United in disagreement

It takes a strong faith in Providence to withstand the political impotence of a primate of the Anglican world communion. More in demand as a herding dog than as a shepherd, who at the end of the year as 105. Archbishop of Canterbury to be chosen.

More than once, the outgoing Primate, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, has tamed the squabblers of the conservative and liberal wings of the church and prevented a church split at five to twelve. There is sometimes little brotherhood between the 26 national churches: the fast-growing, strongly conservative ones in Africa and Asia and the liberal ones, challenged by the spirit of the times, for example in the USA. The rift often goes right through the national church community, for example in the mother church of England. The (honorary) primate is only "first among equals". Weapon and capital are for him only persuasion and tradition.

Thinking of his future duties as the number one disagreer, the words of the former leader of the evangelical wing, Peter Akinola of Nigeria, still resonate today: "A cancer that resists any treatment must be cut out."After all, the bishops of the Global South claim to represent half of the world's 77 million Anglicans.

Dispute over direction
What is the dispute about?? Roughly speaking, it is the same conflict of direction that causes tensions in other churches and religious communities: opening up to newer social developments or defending tradition? Closer to home, the ie is the consecration of women as bishops and the treatment of homosexuals: Should there be gay bishops, or rites of blessing for same-sex couples?

These are – by the way – ies that are also closely followed in Rome. Before the decision for Anglican women priests, there had even been talk of the possibility of a future return to full church communion. Each new liberalization in matters of church discipline has moved this goal further away. In the meantime – despite all the well-functioning ecumenism between Rome and Canterbury – there are even Catholic structures for Anglicans willing to convert.

After Williams" resignation announcement, not an hour passed before betting agencies were offering odds on his successor. And it was no surprise that the charismatic "number two" of the church hierarchy, Archbishop John Sentamu (62) of York, came out on top – ahead of the "number three", London Bishop Richard Chartres (64).

Tightrope act needed
Not only does the vital Sentamu cut a "fine figure" in office. And that, as a native Ugandan, he would suit multicultural Britain well and would probably appeal to the "Global South" as well. His appointment would also follow an arithmetic that has endured since World War II: an Anglo-Catholic primate, that is, one who leans toward the Catholic tradition of the Church of England (like Williams), is always followed by an evangelical one (like Sentamu). So it was with Geoffrey Fisher (1945-1961), Michael Ramsey (1961-1974, Anglo-Catholic), Donald Coggan (1974-1980, evangelical), Robert Runcie (1980-1991, Anglo-Catholic) and George Carey (1991-2002, evangelical).

Whoever it becomes: He will have to walk a tightrope. The indefatigable Williams has only been able to mend the cracks on the surface. The Anglican Covenant, which is supposed to codify the unbreakable elements of Anglican doctrine in a binding framework to prevent future "schismatic acts," lacks the right clout. The high arts of ever-expanding compromise and sitting between all the stools must be the 105. "Canterbury" bring along in any case. And in addition "the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros", as Rowan Williams joked to journalists on Friday.

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