Fulcrum response to the
Report on General Convention 2006 by the Communion's Sub Group of the Joint Standing Committee
by Andrew Goddard (Co-published with the Anglican Communion Institute)
The notes in the text are hyperlinked into the end notes;
to return to the text, click on the end note number
The Report of the Communion Sub-Group of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates' meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council produced instant responses of horror from those committed to Lambeth I.10 and delight from those wishing to see The Episcopal Church (TEC) remain fully integrated in the life of the Communion. It is not difficult to see why these were the initial reactions but it may be that a more measured judgment needs to be made which, while highlighting the serious flaws in the report's analysis, also recognises its potential significance in shaping a reconfiguring of the relationship of TEC to the Communion, the Communion's development and the ongoing Windsor process.
The initial reactions arose in part because many of us who have been supportive of The Windsor Report (TWR) have explained what we believe it demanded of TEC and offered much more critical assessments of the work of General Convention. Bishop Tom Wright, a member of the Lambeth Commission, was quoted on 6 February as giving his assessment in these terms:
At Dromantine the Primates said they wanted ECUSA to answer some questions. ECUSA did what they did last summer, which was not to answer the questions. They gave half an answer to two of them, and no answer at all to the third, which was about authorising blessings.
Soon after General Convention, the Archbishop of York informed General Synod,
And yet in spite of the hard work of the Legislative Committee, and its numerous hearings, the Convention failed to meet the precise request of Windsor. It left too much room for doubt and didn't stop the rumour and impression of doing 'our own thing'
The Archbishop of Canterbury himself stated in his Challenge and Hope (27 June 2006) that
The recent resolutions of the General Convention have not produced a complete response to the challenges of the Windsor Report, but on this specific question there is at the very least an acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation in the extremely hard work that went into shaping the wording of the final formula
and in September 2006 he wrote to the Primates
I write now...to remind you of the process currently going forward in the Communion to help all of us weigh and interpret Convention's work. You will recall that the Joint Standing Committee appointed a small group of representatives from its number (two Primates and two laypeople, along with staff support) to assist me in preparing an initial response. Now that the Episcopal Church has had opportunity for detailed consideration of the requests from the Primates at Dromantine last year, based on the Windsor Report, it is important that we develop a unified and coherent response as a Communion to the situation as it is developing.
The report of this advisory group has not yet been finalised but will be available at our meeting in Tanzania next February. In the meantime, the group agrees with me that it might be helpful to offer some indication of the direction of its initial thinking.
It is clear that the Communion as a whole remains committed to the teaching on human sexuality expressed in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and also that the recommendations of the Windsor Report have been widely accepted as a basis for any progress in resolving the tensions that trouble us. As a Communion, we need to move forward on the basis of this twofold recognition.
It is also clear that the Episcopal Church has taken very seriously the recommendations of the Windsor Report; but the resolutions of General Convention still represent what can only be called a mixed response to the Dromantine requests. The advisory group has spent much time in examining these resolutions in great detail, and its sense is that although some aspects of these requests have been fully dealt with, there remain some that have not. This obviously poses some very challenging questions for our February meeting and its discernment of the best way forward.
This is clearly an accurate summary of the heart of the report. However, its release - five months later at the Primates' Meeting itself, thus giving no time for serious weighing of its claims and leading to instant reactions - has revealed that it take a more positive interpretation of the 'mixed response'. Crudely speaking, it gives TEC a score of "2 out of 3" rather than the "barely 1 out of 3" many such as ACI and the Bishop of Durham expected and still believe to be more realistic. Hence the joy of some and the anger and despair of others.
It is, however, important to recall that, knowing the group's conclusions, the Archbishop of Canterbury still spoke of the need to "develop a unified and coherent response as a Communion to the situation as it is developing" and acknowledged that the report "poses some very challenging questions for our February meeting and its discernment of the best way forward".
What follows offers an assessment of why those who believed GC merited a more negative judgment can nevertheless still find much to welcome in the report before raising various questions and explaining why its assessment of TEC's response at GC is far too optimistic and naïve and needs to be more critical. There follow some reflections on the possible ways forward hinted at in the Report.
