The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williamson, the head of the Anglican church, is stepping down at the end of the year. I could not quite figure the man out. He seemed a nice enough sort but wishy-washy. He epitomized the dilemma of the liberal Christian, trying to make nice with science and modern liberal sensibilities on issues of women and gays, while at the same time constrained by the absurdities of the Bible and his own institutional traditions that set limits on how far he could go. He was one of those religious leaders who I think would have been much more comfortable being a nonbeliever (another being the Dalai Lama) if not for the office he held. I am curious to see how his views evolve when he no longer has to serve as the defender of the faith.
It was also amusing to see how the new Archbishop of Canterbury is selected. England does not have the separation of church and state that the US has, and the Anglican church is the official church of the nation. Apparently a group of six people (three clergy and three lay) comprising the church’s appointments commission, and chaired by a civil servant, will select a preferred name and give it to the prime minister who then appoints the person.
This secular process of selecting a religious leader seems a little out of place. The process by which a collection of old and allegedly celibate men select a Catholic pope in a closed room, with all that white smoke/black smoke nonsense, seems somehow consistent with a secretive institution that is wildly out of touch with modern times and riddled with sexual abuse scandals. The selection of a new Dalai Lama by divining who is his reincarnation seems again consistent with their particular brand of mumbo-jumbo.
But a civil servant chairing a committee that selects the head of a church? Do they pray for guidance? What if the civil servant is a nonbeliever? I am sure they have a working system that addresses all these issues but it does seem a little odd.