Skip to comments.The Bishop of Durham finds ECUSA's Special Commission report severely wanting
Posted on 06/14/2006 6:11:50 PM PDT by sionnsar
The Bishop of Durham weighs ECUSA's Special Commission report in the balances and finds it severely wanting:
We cannot and must not forget (a) that the reason the Lambeth Commission was called into being was that the Primates (including the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA) had become convinced that if the consecration of Gene Robinson went ahead this would tear the fabric of the Communion at the deepest level; (b) that the Commission was thus the chosen way of discovering how to mend a tear that had already happened, an emergency measure for a specific purpose rather than a general doctrine commission charged with musing on possible futures, and that the Commissions recommendations were drafted with this specifically in mind; (c) that the Primates at Dromantine last spring, and ACC at Nottingham last summer (and, of course, the C of E General Synod in February 2005), specifically endorsed the Windsor Report and its recommendations, so that these very specific and particular recommendations now come before ECUSA with such weight as the whole Anglican Communion can muster. It is not, in other words, as though ECUSA has been asked to stand on stage and make a speech of its own choosing about some issues of general concern; it is, rather, that the rest of the Communion, having discovered in sorrow that one of its members has chosen to act specifically and knowingly against both the letter and the spirit of the instruments of communion which are the characteristically Anglican bonds that hold us together, has asked ECUSA to make certain statements which are the least that can be done that will restore the unity that has already been lost.
How did ECUSA do? They didn't start out too well.
The Commission has produced a document which, in its opening, is solid and impressive. There are all kinds of signs of careful, prayerful and thoughtful work and drafting. In particular (references are to paragraphs of the Report), there is a strong note of sorrow for the way in which ECUSA has contributed to division in the Body of Christ (7) and followed the pattern of Americas imperial actions in the world (10). But a careful reading of the opening section raises questions. It is surprising to see that in its account of the history of the current issue there is no mention of what the Primates said in October 2003 (15) and hence of the fact that the consecration of Gene Robinson had gone ahead in full knowledge of the consequences. (One response to this, of course, will be that since General Convention had already endorsed the New Hampshire election this was unstoppable. This raises, for the rest of the Communion, two further matters: (a) that the Presiding Bishop led the consecration having just signed the Primates report, and (b) that General Convention 2003 had already been told (e.g. by Archbishop Josiah of Kaduna), before endorsing the New Hampshire election, precisely what consequences would follow.) It is also surprising that, in its summary of Windsor sections A and B (24-32), it makes no mention of the key interlocking themes of autonomy and subsidiarity, adiaphora and flowing from these the all-important question of how the church can discern the difference, so to say, between those matters which make a difference and those matters which dont make a difference. Since this is the point upon which the current problems turn, it is worrying that they are not mentioned, still less discussed.
And they went downhill from there.
The Commission then rightly turns its attention to the key questions, expressing regret and repentance (33-44). This section is crucial as an introduction to the key recommendations. It focuses (34) on Windsor para 134, quoting its introductory sentence (Mindful of the hurt and offence that have resulted from recent events, and yet also of the imperatives of communion the repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation enjoined on us by Christ we have debated long and hard how all sides may be brought together). It does not, however, quote the next part of Windsor 134, but contents itself vitally, as will emerge in a moment with a summary in terms of a statement of regret for breaching the bonds of affection and moratoria on particular actions (34, end). It notes that statements of regret have been made by the House of Bishops and the Executive Council (35), though without noting that these have not been the statements of regret asked for by Windsor, but rather statements of regret that some people were hurt by ECUSAs actions, and a statement (from the House of Bishops in March 2005, anticipating the phraseology now used in the Commissions proposals) of regret for breaching the bonds of affection by any failure to consult adequately with our Anglican partners before taking those actions, which as we shall presently see is clearly and specifically not what Windsor asked for.
PIcking up speed as they went.
The section continues to speak in general terms of statements of regret without quoting, or addressing, the specific statements asked for in Windsor 134. Instead, para 38 says (at the end), We also believe that the General Conventions consideration of such expressions of regret and repentance will provide clear evidence of our desire to reaffirm the bonds of affection that unite us in the fellowship of the Anglican Communion. This is a puzzling statement, whose implications become clear in the resolutions that follow. Certainly the fact that General Convention will consider expressions of regret and repentance will demonstrate that most in ECUSA want to remain within the Anglican Communion. But the important question is whether that desire will lead to the specific and particular expressions of regret and repentance asked for by Windsor 134, or whether ECUSA will try to attain the goal of staying within the Communion without travelling by the only route that will get there, namely that of the road mapped by Windsor and endorsed by the Primates and ACC.
The Commission's dodging of the Windsor Report was magisterial.