The strengths of the report in relation to responding to TEC
The report clearly follows the Communion's agreed position both in relation to I.10 and the significance of the recommendations of TWR. It is clear that the American church was not being asked to engage in an ongoing dialogue about living with diversity but rather 'to give a response to the sorts of undertakings requested in the Windsor Report' (para 2). It is also quite emphatic that 'The Primates gathered at Dromantine in February 2005 adopted three specific requests to the Episcopal Church from the Windsor Report" (5). There is, in other words, an agreement that the 'tests' which ACI and others have applied to TEC's response are the proper method of 'discerning the response of the Anglican Communion to the decisions of the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church' (1). The difficulties arise, as we shall see, in how the authors of the Report have carried out their own discernment. In short, they agree on what the rules of the game are but prove themselves to be bad referees who have failed to notice and deal properly with a number of serious 'fouls'.
Blessing same-sex unions
The report also, as noted by the Archbishop, has concluded that the response is 'mixed' and has not dealt fully with the requests. The focus of this is in relation to public rites of blessing for same-sex unions. Here the report states that there exists
a level of dissonance between the life of the Church at national level and at local level, which makes it hard to discern exactly where the Episcopal Church stands on this issue (15).
While this is overly-diplomatic in its wording (in relation to both same-sex blessings and clergy in same-sex unions, TEC's practice is far removed from the norms of Communion teaching) its significance is clear in the light of the Primates' Communique from Dromantine. This stated
We as a body continue to address the situations which have arisen in North America with the utmost seriousness. Whilst there remains a very real question about whether the North American churches are willing to accept the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion, the underlying reality of our communion in God the Holy Trinity is obscured, and the effectiveness of our common mission severely hindered (Dromantine, para 12)
It is for this reason that the Communion has made clear the need for provinces to effect a moratorium in this area. As the report notes, this was stated in March 2003 by the Primates in Brazil and reaffirmed in TWR. It has also been made clear that the responsibility for this lies at the episcopal and provincial level:
We recommend that provinces take responsibility for endeavouring to ensure commitment on the part of their bishops to the common life of the Communion on this matter (TWR, 144)
In the meantime, we ask our fellow primates to use their best influence to persuade their brothers and sisters to exercise a moratorium on public Rites of Blessing for Same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage (Dromantine, para 18)
The seriousness of failure here is evident from the theological assessment given in TWR para 143 (italics added):
to proceed unilaterally with the authorisation of public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions at this time goes against the formally expressed opinions of the Instruments of Unity and therefore constitutes action in breach of the legitimate application of the Christian faith as the churches of the Anglican Communion have received it, and of bonds of affection in the life of the Communion, especially the principle of interdependence.
The Presiding Bishop
Although not directly addressed in the Report, it is implicitly recognised that this failure is embodied in the person of the Presiding Bishop elected at GC 2006. The Report notes that in the diocese of Nevada "permission has been given for the development of rites which cover a wide range of circumstances, but which could include circumstances where a same-sex couple were seeking a blessing on their relationship" (16, referencing Nevada in n10). It follows from this that the Presiding Bishop is one of those addressed by TWR when it states
While we recognise that the Episcopal Church (USA) has by action of Convention made provision for the development of public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions, the decision to authorise rests with diocesan bishops. Because of the serious repercussions in the Communion, we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites, and recommend that bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorisation. Pending such expression of regret, we recommend that such bishops be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion (TWR, para 144).
In the light of this fact (and the argument of the Report discussed in the section below) the status of the Presiding Bishop in the counsels of the Communion must be reviewed given her failure to express any regret.
Consequences of failure
The Report makes clear what it believes should follow in cases where there is authorisation (and they cite 7 dioceses of TEC in notes 8-12 and clearly New Westminster would fall in the same category, as could the Anglican Church of Canada as a whole after its forthcoming Synod):
It is clear that the authorisation by any one bishop, diocese or Province, of any public Rite of Blessing, or permission to develop or use such a rite, would go against the standard of teaching to which the Communion as a whole has indicated that it is bound. We do not see how bishops who continue to act in a way which diverges from the common life of the Communion can be fully incorporated into its ongoing life (17).
