This week, two highly visible positions were filled. The first, the presidency of the United States of America, saw Barack Obama reelected for a second term. He won the necessary majority in the Electoral College (each state has a number of votes equal to its number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives plus two, for its two senators). More symbolically, he won a plurality of the popular vote. After a fierce, contentious, and lengthy campaign, voters decided to stay the course with Obama rather than to replace him with Republican Mitt Romney. Similarly, the Democratic majority in the Senate and the Republican majority in the House both increased. Gridlock may continue.
In the United Kingdom, the Queen announced that she was appointing the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham, as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. His selection process began with a specially appointed Crown Nomination Commission that sent the U.K.’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, a short list of two names from which he chose Welby. Bishop Welby’s selection surprised many observers because of his brief eleven months of experience as a bishop. He also was ordained later in life, having first had an eleven-year, successful career in international business.
The two processes are starkly different. The U.S. election cost billions and involved tens of millions of people. The Archbishop of Canterbury selection involved dozens of people at a trivial cost. Ironically, religious rhetoric and issues pervaded much of the U.S. election; odds set by bookmakers on the identity of the Most Rev. Rowan Williams’ successor as Archbishop of Canterbury received more publicity than did the serious discussion of religious issues.
Political analysts of all stripes attribute Obama’s victory to his ground game rather than the air war, i.e., to traditional politicking rather than to media messages. As in Obama’s 2008 win, his campaigns understood that we live in a postmodern era in which the world is increasingly flat. Through contacting individuals directly, telephonically, and via the internet, Obama garnered sufficient support to achieve victory. Perhaps the biggest loser in the election was Karl Rove whose PACs spent in excess of $100 million for measurably few results, a doubly encouraging outcome. Not only do I find Rove’s politics divisive and un-Christian, but also dethroning the centrality of media advertising may indicate a small step away from the de facto purchase of election victories by the candidate who spends the most on advertising.
Conversely, Bishop Welby’s nomination represents an antiquated hierarchical ecclesiology rooted in a long gone concept of Christendom rather than in postmodern realities that include the internet, increasing rejection of authoritarianism, and growing individualism. The push for an Anglican covenant to bind the provinces of the Anglican Communion more tightly together has floundered, in part, because its authoritarianism is antithetical to postmodernism. The Anglican ethos of communion among those who pray together but do not necessarily believe together has never been timelier.
Bishop Welby has declared his support for women bishops in the Church of England. He has stated his support for the Church of England’s opposition to same sex marriage. Once in office as Archbishop of Canterbury, I expect that he may view the world differently. If anything, his support for women clergy may strengthen. How his attitude toward same sex marriage may change is much harder to predict.
Bishop Welby believes that reconciliation should shape his ministry, a good priority if at times impossible. The GAFCON bishops are clear: the Anglican Communion must take a firm stance against same sex marriage, ordaining the openly gay, and other positions they regard as departures of historical orthodoxy before they will consider remaining in the Communion. In the meantime, The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church in Canada, significant parts of the Church of England, and some other provinces continue to move forward toward fully including all of God's people in the life and ministry of the Church regardless of gender or gender orientation. Reconciliation between a stolidly entrenched party and a party that is continuing to move further away appears very improbable. Such reconciliation would also be out of step with the gospel and the tenor of postmodernism. Obama has a better chance of breaking gridlock in Washington than Welby has of breaking the impasse that some elements of the Anglican Communion currently perceive.
The previous week, a blindfolded ten-year-old boy in Cairo’s St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral chose one of three, wax-sealed, crystal balls. Each ball contained the name of a Coptic bishop; the one the boy chose became the next Coptic pope, Tawadros II. This process, based on the biblical precedent of choosing Judas’ successor by choosing lots between two qualified candidates, emphasizes the uncertainty of human affairs. The future is unpredictable. Time may prove an apparently obvious choice a mistake.
I wanted President Obama reelected. No candidate who ran, or who might have run, seemed preferable. Bishop Welby was not my preferred choice to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Both will have my constant prayers and full support – whenever their agenda aligns with what I think is right and whenever possible. And I hope that God moves in surprising and unexpected ways through the leadership of both to make the world a better, more peaceful place. This is the loyalty that we owe our leaders.