Once more, in para 43, the key question seems to be avoided. The paragraph asks, How, then, is the General Convention to express regret and repentance? What counts as an adequate response to the requests of WR? But, instead of quoting Windsor 134, which would seem to be the obvious answer to this double question, the paragraph refers to a number of statements of regret that have already been made, for instance that regret has been expressed that the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire was out of sequence, given the unresolved question of the blessing of same-sex unions. Likewise, moratoria have been effected, and these have been understood as expressions of repentance for decisions made without time for consultation. It has to be said that, from a Windsor perspective, both of these sentences are bound to appear as ways of avoiding the issue. At no point in the Commissions report is it even mentioned that the real problem is not that actions are out of sequence or taken without time for consultation, but that the actions in question went exactly, explicitly and knowingly against the expressed mind of Lambeth, ACC, the Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury. There had, in fact, been plenty of consultation at several levels, and ECUSA chose to ignore the results of that consultation.
Dr. Wright is not impressed by the Commission's moratoria response:
The report then says (44) that it will be for General Convention to determine if and how to effect moratoria as a continued expression of the desire to live into the vision of the communion we share, described in WR. It notes (45) that ECUSA has been asked to respond to several requests in ways that would express our regret for having breached the bonds of affection, but once more without saying what WR actually asked it to do. It mentions (46) five specific requests that have come from WR, Dromantine, and ACC-13, of which the first two are for moratoria on elections to the episcopate of those living in same-gender unions and on public rites of blessing for such unions, but again doesnt quote the specific request of WR 134. Instead, the report discusses these moratoria in para 48 in terms of the usefulness of such times of waiting in giving time for a new consensus to emerge, and instances gratefully the indications from various parts of the Communion of a commitment to diversity and inclusivity with respect to current conversations about human sexuality. I fear it is not cynical to decode para 48 to mean moratoria can be helpful if they give time for the rest of the Communion to catch up with what ECUSA has already decided to do. In fact, it would be naïve not to read it in that way. That does not give great hope for what is to come.
Anyone who can read the English language knows that proceeding with caution is not the same thing as stopping.
The report then says (51) We acknowledge and regret that by action and inaction, we contributed to strains on communion and caused deep offense to many faithful Anglican Christians as we consented to the consecration of a bishop living openly in a same-gender union. This quotes directly from Windsor 127, though it is not yet a statement of what Windsor 134 asked for in response. The paragraph then goes on, Accordingly, we urge nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees, and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise very considerable caution in 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 strain on communion, until a broader consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges. A footnote to the report states that some members of the Commission had wanted to say refrain from rather than exercise very considerable caution in. Knowing how Commissions work (there is constant give and take about wording, but this doesnt normally show up in footnotes), the fact that this discussion resulted in an explicit statement of dissent indicates that some Commission members insisted on their minority view being expressed. It also shows that the Commission knew very well that its main statement, resulting in the Resolution A161, was not complying with the specific thing that Windsor had asked for (see below). (The Bishop of Exeter had also pointed this out when he spoke to the American House of Bishops just before their Commission reported.)
And as far as ECUSA's same-sex marriage response is concerned, Tom Wright was not born yesterday.
When it comes to public rites of blessing of same-sex unions, the Commission suggests (53) that its previous resolution (2003C051) has been misunderstood. That resolution recognized that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions; but the Commission denies that this means that such rites were authorized, since the only authorized rites are those in the various prayer books. This then clears the hermeneutical space for paragraph 54 to recommend that no authorization (in this rather narrow sense) of such liturgies should happen, which is then reflected in Resolution A162. From a Windsor perspective, this sounds like a straightforward attempt to have ones cake and eat it, using a narrow definition of authorized (= printed in an official prayer book) to deny that local liturgies come into that category, while explicitly encouraging their development and use. See (17) below for the outworking of this, where it becomes clear, as noted in Windsor 144, that General Convention is seen as making provision for, and individual diocesan bishops can then authorize, such blessings.
ECUSA's "we're sorry you're bleeding from that knife we stuck in your back" mantra is, according to Dr. Wright, totally unacceptable.
Instead of expressing regret for breaching the bonds of affection in the events surrounding the election and consecration of Gene Robinson, the Resolution, following the alternative route already set out by the House of Bishops in March 2005, expresses regret for the pain that others have experienced with respect to our actions at the General Convention of 2003, and says that we offer our sincerest apology and repentance for having breached the bonds of affection in the Anglican Communion by any failure to consult adequately with our Anglican partners before taking these actions. A comparison with the Windsor request shows what has happened. The Commission has specifically declined to recommend to General Convention a Resolution in which ECUSA would comply with Windsor by expressing regret that the bonds of affection were breached by what was done. Instead, (a) it has simply expressed regret that the bonds of affection were breached by non-consultation, which was not mentioned at this point in Windsor, and indeed is irrelevant since there was in fact widespread and public consultation throughout most of 2003, before, during and after General Convention that year, which resulted in the Primates clear statement that to go ahead with the consecration of Gene Robinson would tear the fabric of the Communion; and (b) it has not even affirmed that there was fault in that respect, since the wording by any failure to consult seems to mean were not sure that there was anything wrong, but if there was, we apologise. Thus the appearance of Windsor-compliance, and the powerful impact of apology and repentance, are, alas, only skin deep. To put it bluntly: Resolution A160 is not, as it stands, Windsor-compliant, and the Commission must have known that only too well. Granted that, the statement in the Explanation that this Resolution is thus signalling our synodical intentions to remain within the Communion must, sadly, be seen as essentially cynical. Windsor said that such an expression of regret i.e. the one that Windsor requested, not the one that the Resolution offers would represent the desire of ECUSA to remain within the Communion. The fact that the explanation quotes this latter phrase demonstrates a desire, not apparently to comply with Windsor, but to give the appearance of doing so to those who glance at the text but do not look carefully at what is actually said.
