4/24/2006

Windsor Nosh #3 On the Windsor Report "Speculation"

(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?

4 comments:

  1. Bill Carroll24/4/06 7:59 PM

    Yes, its a threat, and this from a group that was supposed to come up with a set of recommendations about how to maintain the highest degree of communion possible. Threats are a WONDERFUL way to do that.

    Linzey's article is very good. I would disagree that Canterbury has anything to do with being Anglican. No one knows what being Anglican means, which is why we have to argue about it. A common history (which looks different depending on where you sit) and some form of the BCP are part of the definition, but facile appeals to the Elizabethan settlement, the great Lux Mundi and post Lux mundi traditions of progressive Catholicism, or such formularies as the 39 articles never seem to settle the question. Perhaps the reason we argue about Anglican Identity is that it is so diffuse. The future of Anglicanism may depend on redefining our identity in specifically missional terms. Here too, though, we disagree about what the mission of God is and what it entails.

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  2. Widening Gyre25/4/06 1:23 PM

    Mark,

    I'm somewhat confused by your recent nosh. The tone of this and the other noshes suggests one of challenge and resistance to Windsor. You then end this nosh hoping that the Episcopal Church will "stand firm" this summer, which implies not changing its position on human sexuality and the interpretation of Scripture.

    Here is my confusion. The proposed resolutions from the Special Commission (which if I am not mistaken included you) are being billed by the powers that be as our attempt at doing the Lambeth Walk (Oy!) (Any Me and My Gal fans out there?).

    So your posts suggest that you are NOT in agreement with the proposed resolutions from your own Special Commission, which seem to be asking the Episcopal Church to "move" from its 2003 GC position (and by implication not "stand firm"). Have I missed something? Thanks.

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  3. Widening Gyre says: “you end this nosh hoping the EC will “stand firm” this summer, which implies not changing its position on human sexuality and the interpretation of Scripture.”

    1. I meant by “stand firm,” that General Convention will continue to act in a responsible way concerning elections to the episcopate recognizing that it may indeed affirm the suitability of elected persons whose community / family is not formally acknowledge by the church, and that GC will continue to describe with frankness the reality that it is not yet able to provide rites for blessing same sex relationships and at the same time honors those who live in committed relationships and believes that the blessing of such relationships occurs and that the blessed and the ministers of the Gospel so engaged are “operating within the bounds of our common life.”

    I think we did about as good as we could last time around, and I see no reason not to do much the same with whatever questions are at hand now.

    2. On your question about positions - I am not sure that the Episcopal Church has a “position” on human sexuality and the interpretation of Scripture. Some seem quite sure - sexual activity is only appropriate or right in marriage and the Bible is not to be intrepreted, but read as given, "with plain meaning." Many Episcopalians, myself included, are only sure this is too narrow a reading of the gift of sexuality and the gift of Scripture and that what makes them the greater gift is the gift of the Holy Spirit which informs our hearts and our understandings.

    3. The Special Commission Report and its Resolutions:

    The work of the Commission was to provide a view of the Windsor Report and documents that followed (that being very important since the WR has become something of a stand- alone piece of writ for some) that would in turn suggest responses (which in General Convention take the form of resolutions.) I think we gave a good start to the work at hand at Convention. I feel honored to have worked with this group and struggled with a response we thought could be useful.

    Having said that, nothing of what is written – not the Windsor Report, not the statements of Primates, ACC, etc, and certainly not the Special Commission – stands alone. Publishing these Resolutions has given people on all sides of the question a chance to work at adoption, modification or dismissal of them. So we are at work perfecting what was in some cases a starting point.

    The Resolutions, and the text of the Special Commission’s Report, are the work of people of very differing views and the crafting of the document pushed and pulled at us all. We knew then that when our common work was done we, as individual members of the Commission, might have more to say and do.

    I have tried to be very clear that what I write here and elsewhere is not as a member of the Commission now soured by the work (which is not the case), but as a member of the House of Deputies now working with what we have in the Special Commission’s Report. My desire to further think on these resolutions in the light of what we did together in the Special Commission is a sign of the high regard in which I hold our common work. But our common work does not exhaust my work or yours.

    But let me be clear that I believe the Resolutions are, in their current form, respectful of the continuing concerns to hear what the churches are saying, both within the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion, and respectful of the actions taken at GC 2003. They are not perfect.

    I believe we did exercise considerable caution in electing Bishop Robinson and the debate and votes show it. We knew perfectly well that what we were doing was in many ways a challenge to the wider church. In the same way I believe C051 stated the facts on the ground – that the Church was not ready to develop formal rites of blessing but that we are called on to respect the dignity of committed relationships and that support by way of the blessing community is both essential and “within the bounds of our common life.” I wish we were ready to develop such rites, and I hope there will be some movement on that at GC 2006. But then I hope eternally, I suppose.

    This is a long way to say, yes, I believe we must stand firm, meaning that we cannot give up the canonical requirement to consent or not to the election of bishops, and that we do so mindful of many things regarding manner of life. I do not, by the way consider being gay or lesbian a “manner of life” any more than I do being straight, being male or female, etc. On the other hand I do regard the health of one’s community a reflection of manner of life. And it would be interesting to enquire about any manner of life that supports and condones violence or injustice.

    At least that’s the best I can do now. More later.

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  4. Widening Gyre26/4/06 8:50 AM

    Mark,

    Thanks for such a thoughtful response. It is quite helpful at resolving my questions.

    I agree 100% with your description of the job of the Special Commission in that you and the other members have given our church a wonderful starting point for beginning the discussion this summer. If no one has done so already, let me (a simple layman) say "Thank you for your work."

    Let's hope our deputies and bishops can continue your good work. It sounds to me that you will be doing your part and I hope you find your efforts appreciated and blessed. It will not be easy.

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