Here we have a clear statement that
- where there is a 'standard of teaching to which the Communion as a whole has indicated that it is bound'
- the actions of 'any one bishop, diocese or Province' which goes against this by continuing to 'act in a way which diverges from the common life of the Communion'
yields the result that
- the Report's writers 'do not see how' they 'can be fully incorporated into its [the Communion's] ongoing life'
This is applied here to the 'authorisation of any public Rite of Blessing or permission to develop or use such a rite'. The Report understands - as did TWR - that at GC 2003 'the Episcopal Church recognised that local faith communities within its common life were exploring and experiencing such liturgies and...has done nothing to check their development' (15) and that the 'level of dissonance' (15) and 'variety of practices' (16) that exist 'apply across the United States in accordance with the acknowledgment given at the 74 General Convention in 2003' (16).
It would appear from this that on the Report's own analysis a number of bishops and arguably the Province as a whole are in a situation where they currently cannot be fully incorporated into the ongoing life of the Communion.
Although this is not made explicit, it is also clear that the logic here applies more widely. The Archbishop of Canterbury clearly signalled after the sub-group met (in line with earlier statements from the other Instruments) that "the Communion as a whole remains committed to the teaching on human sexuality expressed in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference". The Report itself clearly states
It is clear that Lambeth Resolution I.10 is going to continue for the foreseeable future as the standard of teaching by which the Anglican Communion as a whole will live (23)
The logic of the nature of life in communion outlined above and stated in para 17 makes clear that it is therefore hard to see how any bishop or province acting in a way which diverges from I.10 can be fully incorporated into the Communion's ongoing life.
Here we have a clear signal as to a possible basis on which the Archbishop of Canterbury may determine whether or not bishops are invited to Lambeth with full status and one which must raise questions about the Presiding Bishop's own status in the Primates' Meeting and at Lambeth given her actions as Bishop of Nevada.
The weaknesses of the report in relation to responding to TEC
The Election of Bishops
The discussion of this aspect of GC's response (paras 6-12) concludes that 'the group believes therefore that General Convention has complied in this resolution with the request of the Primates' which request they defined as 'a moratorium on the election and consent of any candidate for the episcopate living in a same-gender union until some new consensus emerged in the Anglican Communion' (5b).
The difficulty of substantiating this is evident not only in the argument offered in its defence but also in the acknowledgment later that there is only an 'apparent promise not to repeat the offence' (21). The report has reached its conclusion on the basis of a number of principles, especially that it is necessary to give as charitable a reading as possible of the wording of the resolution and that what matters ultimately is deeds not words.
The logic appears to be that
- the call to exercise restraint is, in the final resolution, defined as taking the particular form of 'not consenting' (see para 9)
and that as
- 'any candidate...living in a same-gender union' is by definition one 'whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion'
- this amounts in practice to a moratorium
- if applied in 2003 it would have led to a refusal to consent to Gene Robinson as Bishops of New Hampshire (cf 'a significant shift from the position which applied in 2003', para 10)
- 'the majority of bishops have committed themselves to the recommendations of the Windsor Report'
Leaving aside serious doubts concerning the process by which B033 was passed (though they really should play a part in any proper, considered judgment of the wording and its intent and force), the fundamental criticisms that can be made of such a conclusion are that it fails to consider the full request of TWR and the Primates (as stated in para 5b). In particular TWR speaks of
- 'a moratorium on the election of any candidate' and not just the granting of consent
- any candidate 'living in a same-gender union'
- this moratorium being in force 'until some new consensus emerged in the Anglican Communion'.
The Report fails to address the first of these points (despite the fact that the proposed resolution A161 defeated in the House of Deputies spoke of 'the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion' and so such wording could have been used in B033). Given that once before GC06 and then once after (in Newark) there have been elections where candidates living in a same-gender union have been nominated and stood for election it appears that B033 is not going to prevent this continued strain on the Communion and internal life of TEC.