As is its proposal on homosexual bishops.
The same is true, sadly, of the third recommendation of Windsor 134 in relation to Resolution A161. Windsor recommended (and the Primates and ACC endorsed the recommendation) that 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. As we saw at (9) above, in line with the Commissions Introduction para 51 and its tell-tale footnote, and as appears also in the explanation to this Resolution, there were some on the Commission who clearly wanted to comply with this Windsor recommendation, but, equally clearly, a majority who did not. Instead of adopting the Windsor recommendation, Resolution A161 says we urge nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees, and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise very considerable caution in 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. At the risk of stating the obvious, this Resolution has done two things, both of which point away from Windsor: (a) it has only recommended very considerable caution, rather than a moratorium; (b) it has broadened the reference to persons in same-gender unions into a general statement about persons whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church which, as various commentators have pointed out, and as the explanation offered by the Commission itself indicates, could mean all sorts of things. Again, therefore, if Resolution A161 is passed without amendment, and still more if it is not even passed, it will be impossible to draw any other conclusion but that ECUSA has chosen not to comply with the Windsor recommendations.
All this leads Dr. Wright to one inescapable conclusion.
It is very important not to let the plethora of material, in the official document and in all the various commentaries on it, detract attention from from the central and quite simple question: Will ECUSA comply with the specific and detailed recommendations of Windsor, or will it not? As the Resolutions stand, only one answer is possible: if these are passed without amendment, ECUSA will have specifically, deliberately and knowingly decided not to comply with Windsor. Only if the crucial Resolutions, especially A160 and A161, are amended in line with Windsor paragraph 134, can there be any claim of compliance. Of course, even then, there are questions already raised about whether a decision of General Convention would be able to bind those parts of ECUSA that have already stated their determination to press ahead in the direction already taken. But the Anglican principle of taking people to be in reality what they profess to be, until there is clear evidence to the contrary, must be observed. If these resolutions are amended in line with Windsor, and passed, then the rest of the Communion will be in a position to express its gratitude and relief that ECUSA has complied with what was asked of it. Should that happen, I will be the first to stand up and cheer at such a result, and to speak out against those who are hoping fervently for ECUSA to resist Windsor so that they can justify their anti-ECUSA stance. But if the resolutions are not amended, then, with great sadness and with complete uncertainty about what way ahead might then be found, the rest of the Communion will have to conclude that, despite every opportunity, ECUSA has declined to comply with Windsor; has decided, in other words, to walk apart (Windsor 157).
Fine, blunt, Midwestern words. Will they matter? They are directed to the most arrogant church in the world so they probably won't. But according to Ruth Gledhill, they should.
This is highly significant because Dr Wright, a senior evangelical theologian, possibly the senior evangelical theologian in the worldwide Anglican church, makes it clear the resolutions do not go far enough. My sources tell me this is understood to be a view shared by senior figures at Lambeth, possibly even by the Archbishop himself, who is close to Dr Wright.
Add to this Rowan Williams' message to the convention of the other day.
The recommendations of the Windsor Report will be much in your minds and your deliberations, and I appreciate the work your Commissions and Committees have done in responding to the Windsor Process. I hope that the theological vision there set out in the Report of the ground and character of our communion in Christ will be clearly before you. We cannot survive as a Communion of churches without some common convictions about what it is to live and to make decisions as the Body of Christ; Windsor is not the end of the story, but it sets out a positive picture of what that might imply as together we strive to serve the mission of God.
And one gets the distinct impression that perhaps ECUSA has finally run out of chances and that the Anglican Communion may just be willing to throw it to the sharks. My gracious lord of Canterbury is not a stupid man; he knows which parts of the Communion are vibrant and which are dying.
If ECUSA is abandoned, Rowan Williams remains an important and influential figure in world Chrisitianity and the Church of England still retains some influence in the Anglican world. If ECUSA is allowed to remain, Dr. Williams because the insignificant head of an insignificant western liberal debating society and Great Britain can begin turning its cathedrals into museums. Or giving them back to the Roman Catholics.
lie2 ( P ) Pronunciation Key (l)n.
A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood.
Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.
v. lied, ly·ing, (lng) lies
To present false information with the intention of deceiving.
To convey a false image or impression: Appearances often lie.
John 8:44 (New International Version)
44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Draw your own conclusions...
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