An analysis of the Response to the Primates by TEC HoB
Half Empty? Half Full?
Too Little? Too Late?
by Andrew Goddard
The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church (USA) has now agreed what they call “A Response to Questions and Concerns Raised by our Anglican Communion Partners” which comprises an introduction and eight bullet points each of which is followed by a more detailed discussion. This is the definitive response to the request of the Anglican Primates in February at Dar Es Salaam which itself must be understood in the light of the Windsor Report.
The immediate context that has given rise to this unprecedented response is the Dar communiqué in which the Primates ended (para 35) with an unprecedented and unexpected proposal in the light of the crisis in the American church and in its relationships with the wider Communion:
Our discussions have drawn us into a much more detailed response than we would have thought necessary at the beginning of our meeting. But such is the imperative laid on us to seek reconciliation in the Church of Christ, that we have been emboldened to offer a number of recommendations. We have set these out in a Schedule to this statement. We offer them to the wider Communion, and in particular to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church in the hope that they will enable us to find a way forward together for the period leading up to the conclusion of the Covenant Process. We also hope that the provisions of this pastoral scheme will mean that no further interventions will be necessary since bishops within The Episcopal Church will themselves provide the extended episcopal ministry required (emphasis added).
In order to interpret and evaluate TEC’s response it is necessary to identify the key recommendations set out in the Schedule. The Schedule covers 5 areas (foundations, a pastoral council, a pastoral scheme, on clarifying the response to Windsor and on property disputes) and an appendix stating the “Camp Allen Principles”. The main areas where response is sought relate to (a) TEC’s commitment to Windsor and (b) TEC’s provision for and response to those in TEC committed to the Camp Allen Principles. The latter relates to the Pastoral Council, Pastoral Scheme and issue of property disputes while, in relation to the former the key section (“On Clarifying the Response to Windsor”) reads:
The Primates recognise the seriousness with which The Episcopal Church addressed the requests of the Windsor Report put to it by the Primates at their Dromantine Meeting. They value and accept the apology and the request for forgiveness made. While they appreciate the actions of the 75th General Convention which offer some affirmation of the Windsor Report and its recommendations, they deeply regret a lack of clarity about certain of those responses.
In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
- make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and
- confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134) unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).
The Primates request that the answer of the House of Bishops is conveyed to the Primates by the Presiding Bishop by 30th September 2007.
If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.
In attempting to evaluate the HoB response it is necessary to sketch the key stages in the four years of the Windsor Process since the Lambeth Commission was created in October 2003 (Section I). It is then necessary to examine very carefully the wording of the HoB response in the light of that history (Section II). Here a major question arises concerning the stance of the interpreter. Some people, as becomes especially obvious in times of crisis, are optimistic and generous (‘surely it’s half full’) while others tend to be pessimistic and suspicious (‘actually, it’s half empty (at best)’). Among the factors determining one’s stance are not only issues of personality and psychology but past history in a relationship and political position (those working to hold the Communion together are probably tempted to be ‘half full’ people, those who believe it has already fallen apart and some major realignment is necessary will tend to be ‘half empty’ interpreters). My own tendency is, I think, to be ‘half full’ but the crucial test is careful examination of the wording to determine exactly what is (and what is not) being said and how it relates to what has been asked and what has been said in the past. In the light of detailed analysis a summary assessment is offered of the HoB’s response (Section III) before the implications for five areas – TEC, Communion evaluation, Windsor bishops, Common Cause and Lambeth 2008 – are sketched (Section IV) and, finally, a conclusion is offered (Section V).
The Windsor Report
The Windsor Report, in response to the actions of General Convention 2003, made three specific requests of the American church:
- the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion (para 134)
- the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges (para 134).
- 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. 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 (para 144)
This was clearly less than some Anglicans would have wished eg it makes no reference to the ordination of those in same-sex unions (despite this being the focus of Lambeth I.10) and it makes no attempt either to constrain the actions and teaching of those conscientiously convinced Communion teaching is wrong (other than in relation to these two proposed moratoria) or to call for them to repent of their beliefs. This is important as some in the Communion still seem to be demanding of the Americans more than Windsor required.
