Sometimes in life, to really make progress, you need to have someone do the unexpected. Richard Nixon’s visit to China was one such moment. A man with an uncompromising stance towards communism was the one who changed the nature of relations between the United States and China. It took a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, to sign welfare reform into law. In order for change to happen and for it to really “stick”, you need someone who comes from the opposing view but has been brought around to a new view. It is these moments that mark the change as permanent.
The conflict over sexuality in the Anglican Communion has thus far pitted two (at least) sides firmly against one another, with each trying to gain the upper hand. On one level, this is fine; it’s how democracy, ecclesial or otherwise, works.
But I’ve been thinking lately that for true progress to really stick—and for Anglicans to move forward—it’s going to take something more. In that regard, Rowan Williams was never the right person to make progress on this issue. Whatever his merits as archbishop and as a theologian—and I believe they are many—he was always too identified with the “liberal” group to be trusted on this issue.
There are hints that Williams’ successor will be Justin Welby, the Bishop of Durham, and a man who, from what I can gather, was heavily influenced by Holy Trinity Brompton, a church at the heart of Anglican evangelicalism, and who has worked closely with the Nigerian Anglican Church. Yet there are tantalizing hints that his views on sexuality questions are more nuanced and complex than that traditionally associated with conservative evangelicals or Nigerian Anglicanism.
Perhaps Welby is the person who will be able to move Anglicans beyond the trauma of the last many years. I don’t know quite what it will look like but I am coming to believe that it is only a person with “conservative” bona fides who will be able to help Anglicans move past this issue and onto the many other pressing issues we face.
I can dream, can’t I?