Monday, September 29, 2008

PUT NOT YOUR TRUST IN WINDSOR

Fourth Anniversary Edition


As the anniversaries of the Windsor Report come and go, one is compelled to ask: what has been accomplished? The answer, it seems, is precious little.

Let’s rehearse a brief history of the run-up to the Windsor Report.

- August 1998: The Lambeth Conference, by an overwhelming majority, passes Resolution 1.10 on Human Sexuality, stating that homosexual practice is “contrary to Scripture” and “cannot be advised.”
- May 2002: The Diocese of New Westminster approves same-sex blessings, and the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada affirms the integrity of same-sex relationships in June 2004.
- August 2003: In spite of numerous warnings, the Episcopal Church USA confirms the election of a practicing homosexual as bishop and permits the use of rites blessing homosexual partnerships.
- October 2003: The Primates, meeting in emergency session, call for a Commission to study the matter of Communion discipline and report back a year later.

So in October 2004, there was considerable anticipation that something decisive might come forth. The 93-page Report did present, on first reading, an indictment of the actions of the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada. It called on those churches to “express regret” for their actions and to effect a “moratorium” on any further consecration of homosexuals or blessing of their partnerships.

But Windsor was just a Report, and the next step was the Primates meeting in Ireland in late February 2005. The Primates’ Communiqué, though wrapped in ecclesiastical jargon, did reaffirm Lambeth 1.10, asked the North American churches to withdraw from Communion organs until Lambeth 2008, and set up a Panel of Reference to handle beleaguered orthodox congregations.

The Episcopal House of Bishops then went through the motions of expressing “regret” (for consequences only). The Episcopal delegation, invited but not seated at the Anglican Consultative Council in June, defended the Church’s actions, never once suggesting that it might have been wrong. In response, the ACC upheld the Primates’ position. The Panel of Reference has been AWOL, while conservative congregations and a whole diocese have sought protection under various Global South bishops.

Behind all the momentous meetings and breathless statements of the past year, the spiritual truth remains: the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada have sinned and will not repent. Anyone who thinks the Windsor Report can wash away this fact is pollyannish. Anyone who lives inside these churches knows the truth: homosexuality is acculturated in these churches beyond return. They will not back down under any circumstances. They would rather die than change.

In this context one wonders at Archbishop Robin Eames’s latest addresses, made at Virginia Theological Seminary – an institution which, by the way, has been admitting homosexual couples for the past eight years. These lectures constitute a masterpiece of liberal apologetics, capped off with the dramatic pronouncement that:

In my opinion the decisions of the House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church (USA) met that request [to “express regret” over the Gene Robinson consecration]. In fact looking at the precise wording of Windsor and the statements of the House of Bishops it is arguable the reaction exceeded what was asked for by the Windsor Report.

While Eames protests that this is just his personal opinion, one cannot ignore the fact that he is the senior Anglican prelate and Chairman of the Lambeth Commission that produced the Windsor Report.

Eames claims to be committed to the “Windsor process,” but in any process there are certain non-negotiables. For the Global South, the non-negotiable is the conviction that homosexuality is contrary to Scripture. Clearly, Eames does not agree with the 1998 Lambeth Resolution. He never mentions it in his lectures and complains obliquely about the “failure to engage in dialogue on an agreed playing field between two apparently opposing views.” Excuse me, Your Grace, but the playing field was tilted by the clear teaching of Scripture, by the consistent practice of the historic churches and by the official action of the Anglican bishops gathered at Lambeth. No matter, apparently. He insinuates that those who hold this view are guilty of suppressing “questions which have perhaps lain submerged for too long in any healthy world debate in a world Church family.”

The Archbishop has his own non-negotiables. He admits that “those members [of the Lambeth Commission] who held the liberal view could not have been expected to sign the Windsor Report if they had felt the Report’s conclusions meant that the debate on the Church’s attitude to human sexuality was closed.” Here the Achilles’ heel of the Windsor process is exposed, for by abjuring judgement on the issue at hand, the Commission had to nibble around the edges of church polity. In the Windsor world, doctrinal and moral essentials are a matter of “he said, she said,” and repentance necessarily morphs into regret.

Eames sees himself as holding the middle ground in the “struggle to discern how to meet conservative concerns for proper biblical interpretation AND liberal consensus for justice and inclusion of minorities…” This formulation is revealing, for surely it should be easier to find a way around “concerns” for biblical interpretation than to deny justice to minorities. To describe rejection of homosexual practice as a justice issue is the first step down the Spongian road toward confessing the “sins of Scripture.” In my opinion, Archbishop Eames is being disingenuous. He knows there is no long-term resolution to the conflict besetting the Communion. He just wants it to go his way.

