We all knew that Rowan Williams was a liberal when appointed. The appointment was therefore the hope of us 'right thinkers' and the fear of the 'others'. His liberal position has been recently brought to the fore in the of form letters he wrote about eight years ago in which he stated, 'I concluded that an active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way compatible to marriage'; then went on to say that after 2o years of study and prayer this was his 'definitive conclusion' (see article). All of this seems now abandoned (or at least hidden) for the sake of 'unity'.
Reading and thinking through all this I was reminded of a passage from one of my favourite plays, Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons. In a nutshell, it's the story of Thomas More who put his conscience before the pleasure of the king and died for it. Early on in the play Cardinal Wolsey suggests placing financial and political pressure on the Church to obtain for Henry VIII an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He asks Thomas More how he as a Councillor of England 'can obstruct these measures for the sake of of your own private conscience'. More responds: 'Well...I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties...they lead their country by a short route to chaos.' What a powerful statement - beautifully written and insightfully observed. Had only the Archbishop paid heed to those words (he is undoubtedly familiar with the play) the situation might be different for him presently. Unfortunately, chaos has ensued in the Anglican Communion and we seem to be without anyone to whom we can actually look for guidance.
No doubt Rowan Williams is in an unenviable position, but certainly that position could be made somewhat better (at least personally) by the moral comfort of knowing he is standing up for his beliefs. By not doing so he is offers no real leadership while at the same simply hoping that the whole issue will resolve itself if he simply waits long enough. More and more voices are now rising for him to actually lead (see another article!) and there is little knowing what will happen.
While More may have suffered death as a consequence of the times in which he lived, no one would see him as a victim of circumstance. By adhering to his conviction he at least suffered for for what he really believed, and is now revered by inheritors of both 'sides' of his contemporary division. Will the sentiment for Rowan Williams 500 years from today be the same?