Ruth Gledhill, attending GAFCON in Jerusalem, reports on her blog some comments from Jim Packer (no less), that were he to have 5 minutes with Rowan Williams he might use them to ask him to resign. The reason: inconsistency (and therefore inability to lead within his own communion) on the subject of homosexuality.
In the blog, Gledhill glosses over the immense elder statesman stature of Packer in a way that suggests that - astonishingly - she hasn't come across him. The blog therefore attracted a HUGE postbag of comments and no little heatedness. And some venom. The reaction is around both the nature of the Anglican communion (and how dare anyone disrupt it) and the way that the debate over human sexuality is being handled within it. Or, in Williams case, the avoidance of it being handled, leading to the accusation that his approach is the worst of all worlds.
How I wish that we had more people of whom we could use the word "statesman" (gender-inclusively!). Regardless of their position on a particular issue, it is the presence of statesmen who elevate the discussion. It is statesmen who en-noble national discourse. It is statesmen who, even when they have to disagree, part company (or even anathamatise) do so with tears rather than venom. It is statesmen who represent the other side of the debate as the other would best like to be represented. It is statesmen who decline to sling mud and stop others doing so. It is statesmen who stop others indulging in negative campaigning. Statesmen stop us getting down and dirty.
It seems to me that in contentious times - either in individual churches or in a worldwide communion - it is crucial that the the discourse happens with the utmost seriousness AND the utmost kindness. I have three principles for relating to other Christians - confession (ie doctrine), clarity and kindness. I know too many who are confessional and clear but not kind (and are therefore hard). And too many who are kind but not confessional or clear (and therefore vague). But few who try to do all three.
From the little I have seen of Packer's comments they would seem to all three very well. When we have to separate from other believers or from a Church, when we have to bring words of sharp critique, it should always be with the kindness of God-in-Christ in view.
I agree with Packer's assessment of Williams. I also like the gentleness with which it was expressed. I have several really good friends who are gay and who are Christian. When I have to draw real boundaries on the extent to which I might be able to work with them and other non-heterosexuals, when there are opportunities to have deep discussion with them in which we disagree to a profound degree, I pray there will be ways to do so with winsome kindness. Kindness which neither gives up on biblical Christianity, nor ever lets that Christianity get expressed with venom.
It is always horrid to see communions fragment. But it is more horrid still to see the discourse happen in such a way that people cross the road to avoid each other afterwards. Much prayer is needed for Anglican brothers and sisters at the moment and particularly for statesmen who will neither fudge the debate for the sake of lowest-common-denominator visible organisational unity (over and against unity in the truth), nor allow the international discourse (and likely fragmentation) to be controlled by the unkindest of parties on either side.