There is a certain irony to a wealthy white establishment accusing the poorer non-white churches of injustice. And can there be any doubt that discipline would not be so casual if the issue were more politically correct. Suppose the Episcopal Church had legislated that whites and blacks worship in “separate but equal” congregations. Would a Windsor Report which recommended that the Episcopal Church “express regret” while continuing the practice be acceptable? Could it be explained away as a matter of cultural difference? Surely not, for such racial discrimination is a sin with which there can be no compromise (Galatians 2:11).

Now we turn to the reactions of the Global South leaders to the Windsor Report and the maneuverings since then. The key point is this: they never considered the Windsor Report as more than advisory, as a means of discipline and repentance. One must remember that the Global South bishops insisted on the language of the Lambeth Resolution in 1998, on threat of a walk-out. The seriousness of their rejection of homosexuality as “contrary to Scripture” can be found in a series of Lambeth Resolutions asserting the primary authority of the Bible. I do regret that they allowed the wimpy phrase “cannot advise” to go through, because their real view is that sex outside marriage is sin.

The Global South leaders – a substantial majority of them at any rate – consider the actions of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion to be heretical and church-dividing. They are not willing to coexist with churches that teach heresy and practice immorality. They are not interested in clever compromises, like the English bishops’ response on civil partnerships. Archbishop Peter Akinola may be the boldest in speaking his mind, but remember that his whole church assembly voted with him to change that Church’s Constitution.

So where does this leave Windsor? Probably high and dry. Because if the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada, soothed by the assurances of the sage of Armagh, go right ahead with their agenda – and surely they will – then we shall see a split in the Anglican Communion. The greatest trauma will be felt in the compromised Western churches. The Global South churches will also suffer short-term loss of resources, but the split may be an occasion for them to rise to the full stature of apostolic leadership. In this respect, Archbishop Eames may be correct that this is an historic and providential moment.

In the future, the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Lambeth Quadrilateral, and Lambeth 1.10 will still be around, informing Anglican identity – the foundations perhaps of a true Anglican Communion Covenant. The Windsor Report will become, I suspect, a relic of a sad but necessary parting of ways.

Addendum (October 2006). This article was written in October 2005 on the second anniversary of the emergency Primates meeting, which led to the promulgation of the Windsor Report one year later. As we now pass the third anniversary of its conception and second of its birth, one may ask: Where are we? At the Episcopal Church General Convention in June, much was made of “Windsor compliance”: did they or did they not? Some take Resolution B033 as constituting minimal compliance and PB Jefforts Schori now speaks of refraining from consecrating more gay bishops and developing same-sex rites “for a season.” I suppose some will take these words is the magic “moratorium” required by the Windsor Report. That this is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s view seems likely.

Last June, Bishop Tom Wright, one of the conservatives on the Lambeth Commission, suggested that the Communion should fall over itself to welcome the Episcopal Church back if they would just make some gesture of compliance.

“What a great many people are looking for is a signal from the Episcopal Church that Windsor has been heard and not just rejected huffily. If we get a signal that the American Church has taken this seriously…a lot of people will say ‘Whew!’ because we really do like you guys.”

Did B033 keep the Episcopal Church from “blowin’ in the Windsor”? Was it the whispered “sorry”? Will the Primates pull up their robes and run to kiss the returning prodigal? Those who know the real situation on the ground in the Episcopal Church know that its leaders have not repented in the least. Any concessions made to Windsor have been through clenched teeth and fully aware that some members will “conscientiously” move forward.

Update (July 2007). The issuing of the Global South Primates’ Communiqué from Kigali (September 2006), the Primates’ Communiqué from Tanzania (February 2007), and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitations to Lambeth (May 2007) may have dealt the death blow to the relevance of the Windsor Report and the “Windsor process.”


Update (October 2008). The Windsor process seems to have morphed into the indaba process, which Canterbury says will now become the reigning paradigm of Communion governance. Meanwhile the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON) and the Episcopal Church have gone on their way, leaving only the "Covenant process" as a remnant of Windsor.


An earlier form of this article first appeared in the Church of England Newspaper.

Have a comment? Please send it via email.

Follow-ups from Stephen

There are no follow-ups to this post at this time.