Can’t Get No Respect

The archbishop of Canterbury wants to be in communion with everyone. But his fear of commitment makes it impossible for him to affirm the Christian faith.

Let me hear you say it:

Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done.
Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done.
Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done.

The darling bit of cheerleading above comes from a sermon delivered by the Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, newly appointed president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Chris Johnson, on his Midwest Conservative Journal website, announced the appointment and the reaction of Episcopal Bishop Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts: “I am thrilled with the appointment of Katherine Ragsdale as the president and dean of EDS.” We are also in debt to Johnson for passing along Ragsdale’s proabortion chant before she removed that particular homily from her website.

There are doubtless Catholic clergy who are in favor of abortion on demand, but in public they have to pretend otherwise. Yet Rev. Ragsdale has the enthusiastic support of her hierarchy, who can be in no doubt about her opinions.

“Gravely Deficient”

This support—administratively, at least—extends to Anglicanism’s head hierarch, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Dr. Williams’ “big tent” approach to doctrinal deviance has earned him the congratulations of the media (and the deviants). But not everyone is equally impressed by this openness. Austen Ivereigh recounted for us a telling anecdote about Williams’ visit to Rome on the occasion of Benedict XVI’s installation as Pope:

In 2005, the delegation of Christian leaders to greet the new Pope had been split into two categories: the “Orthodox Churches” on the one hand, and the “ecclesial communities of the west” on the other, with whom the Anglicans had been lumped. This was consistent with Dominus Iesus, and for the Anglicans a serious snub: it meant that Rome’s official view of Anglicanism was that it did not have valid bishops or Eucharist. Over lunch I spoke to various members of the delegation, and each said the same: that it had been disappointing, insulting, and hurtful to them to be lumped in with Protestant churches which lack sacraments and clergy.

Ivereigh tells us that Williams was seething at the judgment implicitly conveyed by the Vatican’s segregation:

That’s when Dr Williams joked—it was a sardonic joke, said through gritted teeth— that he thought he should have worn a T-shirt bearing the words “GRAVELY DEFICIENT.” The words had been used in Cardinal Ratzinger’s bombshell 2000 document Dominus Iesus to describe non-Christian faiths.

Only make-believe

Precisely this reaction shows that Rowan Williams sees himself as a make-believe bishop renting a costume in a make-believe church. He claims to be in communion with gay bishops, women bishops, and clergy that include truculent pro-aborts, druids, and the occasional imam—and then he feels offended when the Holy See takes him at his word. This is not the reaction of a serious man. It’s the hard-core Protestants who deserved to be miffed by a seating chart that classes them with Williams; they, at least, are capable of making and abiding by an affirmation of Christian faith.

At some point a man has to make a choice: he can either be a critic—aloof, skeptical, ironic—or he can commit himself to the battle. But Williams wants to have it both ways, watching the game from the sidelines and then trying to crowd into the team photo when it’s over. Reviewing a collection of Williams’ essays, Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson wrote that “his fear of closure begins to seem far too obsessive to be truly helpful in the life of faith.” That was a scholar criticizing a scholar. When the skeptic in question is a bishop, or pretends to be, the criticism multiplies in force.

“Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done!”

You were saying, my lord…?

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