My Take: Archbishop goes where Western leaders won’t
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, (left) meets with women in Zimbabwe.
October 11th, 2011
07:05 AM ET

My Take: Archbishop goes where Western leaders won’t

Editor's Note: Nick Spencer is research director at Theos, the public theology think tank, and author of "Freedom and Order: History, Politics and the English Bible."

By Nick Spencer, Special to CNN

(CNN)–Striding across the world stage and challenging dictatorial regimes, he cuts an unlikely figure. But Monday the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, met with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

The agenda was not published, but it seems clear that the discussion was likely heated.

In Zimbabwe, nothing is sacred in the power contest - state, economy, land nor church.

In a sermon delivered in Harare national stadium on Sunday, Williams alluded to the “injustice and arrogance” of the actions of those whom he said St. Paul would call “false brethren."

This barely coded reference to former bishop of Harare and Mugabe partisan Nolbert Kunonga - while not a direct challenge - can’t fail to be interpreted as a critique of the regime.

The Anglican flock on the ground is oppressed not only by Mugabe’s thugs but also now by the breakaway bishop, whose loyalty to the president has allowed him to seize church property and expel clerics.

And so, late though it may be, Williams has spoken with a clarity that Western politicians have lacked, south of the Sahara at least. It is more than two years since opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s appointment as prime minister in a "unity government."

This was always a dangerous and complicated compromise, and since 2009 the news cycle has not been able to accommodate the ambiguous narrative which is the ongoing struggle against Mugabe’s oppression. We lack the attention span for such complexity, preferring the (to our eyes at least) hot, bright and quick burn of revolutions like the Arab Spring.

When shaping foreign policy, British governments are usually motivated by a mix of genuine liberal idealism, public opinion and - as is the case in Libya - the need for secure oil reserves.

Williams’ interests in Zimbabwe are driven by his flock’s needs, and so the visit is rightly pitched as pastoral, not political.

In that way, it evokes memories of one of John Paul II’s earliest pastoral trips, in June 1979, to Poland, at the time laboring under a deeply unpopular, oppressive Communist Party. His visit was greeted with wild enthusiasm, worried the authorities, stiffened resistance, and helped galvanize the Solidarity movement so much for "pastoral."

Rowan Williams is no John Paul II.

He doesn’t have the latter’s legendary charisma, his church is nowhere near as global in its presence, and he doesn’t in speak with the authority that comes from having endured the oppression which he opposes. Kunonga - and to some extent Mugabe himself - has done his best to muddy the water, calling Williams a civil servant representing neocolonialism and suggesting he comes to "lobby for homosexuality."

Here that sounds weak, but the gambit is to erode the moral authority with which Williams speaks. It’s difficult to know what effect that has on the ground.

Nevertheless, his presence, so celebrated by Anglicans, carries a fragment of hope for many who are suffering in Zimbabwe. And it is just possible that by underlining the atrocious pastoral cost of Mugabe’s rule, to the world and to the president himself, the archbishop may open up some fissures in the regime.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nick Spencer.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Africa • Anglican • Christianity • Church

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. hippypoet

    We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty SUN,
    Creator of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    Through him all things were made.
    For us and for our salvation
    he came down from heaven:
    by the power of the Holy LIGHT WAVES
    he became incarnate from the Merry people,
    there will be no judging the living and or the dead,
    and his kingdom will have no end.

    We believe in the LIGHT, the Lord, the giver of life,
    With the SUN he is worshiped and glorified.
    He has spoken through the Prophet Hippypoet.
    We believe in one holy SUN and Church of eternal LIGHT.
    We will look up towards the heavens,

    October 14, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  2. Rainer Braendlein

    Headline: Three unholy bishops in unity (united, to degrade Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God)

    I am reading the book “Arius, Heresy and Tradition” written by Bishop Rowan Williams. Rowan Williams is the Archbishop of Canterbury.