On the second point, the Report notes that 'General Convention widened this stricture to apply to a range of lifestyles which present a wider challenge' and 'welcomed this widening of the principle, which was also recommended by the Windsor Report and commend it to the Communion' (11). It fails to acknowledge both that the principle was not held to apply to the consent to Barry Beisner (a twice-divorced candidate for bishop confirmed at GC06) and that some are interpreting the wording as grounds to refuse consent to the orthodox and Communion-committed newly elected Bishop of South Carolina. The Report appears therefore to welcome a wording which is being used within TEC to undermine Windsor and which was explained when proposed in terms that privileged local discernment and decision-making rather than recognition of the interdependence that flows from life in communion.
On the third point, the Report simply states that 'it understood that legal counsel to the Convention advised that the language of a moratorium was difficult to embody in legislation under the provisions of the Episcopal Church's constitution' (8). This (a) does not address the fact that a canon could have been introduced making clear that living in a same-gender union was an impediment. Nor (b) does it acknowledge that the House of Bishops had earlier claimed authority to state (in its covenant of Mar 15, 2005) that 'Those of us having jurisdiction pledge to withhold consent to the consecration of any person elected to the episcopate after the date hereof until the General Convention of 2006, and we encourage the dioceses of our church to delay episcopal elections accordingly'. The Report emphasises that TEC may be judged Windsor-compliant in this sphere because 'the majority of the bishops have committed themselves to the recommendations of the Windsor Report' (10) in B033. But why why could the House of Bishops, for the sake of clarity, not have simply stated (or now simply state for clarification) that 'Those of us having jurisdiction pledge to withhold consent to the consecration of any person elected to the episcopate who is living in a same-gender union until a new consensus emerges in the Anglican Communion, and we encourage the dioceses of our church not to nominate or elect such candidates accordingly'? This would remove the ambiguity inherent in B033, especially given the number of bishops and others subsequently regretting their hurried support for it at the close of GC. Perhaps more seriously, (c) the Report does not acknowledge that in persuading GC to pass B033 the Presiding Bishop made clear that this "has to be revisited in the very near future" and similar statements have been made subsequently. This approach is clearly incompatible with the logic of TWR, affirmed in the Report, that this is a matter for Communion decision and that 'for the foreseeable future' Communion teaching will remain as in I.10.
All these are sadly signs that the optimistic and generous reading of B033 given here does not do full justice to the requests of TWR and may well prove unrealistic in practice, perhaps even in the short-term.
Nevertheless, it is quite clear now that any confirmation by TEC of a bishop living in a same-sex union will make it impossible for the province to be fully incorporated into the Communion's life. A strong case can be made that the same applies to any bishop with jurisdiction who gives his or her consent to such a candidate (a test which TWR - with a similar charity - refused to apply to those giving consent at GC03 for New Hampshire ). It is also clear that the current Bishop of New Hampshire (both because of his own 'manner of life' and his permission for blessing of same-sex unions in his diocese) cannot be fully incorporated into the Communion's life. A clear signal is also given in the Report that any attempt to 'revisit' B033 will represent a further disregarding of the Communion on the part of TEC.
It remains the case here that the 'proof of the pudding is in the eating'. The Report recognises this in stating that 'the Group feels that the reality of the change of direction that some see in the resolutions of the General Convention can only be tested however by the way in which the Episcopal Church lives out these resolutions'. In other words, the Report is claiming that B033 should be read by the Communion as 'Windsor-compliant' (para 12 uses the language of 'complied') in a strong sense - despite the serious doubts that can be raised about such a reading - and it must now be clearly shown to be such in practice.
Public Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions
Here, as noted, the Report is on much stronger ground even if its careful and diplomatic wording hides the force of its argument. Three criticism can, however, be made even in this area.
First, the Report states that 'it is significant that General Convention declined to take further a number of resolutions which had been drafted' in support of introducing same-sex blessings. While clearly such resolutions would have amounted to a flagrant disregard for the Communion, the refusal to take them further falls far short of complying with TWR and Dromantine. The fact that GC03 in C051 gave sanction to 'local option' (para 15) means that it had the responsibility in the light of TWR and Dromantine to rescind that authorisation to dioceses. The fact that GC06 refused to do this therefore represents a further disregarding of Communion teaching.
