President vs Archbishop | The End of Patriarchal Leadership?

A couple of recent posts I’ve read to link together:

In an excellent post here Will Samson explores the failings of the religious right in US politics.

“Beyond the public moral failures, however I believe that 2006 will be the beginning of significant political failures for the religious right. I believe we will begin to see an undoing of the last 30 years of political organization by this segment of the church.”

And Jordan Cooper put me on to this post by Andrew Sullivan, which outlines the root belief of this ‘political organization by this segment of the church’:

“The key element that binds Christianism with Bush Republicanism is fealty to patriarchal leadership. That’s the institutional structure of the churches that are now the Republican base; and it’s only natural that the fundamentalist psyche, which is rooted in obedience and reverence for the inerrant pastor, should be transferred to the presidency. That’s why I think Bush’s ratings won’t go much below 25 percent; because 25 percent is about the proportion of the electorate that is fundamentalist and supports Bush for religious rather than political reasons.”

Finally, I noted a link on Sanctus 1’s blog to this interview with Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) in The Guardian in which he not only describes himself as ‘comic vicar to the nation’, but also replies to a question on whether an Archbishop should provide moral leadership by saying:

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“Leadership is, to me, a very, very murky and complicated concept,” he begins, sitting in an armchair in his Lambeth Palace office, his minder a watchful presence across the room.

“I think the question I always find myself asking of myself is, ‘Will a pronouncement here or a statement there actually move things on, or is it something that makes me feel better and other people feel better, but doesn’t necessarily contribute very much?’”

What tied all this together for me was a conversation/ argument with Gareth Higgins and William Crawley in Northern Ireland the other weekend about how effective Rowan Williams had been. They argued that his lack of ‘moral leadership’ had been a disaster. I wanted to argue that making tough pronouncements was – as Williams agrees here – unlikely to produce the desired effects.

The link with Bush? Well, it seems that in Bush the religious right in the US have sought a strong moral leadership, because that is what they default to. (Sullivan’s post). They love the idea of the inerrant pastor, and believe in Bush as a presidential version of that. Will Samson’s post goes some way to show what a disaster this has been. Bush loves making tough pronouncements, but his ‘strong moral leadership’ has resulted in a great deal of pain and suffering, and a whole lot of corruption too.

Williams, on the other hand, appears to be shunning the mantel of the ‘strong moral leader’ who pronounces truth on everything, and instead is happier to work with people in the background to effect real change. I don’t believe, as others do, that he has compromised his beliefs and past statements on matters such as sexuality. His opinions are there for everyone to read. But he rightly resists shouting them from the rooftops now he is ABC when doing so would be likely to cause pain and schism.

He is, perhaps, gently moving the Archbishop’s role away from the Patriarchal model for the first time. He is not the inerrant pastor who all should bow to. His work is more subtle. Living in a ‘post-Christian’, ‘post-Modern’ country, but ministering to a worldwide communion that is much more conservative, he has to be.

Strength to his arm. Let’s hope his new mode of leadership will in turn be matched by a new mode of Presidency in the US.


5 responses to “President vs Archbishop | The End of Patriarchal Leadership?”

  1. Amen, amen, amen…

  2. great stuff, i really appreciate your thoughts on this. i fear conservatives, especially in the states, are going to write williams off even further after his comments regarding teaching creationism as science. but they won’t read the whole story where he notes that he fears this would actually perpetuate a reductionism with regard to what creation is about theologically. seems this might back up what you’re saying re: approaches to leadership and issues. perhaps his theological and historical knowledge give him an insight into things that prevents him from rushing into judgment or action.
    couple of questions if you have time: how exactly is williams’ moral leadership seen as a disaster by those who would label it that?
    and didn’t folks expect this approach to issues and leadership when he was appointed? this is a person who, in my opinion, can be one of the most difficult living theologians to read, whose arguments are always dense and nuanced. were people expecting him to start popping out pithy quotes on morality, etc?
    thanks again for the post

  3. Good post. I would like to add some observations.
    One, George W. Bush is a smart politician. He recognized early the electoral power in the religious middle. He used it powerfully, running for governor of my home state of Texas, which like the South had been mostly Democrat since Reconstruction after the Civil War. But what he saw, is a group that was called the Reagan Democrats in the 1980s. These are mostly working class, mainstream folk. These were members of labor unions before the unions began shrinking in the 70s and 80s. They were previously supporters of the Democrat party. Their allegiance is not to party or church but to mainstream, working class values. But not all of them vote Republican. They vote mainstream, working/middle class. Analysts fail to fully understand this group when they refer to them as the “religious right.” They are conservative, alright. But conservative was working class Democrat for the middle part of the twentieth century. Conservatives are those who believe that things will get better if we do what we did in the past. Liberals, or progressives, are those who believe that the future is bright if we continue doing what we’re doing. Some of us disagree with both.
    These are the folk who are smack in the middle of James Fowler’s Faith Stages 2 and 3. They are Mythical-literal and Conventional-Synthetic. They not only follow the leader, but they expect that leader to do what he or she promises. They don’t really get all the complicated stuff of global politics and religious politics. They don’t consider that a single leader in a nation of 300 million can’t pull of most of things he promises. In the same way that they piled on the Bush wagon, they will pile off. The Democrat party became rather elitist in the past couple of decades. They bashed the religion of middle Americans, and they pooh poohed their values. Bush and his party are in danger of making the same mistake.
    While I agree with your point, I believe there will always be the mainstream who will follow the leader. They will find one to follow if there are no real leaders to be found. They move as a group or a herd. When they turn, they turn as a flock of birds or a school of fish.

  4. Dana Ames

    Kester, I really appreciate your ability to pull these things together. Bill has some excellent insights too.
    ++Rowan is the man for the hour. The more I find out about him, the more I admire him. God help him.

  5. Kester. Thanks for this, particularly the link to the Rowan interview and the commentary you add around the edges. You’ve pulled it all together very usefully.
    Take care.