Dromantine Primates’ Meeting 2005
The Primates received TWR at their February 2005 meeting and agreed to provide time for the American church to respond ‘through their relevant constitutional bodies’ (para 14) while also stressing that
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 (para 18).
General Convention 2006
In a rather confused and pressured context, GC 2006 passed resolutions which offered an apology to the Communion (A160) and which made certain commitments in relation to confirmation of candidates for bishop (B033):
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further
Resolved, that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.
General Convention failed, however, to address the issue of same-sex blessings.
Joint Standing Committee’s Response
The actions of GC 2006 were considered by the Communion Sub-Group of the JSC. This concluded (paras 9-10) that B033 above, though not using the language of moratorium or referring to those in a same gender union, amounted to compliance with the request of the Primates:
By requiring that the restraint must be expressed in a particular way - “by not consenting …”, however, the resolution is calling for a precise response, which complies with the force of the recommendation of the Windsor Report. The resolution, which was passed by large majorities in both houses, therefore calls upon those charged with the giving of consent to the result of any election to the episcopate to refuse consent to candidates whose “manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion”.
In voting for this resolution, the majority of bishops with jurisdiction have indicated that they will refuse consent in future to the consecration of a bishop whose manner of life challenges the wider church and leads to further strains on Communion. This represents a significant shift from the position which applied in 2003. It was noted that a small number of bishops indicated that they would not abide by the resolution of General Convention, but in supporting the resolution the majority of bishops have committed themselves to the recommendations of the Windsor Report.
In relation to public rites the JSC report noted that GC did not consider this question and commented that whatever the official national position “decisions affecting the use of public rites have more usually been made at diocesan level. The Windsor Report, in recognising that fact, calls upon all bishops of the Anglican Communion to abide by the unanimous recommendation of the Primates in March 2003 and institute a moratorium on such rites” (para 14). It continued to note (para 15)
In a resolution of the 74th General Convention in 2003, the Episcopal Church recognised that local faith communities within its common life were exploring and experiencing such liturgies, and while, at provincial level, it has done nothing to authorise such Rites, it has done nothing to check their development. This creates 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.
After sketching (in para 16) its perception of the reality on the ground in TEC it concluded (para 17):
It is therefore not at all clear whether, in fact, the Episcopal Church is living with the recommendations of the Windsor Report on this matter. The Primates in their statement of March 2003 did admit that there could be “a breadth of private response to individual pastoral care”, but 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. This is therefore a question which needs to be addressed urgently by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.
In relation to the requested apology the JSC declared itself unsure how to take the words of A159 but concluded (para 21) that “taken with the apparent promise not to repeat the offence (Resolution B033 discussed above) we believe that the expression of regret is sufficient to meet the request of the primates”.
Dar Es Salaam Primates’ Meeting 2007
The Primates themselves accepted GC’s apology but took a more sceptical line than the JSC in their final communiqué as is evident from their two-fold request for clarification noted above. On same-sex blessings they reiterated the JSC concerns by stating (para 21, emphasis added):
However, secondly, we believe that there remains a lack of clarity about the stance of The Episcopal Church, especially its position on the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions. There appears to us to be an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision. We recognise that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorisation of them. However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings. It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.
They explained this in the following terms (para 22):
The standard of teaching stated in Resolution 1.10 of the Lambeth Conference 1998 asserted that the Conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions”. The primates stated in their pastoral letter of May 2003, “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.”
On B033 and future consecrations they noted that “some of us believe that Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention does not in fact give the assurances requested in the Windsor Report”.
As a result the Primates concluded (para 24):
The response of The Episcopal Church to the requests made at Dromantine has not persuaded this meeting that we are yet in a position to recognise that The Episcopal Church has mended its broken relationships.
