. With it, he expects—at least he acts as though he expects—to achieve unity in our time.

Alas, Dr. Williams has read too much Dostoyevsky and too little Churchill. Hardly had the ink dried on the Covenant before many of those he sought to appease rejected the document, apparently choosing to engage in warfare instead. (Happily, most Anglican primates are presumed to be unarmed, so the war will be conducted with rhetorical weapons.)

Ironically, the only person who seems positively eager to sign on to the Covenant is the Anglican Church in North America’s Archbishop Robert Duncan, who merely wants to prove that he can. Of course, by the current rules of engagement, he can’t.

As in 1938, appeasement will reap its just reward. Unity in our time will quickly be found to be an illusion.


  1. "Unity in Our Time". Heh, heh. Not very likely, I'm thinking.

  2. The comparison may be slightly unfair, to Chamberlain! There is some historical evidence that he began pushing the government to modernize and enlarge the British military from the moment he made that remark. Playing for time may have been his only option. Dr. Williams did have time and assets and he squandered them both.


  3. I'm not wild about the Covenant, but would personally sign on because I respect Rowen, (read: like his writings before becoming Archbishop) and don't think the Covenant has any real teeth. I probably wouldn't support it if it came from his predecessor (or likely successor). That Duncan wants to sign on is not relevant. Much as it might be accurate, I don't like the war analogies about our church.

  4. Mary Pat,

    Rowan is an accomplished scholar and theologian. He is a thoroughly incompetent politician, however, and that is what he is being called to be in his present position.

    There is evidence that the Church of England will adopt the covenant, not because people like it, but out of respect for Rowan. Only God deserves that kind of unqualified support.

  5. Lionel,
    I for one am not prepared to "walk the green mile" for Rowan or anyone else for that matter.
    When provinces such as Nigeria and Uganda and Argentina/Southern Cone create democratic processes in order that their laity may have a real say in decisions made by provinces the nwill I consider something different.

  6. Indeed, only the primates—certainly only bishops, anyway—seem to count in the Covenant. And the Global South primates think they don’t count nearly enough. The Covenant is written as though laypeople do not even exist. Maybe bishops need to be given their own church, so they can leave the rest of us alone. :-)

  7. Maybe bishops need to be given their own church, so they can leave the rest of us alone. :-)

    Sounds good to me. :-D

  8. Great analogy, Lionel. I am sorry that the CofE would vote anything because of their respect for the ABC rather than on the merits of the document. The fact that a piece of legislation has no teeth does not mean that subsequent primates would not give it teeth. The whole purpose of the common law system was to keep government and legislation simple and understandable. The Covenant lays us open to a kind of governance by Bishops alone--and I for one could not support that.

  9. I just can't get myself worked about about the covenant. I disagree that Rowan isn't a politician. Actually he is the quintessential English politician. Can you live with that?

  10. Mary Pat,

    The Covenant is dangerous if only because it will divert us from actual mission. It will not end disputes; it merely gives us more things to argue about and enables us to fight in a more destructive way.

    And I didn’t say Rowan wasn’t a politician; I said he was not a good one.


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