George Carey has no intention of slipping into a genteel retirement in an English cottage with afternoons of scones and tea round the fireplace, graduate students sprinkled rapturously at his feet while he reminisces.
The newly retired Archbishop of Canterbury, in a interview and in public comments made over a three-day visit to Toronto’s Wycliffe College in October, made it clear that he wants an active role as an international peace broker and fundraiser.
Archbishop Carey, for 11 years spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion’s 80 million Anglicans, said he wants to stay and make a difference.
In the interview, he mused on past accomplishments and future dreams and with some reluctance, on same-sex blessings, the issue that sparked a rift between him and New Westminster Bishop Michael Ingham at the recent gather of the Anglican Consultative Council.
He also took pains to ask that evangelical opponents to his successor, liberal intellectual Rowan Williams, give him a chance.
In October, British evangelicals whipped up a campaign opposing Archbishop Williams’ appointment to the See of Canterbury, demanding that he renounce his views on sex outside marriage.
“I have written him … along the lines that this happened to me 12 years ago with the ordination of women, so ?welcome to the club’,” Archbishop Carey said.
“It comes with the turf, and I feel very sorry about it. It is very unfair for Reform (Council) and the Church Society to have taken that approach, not really giving him a chance.”
He called Archbishop Williams a “major theologian.”
“There is always a tension between freedom you have as a theologian to think and teach when you are not in a representative capacity … but the moment you represent a church as I have been, then of course you have to have a sense of responsibility to the whole.”
During his Toronto visit to accept an honorary degree from Wycliffe College as it celebrated its 125th anniversary, Archbishop Carey struggled in a roundtable session with the secular media, and to a lesser degree with a more accepting audience of Wycliffe faculty and alumni, to divert attention away from his public opposition to same-sex blessings in New Westminster.
He wanted to talk about his work to help AIDS sufferers in Africa, about poverty and about his attempts at peace brokering among religious groups in the Middle East. He wanted to give new graduates advice about becoming clergy, and he wanted to talk about leadership.
He was also careful to scotch any notion of his turning up again as leader of the evangelical conservative arm of the Anglican Communion.
“I am not going to represent divergent views from the whole. I want to be available to serve Christ in his church but I do not wish to be in any way associated with alternative theologicals ? however much I may agree with them.”
An avowed evangelical, he said: “My entire theology is dominated by the mission of God in the world and the church as an agent, and therefore for me Christ is essentially practical as well as personal.”
Referring to the Anglican Communion’s emerging role leading the battle against HIV/AIDS in Africa, he said his faith “has to make a difference not only to my life but to the world in which we live. … It has to be social, it has to be political, it has to be just. You can’t avoid confrontation in the world today and you have to make a difference.”
He pointed proudly to his role in bringing together religious leaders of the Middle East last January, a role he hopes to continue after retirement.
“These people we had are rabbis, Muslim sheiks and Christian bishops and archbishops. Many of them lived within 20 miles of one another, but had never met,” he noted.
The group condemned violence against civilians and pleaded for a return to negotiation. (Toward the end of October, Archbishop Carey hosted another meeting of religious leaders from the Holy Land, who re-affirmed a resolve to work against violence.)
At a $175-a-plate fundraising dinner for Wycliffe, he stressed that his office has taken on an increasingly international focus. For him, it began with a visit to Sudan in 1993. “It helped me to see the growth and the suffering in the Third World,” he said.
He went to Rwanda in 1994 following the genocide. “One of our students had been murdered and we could see it though his wife’s eyes, what terrible things had gone on.”
These two visits, he said, firmed his resolve to involve the Anglican church more in Africa.
Archbishop Carey added that Anglican evangelism and mission have “always had a kind of holistic attitude to it. We believe of course in the importance of the soul but in the context of health, wholeness, and education. Anglicanism has always had a commitment to the whole.”