UPDATED: Trying to peek behind the Crown Nominating Commission’s curtain

The British press is full of stories about the reported failure of the Crown Nominating Commission to choose a successor for Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury at its recent three day meeting.

To judge on the basis of headlines, you might get the impression that the disagreement within the commission is over whether to appoint John Sentamu, the Ugandan-born archbishop of York, an ardent foe of marriage equality, to the position. But there is nothing in the stories that bears that out. Rather, if reports are correct, the commission, at the moment, seems to be focusing on three candidates, Sentamu, Bishop Graham James of Norwich, who has said he is praying for someone else to get the job because he believes that at 62 he is too old for it, and Bishop Justin Welby of Durham, who has been a bishop for less than a year.

If there is a deadlock, however, it would be wrong to assume that the commission couldn’t turn to another candidates.

Though he is in Chicago, Jonathan Wynne Jones seems to have sources who are positioned to know the workings of the commission. In the Sunday Times, he writes:

Liberals and evangelicals on the Crown Nominations Commission, the body responsible for choosing Rowan Williams’s successor, have failed to reach agreement.

While [Sentamu] the Ugandan-born archbishop has supporters on the commission, an insider said he was seen by others as too divisive. There is also resentment over his conservative stance on homosexuality and his opposition to clergy becoming bishops if they are divorced or married to divorcées.

After meeting in great secrecy for three days, the commission had reached a stalemate this weekend. They have, however, ruled out the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres.

Jonathan Petre in the Mail on Sunday acknowledges in this lede that he is passing on rumors, which is refreshing, and also focuses on Sentamu.

At The Guardian, Caroline Davies also acknowledges that she is reporting on rumors and “speculation.”

Meanwhile, The Telegraph carries a bit of a debate between the Rev. Giles Fraser (Friend of this Blog) who does not like the secrecy that surrounds the selection of an archbishop, and Bishop Nick Baines of Bradford, who has been active on Twitter disparaging the Episcopal Church for electing its bishops, and asserting the superiority of the English system.

Meanwhile on Twitter, people are suggesting #alternativearchbishops. The Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey is popular, as is the Vicar of Dibley.

UPDATE: Jerome Taylor writes in The Independent that secrecy in the process reflects poorly on the Church:

He is, we are often told, the moral voice of the nation. A man (sadly it still has to be a man) who has the heady task of leading Britain’s Anglicans, speaking as the nation’s conscience and herding the 77 million cats that make up the Anglican Communion in the rest of the world, many of whom would rather stone a gay man than embrace him….

The method for choosing Dr Rowan Williams’ replacement is as arcane and archaic as it was in the time of Henry VIII. A secretive committee meets at a secretive location to discuss a never-made-public list. Two names are given to the Prime Minister who hands them over to the Queen. You can’t apply for the job and anyone who suggests too publicly that they want it, usually doesn’t get it.

The decision-makers themselves are overwhelmingly white, male and predominantly southern. Of the 18 people on the Crown Nominations Committee who get to vote, six are from the diocese of Canterbury alone; only three are women; and the man who is there to represent the rest of the world comes from Wales. If you want a metaphor for how disconnected the Church can be from the masses look no further. Rank and file Anglicans effectively have no say in who gets to lead them. So much for Vox Populi, Vox Dei.

Taylor suggests that the leading the Anglican Communion part is near impossible, and whoever is elected is unlikely to keep the global Anglican Communion whole:

Which leaves the Church in Britain as the one thing they need to get right. Anglicanism does wonderful things and has many wonderful people in its ranks but there are times when it feels woefully disconnected from the rest of society. Church pews are emptying and the majority of Britain simply scratches its head in confusion as the bickering continues about women and sexuality.

No one’s going to sort out those thorny issues overnight but the Church could become more transparent and representative. Voting in its leader would be a good place to start


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