    Subject-specifically seen, the book of Williams is excellent. You can get a lot of information about Arius, his heresy and the struggle between bishop Athanasius, the Christian Church and Arius.

    It is common knowledge that Arius wanted to degrade Jesus Christ a creature. Even if he was so clever to tell the Christians, they could consider Jesus Christ as a kind of God. Yet alone this heresy, to designate Jesus as a pure creature, is enough, to be condemned as a heretic.

    Assumed, Jesus had merely been a creature, he would have been never able to bear our sins on the cross. Only the eternal Son of God could bear the punishment for our sins. On the cross all our sinfulness has perished together with Jesus and we have resurrected with him to a new life. At the sacramental baptism the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is dedicated to us (the wrong re-baptism of some Free Churches is to reject). Near-terms to baptism we receive the Holy Spirit.

    By reading Williams’ book, I realized that Arius’ heresy goes even deeper, than to degrade Jesus a creature. Arius even tries to establish a Father-God, whose character is different or independent from the Son’s character. Strictly speaking, Arius’ tries to establish a second God beside the Christian God. Arius second God is totally inaccessible, impalpable and invisible. According to Arius, the second God can behave totally different from the Son.

    Arius’ heresy can have incalculable consequences. According to Arius, it is possible that the Father-God has changed his mind today and thus today accepts other religions beside Christianity, for example the Islam. According to Arius, someone can claim to be a Christian and to be a Moslem at the same time (by the way, in the USA there is a big confusion about the faith of president Obama. Sometimes he says, he is a Christians, sometimes he claims to be a Moslem. Maybe he is a Neoarian.)

    When someone has a look at the religious landscape, it seems to be a matter of fact that a number of our religious leaders have accepted the heresy of Arius. There is a general consensus that all religions have to be acknowledged. Finally nobody knows the real opinion of the Father-God. The opinion of the Father-God can be totally different to Christianity. Maybe Christianity is solely the opinion of the Son?

    To bring to the boil, Arius even claims, the Father-God could create a second Son. That’s outrageous. This heresy can lead people to claim: “I am the Messiah!”.

    The MCA: Williams tries to rehabilitate Arius as a gifted theologian, who was just a little misunderstood by the established Church of his time. That is worse than 9/11 and Fukushima together. That is a spiritual Mega-MCA. If Arius’ heresy will spread, the Western World will perish. Bishop Williams must leave the Church. No sympathy for the devil!

    By the way, the leader of the German Evangelical Church (EKD) Nikolaus Schneider has got a similar heresy like Arius, called doctrine of adoption. According to Schneider, Jesus was just produced by se-xual intercourse of Joseph and Mary. First at his baptism by John the Baptist he was raised (adopted) to God’s Son. Schneider even rejects the Virgin Birth. Mr. Schneider is a heretic, who should leave the Church.

    Assumed, the pope would reject the heresy of Arius and the doctrine of adoption, nevertheless he belongs to the Unholy Trinity. Why? Answer: The pope has stolen Christ’s office, to be the head of the Church. He says: “Who wants to get saved, must come under his (the pope’s) rule.” The pope has displaced the Holy Spirit from the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy Spirit is the true divine teacher of the Church. Without the Holy Spirit heresies spread infinitely. The RCC has become a P I S S P O T T, full of heresies.

    Rowan Williams, Präses Schneider and the pope have something in common: They undermine the divine sonship of Jesus Christ. They are soulkillers. They keep away people from the rule of the true Jesus Christ and by this deny the people the Salvation in Christ.

    The true Jesus:

    Let Jesus speak himself (John 14: 7-11):

    7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.

    8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.

    9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou [then], Shew us the Father?

    10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.

    11 Believe me that I [am] in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake.

    One of the most important sentences of history:

    Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou [then], Shew us the Father?

    Today let us remember Athanasius. Athanasius fighted against the heresy of Arius. Athanasius was a spiritual knight, he was a faithful spiritual fighter.

    October 12, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • Reality

      Instead of reading said book for your penance, say the following prayer five times:

      The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
      ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.


