"Really, I pity him,” a man in the kitchen said in a crisp English accent. “Poor Rowan. He is in an impossible position. He wants to stand with us, I think. But he can’t.”
A West Village apartment; a warm spring evening. In the living room, men and women of middle age nibbled at nuts and flatbreads around a fortepiano. At the kitchen table, a man in a black suit sat signing copies of a book he had written. It was like many a book party in Manhattan’s old-line gay community, except that the author, wearing a scarlet shirt with a clerical collar, was the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, and the book was the story of his struggle to become the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion.
Interviews: "A Flock Divided"
Paul Elie talks about Archbishop Rowan Williams's balancing act, and the schisms threatening the Anglican Church.
I was there, tagging along with a documentary filmmaker, and I found the Englishman’s remark striking. The point of the party was to honor Robinson, whose ordination as “the gay bishop” had made him a minor celebrity, a cross between Saint Francis and Barney Frank. But the conversation in the kitchen that May evening in 2008 centered on Rowan Williams instead. As archbishop of Canterbury—the so-called Anglican pope—Williams had treated Robinson’s ordination as an unwanted provocation and had refused to invite the new bishop to the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade meeting of the bishops in the Anglican Communion. And yet the people around me weren’t denouncing him as the oppressor; they spoke as if he, not their friend Gene, was the one engaged in an unending struggle against impossible odds.
He is. At a time when Christianity is twisted into a pretzel over the issue of homosexuality, Rowan Williams—alone among the top Christian leaders—is trying to carry on a conversation about it. His approach has been quixotic, at times baffling. But the long-term goal seems clear: to enable the church he leads to become fully open to gays and lesbians without breaking apart.