Second, the silence on this subject is even more significant given that in all the work in advance of GC which is praised by the Report (3) it was recognised that this matter needed to be addressed. The failure then to do so, after the House of Deputies rejected A161 (thankfully, the claims by some that GC had no need to respond are not accepted in the Report) is therefore highly significant.
Third, it is clearly stated that 'this is therefore a question which needs to be addressed urgently by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church'. However, it remains unclear - given C051 and the claim that 'General Convention was empowered under the constitution of the Episcopal Church to give a response to the sorts of undertakings requested in the Windsor Report on behalf of the Episcopal Church' (2) - whether anything further can be done by the Episcopal Church before Lambeth 2008. Further, when 'the Primates at Dromantine therefore decided to give the Episcopal Church...space to allow its proper processes to function' (2) that space was until GC06.
It would appear therefore that the Report should clearly have stated that 'General Convention has not complied with the request of the Primates' (cf paras 12 and 21). It should then have applied the logic outlined above to TEC as it is found to be a Province which has granted 'permission to develop or use' public Rites of Blessing and so continued 'to go against the standard of teaching to which the Communion as a whole has indicated that it is bound' (17).
Expression of Regret
Here again the Sub-Group has sought to be as generous as possible but in so doing has failed to do justice to TWR or Dromantine.
The Report states that TWR was clear 'there had been a breach of the proper constraints of the bonds of affection, and it was this breach for which regret ought to be expressed' (18). What was meant by this was clearly stated by Archbishop Eames, Chair of the Commission, to the Primates at Dromantine
I wish to address in particular the recommendation of an expression of regret.
The Report does not see this call merely as a statement of regret that other parts of the Anglican Communion were dismayed or distressed by the election and confirmation in New Hampshire on the part of ECUSA. But in terms of sections A,B and C, a statement of regret that this process went against the advice of the four Instruments of Unity. We do not believe anything less is appropriate in the circumstances. Having analysed the nature of communion we have experienced the Lambeth Commission believes the interpretation of regret by ECUSA must be clearly defined.
But GC explicitly and consciously rejected the language of 'breach' and replaced it with the language of 'strain'. Astonishingly, especially in the light of the comments above from Archbishop Eames (and the fact that those who worked hard and took 'extremely seriously' the Communion's request did not see a problem with the language of 'breach'), the Sub-Group declares 'some sympathy' for the view that 'it was impossible to know what "the proper constraints of the bonds of affection" were'. If it is unclear that acting 'against the advice of the four instruments of Unity' is to breach 'the proper constraints of the bonds of affection' then this is tantamount to saying the phrase - so central to TWR - is meaningless. GC was not asked to say that it knowingly and deliberately at the time 'breached the bonds' but that it can now look back on its actions and discern that this is in fact what it did. Its quite explicit refusal to do this in its determination to amend the resolution based on the wording of TWR must be taken as a sign that it does not believe that acting against the advice of the four instruments is inherently an unacceptable pattern of life in communion.
The Report proceeds to note the language of apology and request for forgiveness but that 'the group was unsure how these words should be understood' (21). The group recognises that 'there does not seem to be any admission of the fact that the action of consenting to the particular election at the centre of this dispute was in itself blameworthy' (21) but then rightly warns that in a Christian community the language of apology and forgiveness 'should not be lightly received'. However, rather than recalling Archbishop Eames' words to the Primates that 'the interpretation of regret by ECUSA must be clearly defined' it then appeals to the (as we have seen very precarious) judgment concerning B033 to argue that 'we believe that the expression of regret is sufficient to meet the request of the primates' (21).
Here again it would appear that a commendable desire to be charitable risks being naïve and ignoring the plain sense of the resolution, especially when read in context. Rather than take GC at its word it presumes it was really intending to apologise for something it does not actually admit was blameworthy. The simple fact is that the apology offered by TEC is for 'failure to accord sufficient importance to the impact of our actions...'. In other words it is more for having 'left undone those things we ought to have done'. There is no sign that it is for having 'done those things which we ought not to have done...' (in contrast to Archbishop Eames statement about "a statement of regret that this process went against the advice of the four Instruments of Unity"). It is saying sorry that they did not give due weight to certain factors in their decision-making processes. It is not saying sorry for any moral wrong in the decision itself. TEC admit a failure in prudence but not one in charity or obedience to God and they give no recognition there was disregard for the past councils and appeals of the Communion.