The Primates also commended the draft covenant and the Listening Process and addressed the other Windsor issue of interventions by bishops in jurisdictions other than their own and the need to provide for parishes and dioceses alienated from TEC. They stated (para 28):
These pastoral needs, together with the requests from those making presentations to this meeting, have moved us to consider how the primates might contribute to healing and reconciliation within The Episcopal Church and more broadly. We believe that it would be a tragedy if The Episcopal Church was to fracture, and we are committed to doing what we can to preserve and uphold its life. While we may support such processes, such change and development which is required must be generated within its own life.
In response they stated their belief “that the establishment of a Covenant for the Churches of the Anglican Communion in the longer term may lead to the trust required to re-establish our interdependent life” (para 29) but then noted (para 30, emphasis added) that
An interim response is required in the period until the Covenant is secured. For there to be healing in the life of the Communion in the interim, it seems that the recommendations of the Windsor Report, as interpreted by the Primates’ Statement at Dromantine, are the most clear and comprehensive principles on which our common life may be re-established.
In explaining how they sought to re-establish our common life on these principles and outlining the logic behind their proposals, the Primates claimed three urgent needs had to be addressed (paras 31-33):
First, those of us who have lost trust in The Episcopal Church need to be re-assured that there is a genuine readiness in The Episcopal Church to embrace fully the recommendations of the Windsor Report.
Second, those of us who have intervened in other jurisdictions believe that we cannot abandon those who have appealed to us for pastoral care in situations in which they find themselves at odds with the normal jurisdiction. For interventions to cease, what is required in their view is a robust scheme of pastoral oversight to provide individuals and congregations alienated from The Episcopal Church with adequate space to flourish within the life of that church in the period leading up to the conclusion of the Covenant Process.
Third, the Presiding Bishop has reminded us that in The Episcopal Church there are those who have lost trust in the Primates and bishops of certain of our Provinces because they fear that they are all too ready to undermine or subvert the polity of The Episcopal Church. In their view, there is an urgent need to embrace the recommendations of the Windsor Report and to bring an end to all interventions.
They then note that (para 34):
Those who have intervened believe it would be inappropriate to bring an end to interventions until there is change in The Episcopal Church. Many in the House of Bishops are unlikely to commit themselves to further requests for clarity from the Primates unless they believe that actions that they perceive to undermine the polity of The Episcopal Church will be brought to an end. Through our discussions, the primates have become convinced that pastoral strategies are required to address these three urgent needs simultaneously.
It is because of the breadth and depth of these problems that the Primates discerned that they needed to act more decisively than in the past (para 35):
Our discussions have drawn us into a much more detailed response than we would have thought necessary at the beginning of our meeting. But such is the imperative laid on us to seek reconciliation in the Church of Christ, that we have been emboldened to offer a number of recommendations. We have set these out in a Schedule to this statement. We offer them to the wider Communion, and in particular to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church in the hope that they will enable us to find a way forward together for the period leading up to the conclusion of the Covenant Process. We also hope that the provisions of this pastoral scheme will mean that no further interventions will be necessary since bishops within The Episcopal Church will themselves provide the extended episcopal ministry required.
The schedule (as noted earlier) comprises five parts all of which are important in considering the current situation and whether the HoB of TEC have accepted the proposed ‘way forward together for the period leading up to the conclusion of the Covenant Process’. In particular, it is important to consider the foundations of their work as these will presumably be used by the Primates in evaluating TEC’s response:
The Primates recognise the urgency of the current situation and therefore emphasise the need to:
- affirm the Windsor Report (TWR) and the standard of teaching commanding respect across the Communion (most recently expressed in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference);
- set in place a Covenant for the Anglican Communion;
- encourage healing and reconciliation within The Episcopal Church, between The Episcopal Church and congregations alienated from it, and between The Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion;
- respect the proper constitutional autonomy of all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion, while upholding the interdependent life and mutual responsibility of the Churches, and the responsibility of each to the Communion as a whole;
- respond pastorally and provide for those groups alienated by recent developments in the Episcopal Church.