      October 12, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • .........

      plz do not waste your time with reality posts hit report abuse to repeated posts

      October 12, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Anglican

      Same old cut and paste, and silly creed. Best sleep hypnotic known.

      October 13, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  3. Ferd of Aragon

    Whites do not like Mugabe and use the media to blast him but they should do a check first on what the public opinion about Mugabe is in Africa. Gay Bishops or Pro Gay Bishops do not impress anyone in Africa!

    October 12, 2011 at 5:56 am |
    • Chapello

      Spot on my man, well said!!

      October 12, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  4. Terence Hale

    Dear Madam/DHr. Van Der Saar ,
    I apologize for my comment, I made no mention of Mr. Mugabe being in power, his thugs existed before such. You missed my point. I as a member of Dr. Williams church and a Christian object to him going to such a place. I tried to write my comment as slow as possible as I expected such as yours. May be not slow enough.
    Terence Hale

    October 12, 2011 at 4:32 am |
  5. James Rodgers

    YAY anglicans!

    October 11, 2011 at 11:11 pm |


    looks like a hairy lady in red

    October 11, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Barnum N. Bailey

      That's not the Archbishop of Canterbury! That's Edna the Bearded Lady from the carnival freak show!

      She does do a good imitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, though. She used to do a good Fidel Castro as well until her hair turned white.

      October 12, 2011 at 3:23 am |
  7. Mavutho

    Politician Vs A/bishop=??

    October 11, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  8. Hunter

    Are you seriously suggesting that the UK joined in the liberation of Libya for oil? If it was about oil they would have been much better off to let Ghaddafi slaughter his people and maintain order. The current order is one of a dramatic reduction in the extraction of oil in Libya. Sure its being worked on to improve but it seems more likely a swift brutal oppression would have lead to a more consistent oil revenue flow. Give credit where credit is due and lets just at least try to believe that oil was an insignificant factor until there is ANY reasonable evidence to make such speculation.

    October 11, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  9. Johnson

    I can only have a visual of Benedict prancing around Africa in his red shoes. This guy sounds good!!

    October 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  10. Overlord

    Mugabe's head would like nice pitched on a burning stick.

    October 11, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  11. Colin

    Another self-important religious leader prancing around Africa in a woman's frock. Yawn.

    October 11, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Anglican

      He is at least trying to help.

      October 11, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • The Brain Fumigator

      That frock is a butcher's smock. His is even red -so it doesn't show the blood from the animal sacrifices that his holy book says his god wants him to do.

      October 11, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  12. Anglican

    Faith, hope and love. Peace to all, everywhere.

    October 11, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Peace2All

      Thanks -Anglican.


      October 11, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • The Brain Fumigator

      Hope and love, right on. Just keep your evil faith to yourself and stop trying to have laws based on it.

      October 11, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Anglican

      Brain. I do not.

      October 11, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Shove it.

      October 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Again, not the real Tom. Maybe it's herbie the burbler.

      October 11, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • herbert juarez

      No it is not.God bless

      October 13, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  13. Terence Hale

    If you go into Salisbury Cathedral near the door you will see a plac on the wall telling the story of a misionary from the church working in Zimbabwe who was killed by Mr. Mugabe's thugs. In respect for him and the many others one should stay away from this place until he dies.

    October 11, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Van Der Saar

      Hi Mr. Terence Hale, the plaque that you mention actually refers to the martyred Anglican Church missionary Bernard Mizeki who died on 18th June, 1896. Robert Mugabe was not yet on this earth at that time (the year 1896), so your sagacious comment that the missionary was killed by Mugabe’s thugs is patent nonsense, and ultimately idiotic. It is people like you making uninformed and ignorant statements about Zimbabwe who give Mugabe needless ammunition. I suggest you go check your facts next time before venturing anywhere near an online forum. Your posting is not very clever, to put it mildly.

      October 11, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • *frank*


      October 11, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.