For many in the Communion, the apology asked for in TWR was already a difficult compromise to accept. This was because it failed to request an apology for acting in a manner the Communion held to be 'contrary to Scripture'. To accept what GC offered as an adequate, 'appropriate' and 'clearly defined' response and apology represents a further compromise on the compromise of TWR and Dromantine. TWR and Dromantine asked for expressions of regret and apologies which showed TEC had come to see their actions were wrong, that they should not have done them, and that they would not repeat them. At GC, they offered regret for actions they apparently still believed to be right and apologised only for the negative impact of such actions on others, not the actions themselves.
Here, as in relation to the election of bishops, it would appear that the Sub-Group has accepted the argument advanced by ACI and others of what GC was expected to do. It has then sought to claim, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that they have really done this. The problem with this is that it creates a very precarious house of cards. The acceptance of the apology is based on the acceptance that B033 was adequate even though it is admitted this is only an 'apparent promise' (21). In fact, a strong case has been made that B033 is more 'apparent' than a 'promise' of the form requested by TWR and the Primates.
The strength of the Report's approach is that it makes clear to TEC that the Communion can only accept what they offered at GC on the basis they are genuinely committed to the GC resolutions as they have been interpreted here by the Sub-Group. It follows that if that is a false interpretation then any favourable conclusions would be shown to have been false. As the report says, there must be 'the reality of...change of direction' and at the moment only 'some see [this] in the resolutions of the General Convention'. The test is 'the way in which the Episcopal Church lives out these resolutions' (22). In other words, actions speak louder than words (especially such ambiguous words as those passed by General Convention) and there needs to be clear evidence of 'fruits of repentance'.
The Report's assessment of GC is clearly very weak and overly generous. This will not only concern those who believe GC did not go far enough in response to TWR but those (of whom there were many) who supported GC's resolution precisely on the basis that this was not simply 'signing up to Windsor' but an attempt to signal a desire to engage with the Windsor process.
It has been argued that the method of the Sub-Group amounts to the strategy of 'over-acceptance' proposed by Dr Sam Wells, an author known to be respected by the Archbishop of Canterbury. A poor and less than welcome response from TEC is being over-accepted by, in as far as possible, reading it in the best possible light and assuming the best of its authors. This is in order that the Windsor process may continue rather than grind to a halt through hitting a brick wall by outright rejection. The combination of a concern for signs of progress, a hermeneutics of charity and a focus on practice as the real test that drives such a response is all commendable, especially when faced with some who wish only to assume the worst, have a hermeneutics of suspicion and focus solely on the complex and confusing politics behind the texts of the resolutions. However, the real and serious danger is that the Sub-Group is simply wrong in its account and assessment and is effectively telling TEC that it really said something that it did not say and ignoring the fact that it quite consciously chose not to say what it was asked to say. If major decisions are then made on this false basis the structures of the Communion are being built on a foundation of sand rather than rock and the consequences for such a construction are not promising.
The consequences of the report
At present the report only has the support of the Joint Standing Committees, though the fact that this includes the Archbishop of Canterbury is clearly significant. It opens by explaining that the sub-group was nominated 'to assist the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion in discerning the response of the Anglican Communion to the decisions of the 75 General Convention of the Episcopal Church' (1). It has recently become clear that there are significant differences of opinion between these two individuals and their offices but ultimately it is the Primates who will determine the extent to which they accept the Report as it stands and decide the 'response of the Anglican Communion' to TEC on the basis of GC.
It has been argued in the previous section that the Primates should strengthen the Report and take a more cautious and critical stance to GC's resolutions. However, even as it currently stands, the Report itself clearly shows that GC failed to give a full and adequate response. TWR was clear that it had "indicated (paragraphs 134 and 144) some ways in which the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Diocese of New Westminster could begin to speak with the Communion in a way which would foster reconciliation". How GC has spoken is shown by the Sub-Group to be unclear and, even on the most charitable reading, incomplete. It is therefore evident that reconciliation is still a future hope and not a present reality. Even on the basis of the flawed Report, it must be accepted that the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion has not been fully and properly heeded. It therefore follows that 'we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart' (TWR, 157).
