In the wake of the recent Anglican Communion Primates meeting, Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is being criticized as usual from both conservative and progressive absolutists. What representatives from both seem to want, and have wanted for some time, is for Rowan to either act like a pope (as long as he weighs in on their "side") or, in one way or another, concede to their "side" the moral and structural high ground. But, he does not have - and has been wary of assuming - the kind of authority some want him to exercise on behalf of their position. Rather he has tried to chart a course for the Anglican Communion acts in which constituent members behave as though they recognize the responsibilities of belonging to one another. Not hardline enough for conservatives who want things more narrowly defined and controlled, he is also not loose enough for progressives who seem determined to be bound to nothing but their own, often quite parochial, discernment.
I have not agreed with every move or statement Rowan Williams has made, but there is no one I would rather have serving as Archbishop of Canterbury at this time. Here is something I wrote some time ago that I think might explain why liberal/progressives in particular, but also conservatives, find him frustrating:
Many liberals/progressives have misunderstood Rowan Williams in that they assumed that he thought like them because he had argued for the possibility of rethinking the tradition in matters sexual and was not politically conservative. They were mistaken in at least three ways:
1. The fact that he has reached some conclusions similar to theirs does not mean he shares their Liberal Protestant theological convictions. Given his rather pointed critique of Jack Spong around the time of Lambeth '98, it was clear that his regard for traditional doctrine and discipline was more robust than that of theological liberals. He does not think inclusion as such is an adequate theological paradigm (though this has been mistakenly taken by some conservatives to mean that he believes gays and lesbians must cease being gay or lesbian to be welcome in the church).
It is possible that while he does think there is room for rethinking the traditional rejection of all homosexual behavior, he is put off by the liberal theology of that position's supporters in TEC. I suspect he has felt caught between those with whom he has more in common theologically and those with whom he shares certain social and political conclusions.
2. His catholicism is more than just a preference for a certain style of worship. As a catholic, he seems to believe that the truth is best discerned by the whole Church and is willing to live under that authority even when he seeks to make a case for rethinking certain particulars. The American church's unwillingness to live under that authority and, with patience and forbearance, seek to make a more convincing case and build a consensus is rather different. As a catholic, Williams thinks in terms of truth discerned and lived in community/communion more than generic or absolute principles (disconcerting to both liberal and conservative). And, unlike many liberals, Williams does not see the tradition of the church as a problem to be overcome, but a community in time to which we belong and with which it is possible to dialogue.
It is possible that he thinks the "uncatholic" way TEC has handled things has actually made making the case for rethinking the church's understanding of sexuality harder to get a hearing.
3. He does not seem to think that the case either for or against changing the Church's teaching (including the one he has attempted) is obvious or ironclad. He is thus prepared to listen to critiques of his own arguments and concede that those critiques have merit and must be taken seriously -- an attitude that is all too rare in our polarized context.
It is possible that he is frustrated by the attitude of complacent certitude of both liberals and conservatives - and has been bedeviled by the intransigence and absolutism of both.
As a Liberal Catholic in line with those like Charles Gore, Austin Farrer, and Michael Ramsey, Rowan Williams is too liberal for comfort among conservative Evangelicals and too catholic for comfort among Liberal Protestants. As such, perhaps he is, as much as anything, the heir of F. D. Maurice who in the 19th century critiqued the usual church factions and was seen as suspect by each of them as a result.
I remain an unabashed "Rowanian" and only wish there were more bishops like him in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.