In order to address these foundations and apply them in the difficult situation which arises at present in The Episcopal Church, we recommend the following actions. The scheme proposed and the undertakings requested are intended to have force until the conclusion of the Covenant Process and a definitive statement of the position of The Episcopal Church with respect to the Covenant and its place within the life of the Communion, when some new provision may be required.
The recommended actions comprised
- a request for clarifications in relation to TEC’s response to Windsor
- a proposed Pastoral Council to be established by the Primates to work with TEC
- a proposed Pastoral Scheme to be established within TEC to build on the Camp Allen principles and bring an end to foreign interventions
- an appeal in relation to property disputes.
TEC House of Bishops’ Initial Response & Its Aftermath
At their initial meeting after the Primates’ Meeting, TEC’s bishops soundly rejected the proposed Pastoral Council and Pastoral Scheme, a decision which was supported by TEC’s Executive Council. One of the consequences of this rejection was the subsequent consecration by two further provinces (Kenya and Uganda) of bishops to serve former TEC parishes now under their care. There have also been announcements by the two existing missions (CANA from Nigeria and AMiA from Rwanda which the Primates had already noted “there are particular difficulties associated with” even in relation to the Pastoral Scheme) of further future consecrations for their churches. Alongside this the bishops connected through Common Cause are building their relationships with each other and a small number of TEC dioceses are reported to be seeking disassociation from TEC and affiliation with another Anglican Communion province.
The preamble sets the bishops’ eight-fold response in a wider theological and historical context. It is noteworthy that it begins with a strong statement of the global and missionary nature of the church and the importance of unity and a clear recognition of the need for action on the part of TEC if there is to be a “ ‘mending of the tear in the fabric’ of our common life in Christ”. They claim they intend to “provide clarity” within what they describe as “an ongoing process of dialogue” and they highlight that their polity means TEC’s response must also include the Presiding Bishop, the Executive Council and the General Convention.
The eight areas addressed can be divided into three groups, the first two relating to the areas raised in the schedule from the Primates’ Meeting at Dar:
(A) Two points clarifying TEC’s response to TWR
(B) Three points relating to alternative episcopal provision and external interventions
(C) Three points relating to other matters – the Listening Process, Lambeth 2008 and gay and lesbian persons.
Having examined each of these a final fourth section will briefly note four significant areas related to the Primates’ communiqué which are not mentioned in the HoB’s response.
The bishops initially appear here to have removed (though not as directly as sought in Windsor) any ambiguity about how they intend to interpret B033 in relation to Windsor’s request. Although the summary bullet point is a rather ridiculous reconfirmation that the wording of B033 is as everyone knows it is, the discussion goes a significant way to explaining the import of this wording. It relates the HoB to the Executive Council’s resolution EC011. This ‘commends the Report of the Communion Sub-Group’ (quoted above) as giving ‘an accurate evaluation of Resolution B033’ and the HoB then clarifies in its important final sentence that ‘non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains’.
The advance here is that the phrase ‘whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion’ is now explicitly stated to include ‘non-celibate gay and lesbian persons’. This, though arguably not strictly the same as ‘living in a same-sex union’ (Windsor) - cf the debates over Jeffrey John when chosen as Bishop of Reading – speaks to the key issue of sexual conduct albeit in a way that unhelpfully implies there is a group of people for whom celibacy is now a requirement for episcopal ordination in the way that it is not for other people. (Why not use the language of Windsor or of Dromantine – ‘living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage’?). Here is clearly a statement many in TEC would rather not have to make and it represents for them a costly and important clarification.