What such 'walking apart' may look like is, as noted above, hinted at in the Report. It accepts that certain actions by bishops, dioceses and provinces will make it impossible for them to be fully incorporated into the ongoing common life of the Communion. The Episcopal Church as a whole province is clearly still held to be potentially in that position due to its failure to address the issue of authorised and permitted blessings of same-sex unions. It is significant that rather than affirming the province as a whole the Report states
It is also clear that it is not only those who have expressed their strong dissociation from the decisions of the 74 General Convention in 2003 who have a commitment to the life of the Communion. There are many elements of the Episcopal Church who share that commitment, who wish to abide within the full recommendations of the Windsor Report and still remain committed to the life of the Episcopal Church. It is the duty of the wider Communion to nourish and encourage all those within the Episcopal Church who wish to embrace our common and interdependent life (23).
This, combined with the earlier comments in para 17, lays down clear criteria to distinguish at least two different groupings within TEC. It recognises that it is not only those (mainly Network bishops) "who have expressed their strong dissociation from the decisions of the 74 General Convention in 2003 who have a commitment to the life of the Communion". In so doing, it makes clear that such strong dissociation is an expression of "commitment to the life of the Communion" rather than a schismatic act but it also recognises that there are others who share that commitment. That commitment is shown by a desire 'to abide within the full recommendations of the Windsor Report'. This is something which the Sub-Group makes clear that TEC as a whole has failed to do (hence the need for the House of Bishops to address urgently the lack in relation to blessings). Such 'Windsor-compliance' means making a commitment not to 'go against the standard of teaching to which the Communion as a whole has indicated that it is bound' (17).
There is already a clear group - the Camp Allen Windsor bishops - who have shown that commitment. The challenge now is whether the Presiding Bishop and the House as a whole (or at least more members of it) will do what is clearly required to clarify GC's response and complete what it lacks. It is clear that all who do this and thereby express their commitment to 'embrace our common and interdependent life' (23) should be nourished and encouraged by the wider Communion. In contrast, any who 'continue to act in a way which diverges from the common life of the Communion' (17) will find themselves less than fully incorporated into its ongoing life.
When the Bishop of Exeter addressed the ECUSA House of Bishops in Jan 06 he spoke of the Communion 'threatened by two intersecting fault-lines, each with its own totem': same-sex relations (Lambeth I.10) and the nature and future of the Communion (Windsor/Dromantine). He thereby identified four groups which the ACI summarised by means of a diagrammatic representation of his analysis:
Group One (or at least the bottom right-hand corner of it), Bishop Langrish said, embraces 'those who not only stand firmly by Lambeth I.10, but also see it as the litmus test of orthodoxy, and who are further opposed to, or have given up on, Windsor and all that it stands for'. They are what have been called 'federal conservatives' and he was clear that 'probably nothing that happens is going to satisfy them'. Group Four - their mirror image - are 'those who are so certain that Lambeth I.10 was wrong that they in effect see both Windsor and the Communion as a price that is simply too great to pay'. They are 'federal liberals' who believe they must be 'prophetic' and continue to follow the path of GC 2003 and disregard Windsor. He argued however that 'there will be those (probably the majority) who, while holding a variety of views on the issue of sexuality, would nevertheless to varying degrees also be committed to Windsor and its outworking in the Communion's life'. These are groups Two and Three - communion conservatives and communion liberals.
The Report of the Sub-Group effectively tries to argue that TEC at GC straddled the line between 'federal' and 'conservative' liberal (Groups III and IV). Many would wish to argue that, for the reasons given above, it was much more unambiguously placing the province as a whole in group IV.
While the weaknesses of the Report's assessment need to be addressed and rectified, in so doing it must not be missed that the Report also makes quite clear that it supports the position which has been advocated by ACI, Bishop Tom Wright and others: being in group IV - as a bishop, diocese or province - will lead to no longer being fully incorporated into the ongoing life of the Communion, which must have implications for involvement in any of the Instruments of Communion.
