Rowan’s Hegelian Triumph

As I’ve been reading Benjamin Myer’s Christ the Stranger: The Theology of Rowan Williams this week, I’ve started to wonder whether the Archbishop’s strategy of Hegelian struggle between thesis and antithesis, much bemoaned by conservatives and liberals alike, may actually have succeeded over the past decade. Let me explain.

The core of Williams’ approach over his tenure in Canterbury has been to attempt to keep as many people at the table for as long as possible, in order that in the dialogue orthodoxy may emerge and heresy may be discerned. This is the heart of William’s understanding of orthodoxy – that it is determined in community and that therefore the maintenance of community is vital for this exercise. That has driven the dialogues and meetings, the invites and the refusals to un-invite (bar the refusal to issue an invite to Lambeth 2008 to Gene Robinson), even when ECUSA blatantly disobeyed the things that “community” had asked of them. It has driven the attempt to pass the Covenant across the Communion.

So why has this been a triumph? Well, quite simply this – it has become very apparent to the vast majority of Provinces what orthodoxy is. We have had years of deceit and double-talk from ECUSA and others. From the moment Frank Griswold signed a statement that he wouldn’t consecrate as Bishop a man in a sexual relationship outside of marriage and then did exactly that, through the gross violations of Canon Law in the USA deposing Bishops and Clergy with little ground, to the celebration of the consecration as Bishop of a woman in a sexual relationship outside of marriage and the introduction of liturgies to bless same-sex relationships, the antithesis to orthodoxy has been blatantly apparent for all to see. The fact that Rowan, instead of acting against it immediately instead allowed heresy to sit alongside orthodoxy in the Primates Meetings and the Lambeth Conference, has simply made the dialogue between truth and error all the more obvious.

What we now see is the triumph of the Hegelian dialogue that Rowan instituted. Orthodoxy has been defined in the community of the Anglican Communion and it has become so very apparent in comparison to the heresy that opposes it. Province after Province that a decade ago signed onto the Windsor Process and made one last effort to keep ECUSA on board has now stopped bothering having anything to do with them. The GAFCON organisation, like it or not, is organising conference after conference and shaping structures to support mission and discipleship through the entire world.

When Rowan Williams ascended the throne of Augustine, the Anglican Communion was entering a phase of discernment as to the future. Which direction would it take? How would the tensions be handled? Was there even a future for the Communion? And the most important question – how would we know what is true, what is orthodoxy? When Rowan Williams’ successor ascends the throne of Augustine, a huge number of those questions will have been answered. Thanks to Rowan’s Hegelian project to keep us talking for as long as possible, we have had years to see the downright duplicity and apostasy of huge portions of the Anglican Communion in the Americas. If Rowan hadn’t kept inviting the heretics to the party, we wouldn’t have had months and years of blatant deceit, untruth and the refusal of accountability to evidence in comparison to the path orthodoxy has taken.

Truly, there has been a major triumph of Rowan’s Hegelian Project.

4 Comments on “Rowan’s Hegelian Triumph

  1. Hi Peter,

    how about a review of Benjamin Myers’ book? I haven’t read it all yet but so far I’d give it 5 stars, especially for the writing, which is superb – fluent, lucid and elegantly concise. Wish I could write like that… But my main point was to say I don’t really buy your argument here. 

    Given Myers’ account of how deeply RW was influenced by Gillian Rose’s take on Hegel (in chapter 6, ‘Growth’) I’d like to risk the arrogance that neither your nor Giles Fraser’s understanding (“the Archbishop’s strategy of Hegelian struggle between thesis and antithesis”) is quite on the mark. Myers writes that, “For Williams, truth is that new thing that springs into being when different selves engage in the hard work of sustaining their differences” (p54). But in the grinding on of Anglican politics that you (and Dr Fraser) describe, there is no ‘new thing’ coming to be – merely, in your account above, a confirmation of what you always believed (or at least suspected). One could use a similar argument from an opposing viewpoint – that the organised bullying (see the anti-Jeffrey John campaign), border crossings and slanderous language (Peter Akinola and others) of some conservatives, shows that they cannot be ‘the orthodox’, since defending orthodoxy by such means surely marks a betrayal of it. But such an argument would, if any of this is valid, be no better than yours above. 

    It seems to me more plausible – and sadder – to suggest that RW’s attempt (I don’t think it could be called strategy) to keep as many at the table as possible, to hold the largest possible ‘arena’ for conversation and invite as many as possible, has mostly failed because most of us have refused the ‘growth’ of Myers’ chapter title. “We must give up our desire to possess the truth, in order to receive it and share it freely with others”, says Myers, but most of us haven’t given this up (granted I’m not being too definite who the ‘us’ is). Maybe that’s too negative, but I don’t see many signs of it… 

    in friendship, Blair 

    • It could be a bit of both couldn’t it? What do you do if everytime you sit down at the table the person opposite to you lies to your face? Stay and “grow”?

  2. Hi Peter,
    Do you think Rowan’s approach has really changed anyone’s idea of what orthodoxy is? It looks to me as if it has confirmed the already orthodox in their beliefs, the already liberal in their beliefs, and is forcing those in the middle to choose sides or leave altogether (e.g. the Ordinariate).

    • No, it’s far more subtle. The decade of attempted dialogue has determined for us what orthodoxy is, because it has been obvious alongside the heresy that has attempted to supplant it. It’s not about “changing” ideas, but discerning them.

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