Kendall Harmon posted the following piece over at T-1-9. I think when the dust settles, and the realignment crowd has exhausted its rant, this article will stand above the rest as the most reasonable analysis. Well said, Mr. Uffman.
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Craig Uffman–In Defense of Rowan Williams: An Alternative Explanation for the Infamous Gang of Four Committee Report
Emotions ranging from grief to nearly hysterical anger characterize the response of orthodox Anglicans to the report of the committee tasked with monitoring the response of The Episcopal Church (TEC) to the Windsor Report. The committee report concludes that TEC responded sufficiently to two out of the three demands of the Windsor Report. Archbishop Aspinall of Australia summarized the conclusion succinctly, “Two out of three requirements were met, but more work is needed.” But in the eyes of the orthodox and liberals alike, the report gives TEC a clean bill of health.
The most common target of orthodox outrage is Archbishop Rowan Williams, whose name is on the report. “He sold us out!” claim some. “His greatest moment of shame!” declare others.
However, those who know ++Rowan’s work and character find those claims difficult to accept. There must be some other explanation. I believe that explanation can be summarized in one word: “overaccepting.”
Overaccepting is a term popularized by Rev. Canon Dr. Sam Wells (dean of the Duke Chapel and Research Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke Divinity School) in his book, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: Brazos and London: SPCK, 2004). Wells looks to the genre of improvisation in the theatre to describe the kind of ethical behavior for which disciples should be trained. In improvisation, the most important goal of actors is to keep the play going. No matter what kind of outrageous behavior one improv actor “offers,” her colleagues must respond in such a way that continuity with her actions is maintained so that the drama continues. In other words, their response must not “block” the “offer” of the colleague or the drama stops.
Wells explains that a good improvisationist always “accepts” the offer of the colleague in order to keep the action going. Indeed, they “over-accept” it by receiving that which is offered and then re-direct the action in a way continuous with the offer but perhaps oriented in a different direction. Those familiar with the TV series, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” are familiar with this pattern.
Wells shows that “overaccepting” is the way of Christ. I’ll refer those interested in that proof to the book. But Wells’ key point is that Christian actors improvise by overaccepting the offers of others in such a way that the action is reoriented in the Way of Christ. When offering pastoral care, a Christian actor overaccepts in order to help the lost re-locate themselves rightly in God’s drama.
I propose that the best way to understand Rowan Williams’ role in the committee report is through the lens of “overaccepting.” As the orthodox claim loudly, the “offer” made by TEC was plainly unsuitable in that it fell short of the requested language of repentance and promises to cease the behaviors that tore the bonds of affection. Rather than “blocking” that response by rejecting it and ending the conversation with TEC, ++Rowan continued the action by “overaccepting” the offer and redirecting the action in such a way that TEC must relocate themselves rightly in God’s drama. That is, ++Rowan accepts as satisfactory the feeble response of TEC, but reinterprets it in such a way that TEC commits itself to cessation of the offensive behavior. TEC is thus offered the opportunity to continue the story along a direction it did not expect, or to stop the drama.
I suggest that “overaccepting” more adequately explains ++Rowan’s role in the committee report than claims of perfidy. By overaccepting TEC’s offer, he continues the conversation so that TEC may remain in the Anglican drama at least until the covenant offers the opportunity for voluntary and peaceable re-structuring of the communion. Overaccepting thus redirects the drama, in spite of TEC’s communion-tearing actions, in the direction of unity. And focus on unity is consistent with ++Rowans’ theology, character, and the office entrusted to him. As Wells demonstrates, although it is often frustrating behavior to those of us who long for a martial conqueror, overaccepting is the way of Christ.
–Mr. Craig Uffman is an Anglican who resides in Raleigh, NC, and is a student at Duke Divinity School