The Report also restates that group II is where the Communion as a whole is to be found and will be for the foreseeable future. This means that those who remain unconvinced about I.10 must place themselves clearly in group III by a commitment not (on the basis of alleged provincial 'autonomy' or 'local option') to 'go against the standard of teaching to which the Communion as a whole has indicated that it is bound' (17). Rather they are 'to abide within the full recommendations of the Windsor Report' (23) if they are to remain full (or 'proto-constituent') members of the Communion.
In conclusion, even on the basis of this seriously flawed Report, the real challenge now is how, given the 'considerable diversity of opinion within the Episcopal Church', the Communion can fulfil its duty 'to nourish and encourage all those within the Episcopal Church who wish to embrace our common and interdependent life'. Here (unless and until TEC's House of Bishops as a whole both fully and clearly accepts TWR and Dromantine and takes necessary action to put its own province in order faced with those within TEC who continue to disregard Communion teaching and TWR) the Camp Allen Windsor bishops, and the proposal that they be recognised by the Communion as a 'college of bishops', provide the best way forward for the Communion as it seeks to 'develop a unified and coherent response as a Communion to the situation as it is developing'.
The Revd Dr Andrew Goddard is tutor in ethics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, a member of Fulcrum leadership team and Fellow of Anglican Communion Institute.
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For example, What It Will Take (May 06), Initial Observations on GC (21 June 2006), General Convention in Review (23 June 2006), General Convention, The Windsor Report and ECUSA's Relationship to the Anglican Communion (1 August 2006), The Anglican Communion: Where are we now and where are we headed (17 September 2006). It is important also to recall the Bishop of Durham's critique of the resolutions initially proposed for GC - The Choice Before ECUSA (14 June)
"The question of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites"
"We believe that to proceed unilaterally with the authorisation of public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions at this time goes against the formally expressed opinions of the Instruments of Unity and therefore constitutes action in breach of the legitimate application of the Christian faith as the churches of the Anglican Communion have received it, and of bonds of affection in the life of the Communion, especially the principle of interdependence. For the sake of our common life, we call upon all bishops of the Anglican Communion to honour the Primates' Pastoral Letter of May 2003, by not proceeding to authorise public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions" (TWR, para 143)
Washington, New Hampshire, Nevada, Long Island, Vermont, Atlanta , Hawaii
Within the Episcopal Church (USA), the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops concluded as late as March 2003, that "Because at this time we are nowhere near consensus in the Church regarding the blessing of homosexual relationships, we cannot recommend authorizing the development of new rites for such blessings. For these reasons, we urge the greatest caution as the Church continues to seek the mind of Christ in these matters." but in August of that year, the 74th General Convention commended the development of public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions as being within the bounds of the Episcopal Church (USA)'s common life (see , paragraphs 27 and 123) without formal theological justification or consultation in the Communion. (TWR, para 140, italics added)
The explanation for the wording of A161 which was taken up in B033 included the statement, "The resolution does not specify what constitutes a "manner of life" that
"presents a challenge to the wider church;" we leave this to the prayerful discernment of those involved in nominating, electing, and consecrating bishops. Concerns we discussed were by no means limited to the nature of the family life; for example, the potential of bishops to serve effectively as pastors for all within their diocese, and their level of commitment to respect the dignity of and strive for justice for all people are also
relevant." It is clear that this means it was intended to be used to enable refusal of consent to those opposed to 'full inclusion' of LGBT Christians
"We do not believe that those involved in the election of a bishop to the See of New Hampshire and the consent to the election are entirely or exclusively blameworthy in relation to this: not everyone involved in the processes will necessarily have been fully acquainted with the contents of the resolutions we have quoted. Since there is no doubt that in terms of its constitutional proprieties, the Episcopal Church (USA) was at liberty to take the steps that it did, it will not have been straightforward for those involved to weigh up the criteria that they should apply. It seems to us that this reinforces the need for much greater awareness around the Communion of the views expressed by the Instruments of Unity, and of the impact of decisions taken in one church upon another" (TWR, 128)
Wells is the author of the Archbishop's Lent Book this year and a finalist for his Michael Ramsey Prize