When Rowan Williams announced his resignation in March, I argued that the Crown Nominations Commission needed to look beyond the usual crop of suspects and consider the many talented African bishops in the Communion as possibilities.
Filling Rowan Williams’ shoes was never going to be easy—any successor will have to stack up to one of the greatest theological minds of the generation. Going for an outside-the-box appointment—first Archbishop of Canterbury from outside England since Augustine?—lays to rest those possible comparisons and frees the successor to be fully himself (or herself, but that won’t happen—yet—to the see of Canterbury).
Then in June, I expanded on this argument in a piece in Religion Dispatches:
It is in this context that the attention of the Anglican Communion has again turned to Canterbury. The bishop’s chair there will soon be vacant, even as Rowan Williams takes full advantage of the months preceding his December retirement. And while speculation as to his successor runs hot, most observers place their bets on current occupants of English sees. That would be a mistake. As the Anglican Communion continues its growth in the non-Western world, I believe its nominal leader must reflect that change: it is time for an African Archbishop of Canterbury.
(I should note that this piece was heavily edited before it was published and, as it appears now, contains several sentences and paragraphs I did not write. But I did write the one I just quoted.)
Since I first made these arguments, I believe the case for Thabo Makgoba has only strengthened. He has distinguished himself in his response to the Lonmin mine shooting in August. He continues to faithfully lead his diverse church. One of his dioceses (Swaziland) recently elected Africa’s first female bishop. I suspect he will consecrate her. Wouldn’t it be grand if he came to Canterbury and—finally, at last!—did the same thing in England?
The Crown Nominations Commission, meanwhile, appears to have deadlocked at its meeting last week. There is no British bishop who is sufficiently satisfactory, it seems.
So I repeat my plea to the CNC: turn your gaze outside of the Church of England! Look to the hundreds of other bishops around the world who could ably fulfill this role.
(As far as I can tell, the archbishop of Canterbury has to be a citizen of the Commonwealth, not necessarily an English citizen—e.g. Rowan Wiliams. All the candidates I have suggested so far meet this criterion.)
There’s a gathering Twitter campaign to suggest possible alternatives for the CNC to consider, using the hashtag #alternativearchbishops. It mostly appears to be facetious at the moment. Let’s open up this process in any way we can! Start throwing out your suggestions and maybe, just maybe, someone will see them.