However, it must be noted that all the HoB has strictly done is to acknowledge that those of their number with jurisdiction (and Standing Committees) have been called upon by GC to withhold consent to such candidates. They have not explicitly committed themselves to heed that call and to withhold that consent. It is very likely that some of them (and there is no guarantee this will be only a minority of them) will give consent. Although there is the danger here of an excessive hermeneutic of suspicion, an interesting contrast can be drawn between this response and the wording of the covenant they made in March 2005 which stated (para 3, emphasis added)
The Windsor Report has invited the Episcopal Church "to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges" (Windsor Report, para. 134). Our polity, as affirmed both in the Windsor Report and the Primates' Communiqué, does not give us the authority to impose on the dioceses of our church moratoria based on matters of suitability beyond the well-articulated criteria of our canons and ordinal. Nevertheless, this extraordinary moment in our common life offers the opportunity for extraordinary action. In order to make the fullest possible response to the larger communion and to re-claim and strengthen our common bonds of affection, this House of Bishops takes the following provisional measure to contribute to a time for healing and for the educational process called for in the Windsor Report.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. We believe that Christian community requires us to share the burdens of such forbearance; thus it must pertain to all elections of bishops in the Episcopal Church. We recognize that this will cause hardship in some dioceses, and we commit to making ourselves available to those dioceses needing episcopal ministry.
While this may seem a minor point, those whose history of relationships with TEC’s HoB make them cautious about trusting their words will inevitably ask why such a similar statement could not be given this time when such a clear request had been made. Why, for example, was it not simply said that ‘those of us having jurisdiction pledge to heed the call of B033 by withholding consent to the consecration of any non-celibate gay and lesbian persons elected to the episcopate unless some new consensus emerges on these matters across the Communion’. This would have much more clearly met the request of the Primates to “confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent… unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion” (italics added). It must also be recalled that that request was itself strictly (in the face of B033’s more limited focus) a watering-down of TWR which spoke of “a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges” (para 134, italics added).
This interpretation is unfortunately now strongly supported by Bishop Stanton’s careful account of the development of the response. The Writing Committee of the House of Bishops initially proposed the following clearly inadequate response:
We have attempted to respond to the Primates’ questions regarding Resolution B033. In honesty we must report that within the House of Bishops there is disagreement as to how this resolution is to be interpreted and applied. As we live with this painful reality, conversation, study and prayer will continue. We recognize the challenge our disagreement presents for some in the Communion, and we respectfully ask for their patience and forbearance.
The Windsor Bishops, in contrast, had proposed referring to EC011 and the JSC document and aligning the HoB with them in the words (emphasis added):
concur with the conclusion of that report, that the passing of B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for Episcopal orders living in a sexual relationship outside of Christian marriage shall not receive the necessary consents, unless some new consensus emerges on these matters across the Communion.
When further worked on by Bishops Jenkins (a Windsor Bishop), Bruno and Chane this was altered so as to refer to the report in these terms (emphasis added):
an accurate evaluation that Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention meets the requests of the Windsor Report on the matter of the election of bishops, and further that the bishops of the Episcopal Church understand themselves to be bound by Resolution of General Convention ‘to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on our communion..’
Bishop Stanton reports that there was then ‘considerable discussion over whether resolutions of Convention were binding or not’. The history of resolution A053 (at the GC 1979) relating to the ordination of those whose consecration is now the focus of dispute makes clear that many, despite often trumpeting the supreme authority of GC, have not taken this view. That resolution clearly stated that “we believe it is not appropriate for this Church to ordain a practicing homosexual, or any person who is engaged in heterosexual relations outside of marriage” but a significant number of bishops (including Bishops Browning and Griswold, both later to be elected Presiding Bishop) refused to be bound by this and issued a statement which stated
Taking note, therefore, that this action of the House is recommendatory not prescriptive, we give notice as we are answerable before Almighty God that we cannot accept these recommendations or implement them in our dioceses insofar as they relate or give unqualified expression to recommendation 3. To do so would be to abrogate our responsibilities of apostolic leadership and prophetic witness to the flock of Christ, committed to our charge: and it would involve a repudiation of our ordination vows as bishops: in the words of the new Prayer Book, “boldly [to] proclaim and interpret the Gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience of [our] people,” and to “encourage and support all baptized people in their gifts and ministries ... and to celebrate with them the sacraments of our redemption;” or in the words of the old, “to be to the flock of Christ a shepherd, not a wolf.” Our appeal is to conscience, and to God. Amen.
