If I were Archbishop of Canterbury . . .

I would find myself in an impossible position. After all, I wrote papers years ago affirming the right of homosexuals to full membership in the church and even appointed a known homosexual to be a bishop. Granted, I bowed to pressure and forced him to step down, but conservatives know full well that I am not one of them on this issue and no matter how often I act on their behalf they will know that I do it only to conciliate them. This will give them opportunity to push harder and use me as their proxy. I will have no integrity in their sight or that of those with whom I really agree.

It won’t work. I have to be who I am.

To be who I am, however, and state clearly what I believe, will certainly divide the Anglican Communion. Large parts of the Communion will declare themselves out of communion with me and with the Church of England. Significant numbers within the Church of England may declare themselves to be out of Communion with me and in Communion with those who are creating this division. The government may then need to decide whether benefices and other positions can be held by those who are not in communion with me and we will have a schism worse than that with the non-jurors in the 17th century.

I could resign and leave it to the Prime Minister and Queen to decide the future of the Anglican Communion by appointing someone they think can patch things up – or not. I could go back to Oxford and write more books. But fewer people would read them and I wouldn’t get to sit in the front seat at meetings and walk last in processions.

I could say to the conservatives: “Look, we are not of one mind on this issue. We still affirm the same ancient Creeds and we still have a common liturgical tradition, but you feel that homosexual behavior is incompatible with Christian faith and we do not. We deeply regret this division but it is real and we will do better to acknowledge it and find ways to live with it. We will continue to support you in any ways we can and we stand ready to meet with you to try to find common ground. But if you refuse to meet with us or talk with us for decades, still it is better to be honest than for me to accommodate you further than conscience allows.

“Meanwhile remember this: on every continent today there are Christians working to overcome the ancient schisms. Orthodox meet with Romans, Lutherans meet with Romans, Jews meet with Christians, Muslims meet with Christians, Methodists meet with Anglicans, and in all these meetings regret is expressed for the blindness of our ancestors who chose division over issues that we know realize could have been resolved. I have no doubt that will be true for us as well.”

Yes, I could say that and be honest and retrieve whatever is left of my integrity. In the middle of the night, I see myself stating boldly what I believe and providing leadership that might create division but that might also set the church on a path of renewal that would draw the disaffected back and begin a real transformation of our society. But I can’t. I just can’t. As I said before, I have to be who I am. All I can do is waffle and muddle along. Of course, we Anglicans do that very well and so far we have survived by doing it. Looking back historians may even salute my courage in resisting every pressure to lead and leaving it to my successor to sort out – if there’s anything left except empty cathedrals and warring fundamentalists.

If I were Archbishop . . . What if I wake up and find out that I am?

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