(Note: This is one of series of comments on the Windsor Report meant to be food for thought. These notes represent my personal concerns and NOT the concerns of any committee to which I now or ever have belonged!)
WR 152 states the following, “We would much rather not speculate on actions that might need to be taken if, after acceptance by the primates, our recommendations are not implemented.”
The Windsor report in several places politely “invites” certain actions. But at its close, the Lambeth Commission “does not wish to speculate on actions to be taken if recommendations are not implemented.”
How are we to listen to invitational and recommendatory language? In American usage (I can’t speak for Canada), an invitation can be accepted or not, recommendations can be implemented or not. The assumption is that if we are invited we might well decline, and while there would be some repercussions life would go on. On the other hand, if we wanted to tell someone they must do something, or else, we would not invite them to consider that action, we would require it.
The force of the Windsor Report usage is much more commanding than our usage of invite might imply. The language here is pretty strong: “We would much rather not speculate on actions that might need to be taken if … our recommendations are not implemented.” Perhaps it would have been kinder to say, “do this or that, or take the lumps to follow,” and be done with it.
Having pled that “we would much rather not speculate…” the Lambeth Commission does just that. The consequences are “(i) mediation and arbitration; (ii) non-invitation to relevant representative bodies and meetings; (iii) invitation, but to observer status only; and (iv) as an absolute last resort, withdrawal from membership.” (My numbering) These are not the consequences attending invitations declined or recommendations not taken. These are the consequences of judgments not followed and commands not obeyed.
The Windsor Report seems to look at the Anglican Communion as an organized world wide church without a constitution and the actions of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Westminster as contrary to very real, if not formally adopted, ecclesial norms and standards. The consequences have to do with distancing and finally shunning. Of the four listed consequences only the first has to do with any sort of engagement with the issues. For this reason we should see the “listening process” as vital. The remaining three consequences are increasingly harsh measures of forced distancing.
The view of the Anglican Communion taken by the Windsor Report seems to be an ecclesial parallel to a commonwealth of nations, with a focus of unity in a single head and a minimal ability to command but considerable ability to cajole and coerce, particularly by calling on bonds of affection. This gives rise to invitation as passive aggressive behavior.
The aggression can be seen by imagining the invitation to be, “Bishops are invited to express regret…by falling on their pectoral crosses until they bleed to death” or “Pending such expressions of regret.. we recommend that bishops be invited to do the same (bleed to death), but in another room.” The passive nature of the language of the invitation and what it invites as action are remarkably different in tone.
Why the passive tone? Bishops are invited to express regret or are invited “in all conscience” to consider withdrawal “from representative functions in the Anglican Communion.” (WR par 144) Perhaps it is because there is the desire not to seem (while being) confrontational. If the bishops take on the invitation to regret or withdrawal it looks as if they have acted on their own. It sort of reminds me of the scene in the movie where the military officer is left with a pistol and told, “do the right thing.”
But of course that isn’t a passive exercise. It is the pretense of passivity.
The article by Andrew Linzey, just published in the Times Online, 'The logic of all purity movements is to exclude,' reminds us of the important reality that what we are facing is a long term but renewed attack by fundamentalists. The effort to make US and Canadian progressives step back from actions taken is the front edge of a grand theological and ecclesial assault on modernity and post modernity as it has affected the church.
Andrew Linzey, remarking on the efforts by the Church to meet this assault said this:
“So far, a policy of appeasement has prevailed. Even a Special Commission of the Episcopal Church has wrong-headedly recommended ‘repentance’, ‘extreme caution’ in selecting bishops, and following the Windsor ‘process’, but even that has been rejected by the leading conservative grouping, the American Anglican Council. That is because the agenda of conservatives is a rolling one: today it is gays, but biblical inerrancy, interfaith worship, women bishops, remarriage after divorce will surely follow. The logic of all purity movements is to exclude.”
Linzey points to the moment where appeasement will meet its end:
“The only test of whether a church is Anglican is whether it is invited to the Lambeth Conference. With the next Conference in 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury faces a Rubicon. If he fails to invite all Anglican bishops, or invites them on unequal terms, he will make schism concrete, with incalculable consequences worldwide for every Anglican church, diocese, even every parish. By this one act, his office will become an enduring source of disunity.”
While I think Linzey missed a bit on his critique of the Special Commission report (but then I was on it) I believe he is absolutely on target concerning the end of the matter.
There are the real efforts now going on the Episcopal Church to show that we are indeed taking care to act with prayerful determination, and to show that we believe the listening process to be the only possibility for a way forward together. If all that is not understood and accepted, and the Archbishop of Canterbury was indeed to invoke the “consequences” of the Windsor Report concerning limited invitation or no invitation at all, then the religious commonwealth will fall apart.
We Episcopalians have much to lose in all this, but I think perhaps the Church of England has more to lose. In the Episcopal Church it is the realignment community who seems to be the minority. In England I am not sure. I keep coming back to Stephen Bates’ book, A Church at War. He believes the breakup has already started, and the realignment folk perhaps with the greater power. Linzey seems to support this when he says, “When realignment becomes a fact, UK progressives will have to do what the conservatives have done: become effectively a church within a church, and insist on alternative episcopal oversight. Above all, we will not be excommunicated from US and Canada. We shall fight and fight and fight again to save the Church we love.”
For the first time it has become an open matter of conversation to consider what the consequences are if the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada stand firm in their resolve to include and honor its gay and lesbian members. If progressives hold here, those elsewhere in the Communion may find us their place of refuge outside their own “church within a church.” If not, where will they go?