The seeds of the Communion’s current crisis are undoubtedly to be found in this event where we see the attitude of some bishops to the mind of their house and of General Convention which is not being replicated in relation to the mind of the Communion.
The reworked draft sought to do justice both to Windsor/Bishop/Chane and to the Writing Committee. It first proposed to clarify who was included in B033 by stating (emphasis added)
A majority of us concur that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those for whom consent might be withheld.
Even that limited assurance was then watered down further to the final form which makes no explicit reference to even the likelihood of withholding consent and instead simply states
The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains.
Initially then there could appear to be a very significant advance in the HoB confirming that ‘non-celibate gay and lesbian persons’ are included within B033. However, the bishops have strictly only confirmed that the passing of that resolution means they have been called upon ‘to exercise restraint by not consenting’ to such candidates. They have not strictly confirmed that they will ensure such candidates ‘shall not receive the necessary consent’. Furthermore, they have not stated this is the case ‘until some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion’ though that may be understood to follow from the limit that a bishop should not be confirmed if they ‘present a challenge to the wider church’ or ‘lead to further strains on communion’. The development of the wording as the House moved towards the final resolution can leave little doubt that the problem for the Communion here is neither a ‘half empty’ hermeneutic of suspicion nor a fear that the bishops do not mean what they say. Rather the problem for the Communion is that they do in fact mean precisely what they say in their final statement and what they say is, when carefully scrutinised, very far from what the Primates asked.
Blessing of Same-Sex Unions
The weakness of the response to B033 is evident (even without Stanton’s helpful charting of its evolution) when one contrasts the form of the opening phrase of the next discussion. This reads (with echoes of the earlier March 2005 covenant) ‘We, the members of the House of Bishops, pledge not to….’. This is clearly in order to comply with the Primates’ request that they “make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention”.
Again the wording gives hope for optimism on initial reading as they pledge not to “authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion’. However, there are already signs of reconfiguring the Communion’s request – the Instruments tend to use such language as ‘unless some new consensus on these matters emerges’ in relation to the future whereas the bishops make a commitment ‘until a broader consensus emerges’, (implying ‘we will wait until a few more provinces clearly support our viewpoint’). It must also be noted that they have consciously inserted the word ‘public’, thus qualifying the request not to authorise ‘any Rite of Blessing’.
The evolution of the resolution highlights another issue – its limitation to authorisation. The Windsor Bishops had proposed the House commit ‘not to authorize or permit any public Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions’. This, after discussions with bishops Chane and Bruno, became ‘neither to develop nor authorize’.
Even more seriously, there is the problem that the final resolution of the bishops then adds ‘or until General Convention takes further action’. While this is doubtless in order to uphold (as noted in the introduction) the authority of General Convention, it turns on its head what the Primates asked. The Primates, fully aware that the House of Bishops is a separate House whose consent must be given for any act of General Convention, explicitly asked them to covenant as a House of Bishops not to authorise any rites through General Convention. Instead, the House of Bishops have held out the possibility that General Convention may take further action and that if they do (which they can only do with the approval of the HoB) then their pledge expires.
The further difficulty with the HoB statement is that it simply describes and does not seek to alter the current reality that both the JSC report (which they have just commended) and the Primates identified as part of the problem.
The JSC report stated (para 17, emphasis added)
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. This is therefore a question which needs to be addressed urgently by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.
The Primates stated (para 21, emphasis added)
We believe that there remains a lack of clarity about the stance of The Episcopal Church, especially its position on the authorisation of Rites of Blessing for persons living in same-sex unions. There appears to us to be an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision. We recognise that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorisation of them. However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings. It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.
This ambiguous stance, far from being made unambiguous by the HoB, is almost celebrated and justified by them. After telling the Primates what the Primates explicitly state they already know (‘It is important to note that no rite of blessing for persons living in same-sex unions has been adopted or approved by our General Convention’) the bishops go on to state that ‘the majority of bishops do not make allowance for the blessing of same-sex unions’. This obviously acknowledges that a minority – and in reality it is not an insignificant minority – do ‘make allowance’. Unless it is to be claimed that this ‘make allowance’ is not the same as ‘permission to develop or use’ this amounts to a reassertion of the reality which not just the Primates but the JSC sought to reform.
It is hard to see how the commitments here are any different from those offered (but clearly considered inadequate by the Primates) by TEC’s HoB in March 2005. Then their covenant included the following (para 4):
In response to the invitation in the Windsor Report that we effect a moratorium on public rites of blessing for same sex unions, it is important that we clarify that the Episcopal Church has not authorized any such liturgies, nor has General Convention requested the development of such rites. The Primates, in their communiqué "assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship" (Primates' Communiqué, para. 6). Some in our church hold such "pastoral care" to include the blessing of same sex relationships. Others hold that it does not. Nevertheless, we pledge not to authorize any public rites for the blessing of same sex unions, and we will not bless any such unions, at least until the General Convention of 2006.
Exactly the same triad is now being repeated in 2007: TEC has not authorised, some in TEC do, as bishops we won’t authorize until GC changes its stance (the penultimate version actually read ‘at lest until General Convention 2009). The Primates, however, clearly asked to hear something new and different.
The final sentences of this section refer to statements of the Primates in May 2003. They imply that these provide justification for ‘allowance for the blessing of same-sex unions’ even while denying authorisation to rites for blessing:
We do note that in May 2003 the Primates said we have a pastoral duty “to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations.” They further stated, “…[I]t is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care.”
The full wording of the relevant section of the 2003 communique is
This is distinct from the duty of pastoral care that is laid upon all Christians to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations. As recognised in the booklet "True Union", it is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care.
The key reference in True Union in the Body? (commissioned by Archbishop Drexel Gomez and discussed at and commended by the 2003 Primates’ Meeting) is an early footnote (n3) which reads
Although different theological accounts may be given of ‘blessing’ the fundamental objection raised here is to the formal authorization and public commendation of same-sex unions by the Church that is represented by revisionist proposals. As noted later (e.g. 6.18) this is different from pragmatic pastoral discretion in private and informal prayer as Christians minister to people and move them by God’s grace towards a form of life and witness in conformity with the Church’s public teaching.
The relevant passage in 6.18 was an early call (in 2002/3) for the sort of moratorium later sought by Windsor and now being asked again of TEC (building on an earlier 1996/97 proposal of Radner and Sumner). It reads
In these circumstances, given both the lack of agreed procedures at the Communion level and the need for a period of stability under a new Archbishop of Canterbury, it would be preferable if within the Communion as a whole a moratorium could be placed on actions in this area which seek to alter the traditional public teaching and practice of the Christian Church. That traditional teaching must be upheld, even if at the same time some room is allowed for the protection of private conscience and the use of pastoral discretion which does not create public scandal.
The vision of pastoral care proposed in True Union? is found in Section 5, “Embodying True Grace: The Pastoral Response of the Church”. It is clearly incompatible with ‘making allowance’ for blessing of same-sex unions as part of ‘a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care’. It states, for example, that ‘pastoral care that is shaped by this costly grace will resist actions to legitimate same-sex unions and seek to show that, because they are in theological error, such actions by the Church do not contain within them the promised seed of freedom’ (5.15) and ‘the decision to bless same-sex unions, rather than assisting a life of faithful witness and being good pastoral practice, sends out contradictory messages concerning the Christian life. It undermines faithful witness by leading Christian believers into areas of real temptation and indeed sin’ (5.16).
In short, the attempt to use the Primates’ words in 2003 to defend the current situation and ‘ambiguous stance’ of TEC represents a serious distortion of the intent certainly of the authors the Primates refer to and most likely of the Primates themselves.