The Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon of South Carolina imagined the sort of statement he might make to the Primates if he were invited to do so. Canon Harmon is a robust apologist for the realignment folk. (I am linking to Stand Firm. For some reason TitusOneNine, Harmon’s excellent blog, is slow coming up this morning.) Kendall Harmon can be a formidable campaigner and spokesperson. Many of us will remember his statement to the House of Deputies at the close of the vote on confirmation of Bishop Robinson’s election. I thought it was awful in all three senses: awful (as in awesome); awfully good (as a speech) and just plain awful (as in terrible.)
His paper does not say anything new but it states the realignment position on the failings of the Episcopal Church quite skillfully. I believe his analysis is wrong, but admire his ability with words. Here is his summary comment at the close of his litany of Episcopal Church failings in regards to the Windsor Report:
“The Anglican Communion remains torn at our deepest level, and the Windsor Report’s thrust remains our only way forward. The Episcopal Church had one last chance, and they failed, indeed they failed nearly completely. Now some very difficult and painful decisions fall to this primates meeting because the final opportunity was seized upon and not received, and this grieves my heart as it does the hearts of Anglicans throughout the world who are watching and praying for these deliberations at the present time. Indeed, one cannot but believe that the actions and decisions of The Episcopal Church grieve the Holy Spirit in whom we were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). I pray that that same Holy Spirit will give you wisdom now to deal with this huge crisis with the proper balance of truth and love to take all Anglicans into the future God has for us at the beginning of the twenty first century.”
Canon Harmon views that the Windsor Report “thrust remains our only way forward.” He believes that there is “this huge crisis,” which requires that the Primates step in with wisdom and “with the proper balance of truth and love to take all Anglicans into the future God has for us at the beginning of the twenty-first century.” It is his sense that the Primates are the ones to make the decisions.
Given the report of the Sub Committee yesterday it would seem unnecessary to counter Harmon’s condemnation, but late in the day Dan Martins published a thoughtful piece titled “A Glass Half Full” on why the conservatives ought to take heart in the report. I think his analysis is largely correct. That being the case it is important to go back again to Harmon’s piece and work at the core problems of the conservative position and condemnation of the Episcopal Church.
Here are the problems with his argument:
(i) The Windsor Report, a product of a committee, received and digested, with some parts swallowed and some spit out by the Primates, takes on, in the realignment crowd, the role of the defining document and “the only way forward.” Others have said the same thing. Interestingly enough neither the Windsor Report itself nor the chair of the Lambeth Commission saw it quite that way.
(ii) Saying that The Windsor Report is definitive, particularly in what it “invites” various parties to do, is equally questionable. If it were not it would be impossible for there to be this report of what the Deputy General Secretary had to say this concerning the Windsor Report call for a moratorium on action in the jurisdiction of others: “ ‘The Windsor Report said there should be cessation’ of the practice of foreign bishops visiting North American churches to perform sacramental ministries,” he noted. However, it was the primates’ view that ‘many of the situations were so serious that it was not right to end them.’” (this from a report by The Living Church.) It turns out the Windsor Report is only definitive when the Primates want it to be.
(iii) Then there is the matter of the “huge crisis.” I have suggested in the past that this is no crisis for many of us. It will be very very messy, but that is different from it being a “huge crisis.” Just as stating that the Windsor Report is “the only way forward,” saying that this is a “huge crisis” doesn’t make it so.
(iv) As to the matter of the Primates stepping in and making the decisions, the Windsor Report supports a greater role for the Primates Meeting, but as it stands it is a meeting of people who have been given by God and their fellow believers very difficult work to do in their own Provinces but their common work is not for some larger ecclesial entity called the Anglican Communion, but for the world. That is, as it stands, the Primates Meeting is for prayer, advice and mutual support. It has no legal, ecclesial or canonical function. Not, that is, unless we simply give way to them,
(v) Canon Harmon believes that the “the actions and decisions of The Episcopal Church grieve the Holy Spirit.” Well, perhaps he has a better grip on what it is that grieves the Holy Spirit than I do. I think it a bit of a reach for him to have so determined. For some reason, I think that grieving the Holy Spirit gets us all into matters much deeper than the groans of the church over the foolishness of Anglican unity. My sense is that the Holy Spirit’s grieving has something to do with our not finding some way to love one another as God in Jesus Christ loved us. (Then again, maybe I am wrong.)
With Canon Harmon I do believe we need to pray for the Primates, for those who are coming to report to them, for the committees and commissions of the various instruments of the Anglican Communion, and for the staff. Among the things I too would pray that they not grieve the Holy Spirit. It just turns out that my sense of what that grieving might consist of is different than Canon Harmon’s.
Just as there are no real surprises in Canon Harmon’s imagined witness, I suppose there are no surprises here either. Life is sometimes like that.
Dan Martin’s essay is surprising however. He says,
“Remember when the Windsor Report first came out in 2003? Remember how it was universally panned as toothless, inadequate, over-polite, etc.? Remember the death knells that were sounded for the Anglican Communion because TWR failed to firmly discipline the Episcopal Church? We’re hearing more of that sort of rhetoric today.
Over the course of the last 3+ years, the Windsor Report has been warmly embraced by conservative Anglicans. I believe the same evolution of sentiment can and should take place with respect to the sub-group’s report.”
Near the end of his blog he says,
“Taking a medium-term historical view provides an arresting perspective. The center has shifted, and this report is a sign of the shift. A position that once would have been considered explicitly “conservative” in the Anglican universe is, by virtue of the evolved normative authority of the Windsor Report, now seen as middle-of-the-road. Conservatives should be doing back flips over the fact that many liberals in TEC are saying, “Look, told ya so! Two out of three ain’t bad!” when the “two” that we are apparently judged to have gotten right are inherently anathema to the liberal vision. To adapt an expression, “What’s right with this picture?”
So I say to my conservative confreres: Let’s settle down. Things are still breaking our way.”
Dan is one sharp cookie, as is Kendall. And they are friends of Christopher Wells who I have come to consider a friend, although we are across the troubled waters from one another. They have done us a service. Kendall, by bringing up all the standard condemnation, Dan by words of comfort for conservative confreres, and Christopher by being his good obstinately careful self. The service they give is a wake up call.
This isn’t over yet. And that is because the confreres will continue to argue that we must believe that Windsor is binding on the Episcopal Church and that what we have done, and what we have been unwilling to promise in precise words, will come back and find us wanting, and others will have to steer the ship of the Episcopal Church on a more conservative course.
This whole thing only works if you begin with the proposition that the Episcopal Church is a subsidiary agency to the Anglican Communion “instruments.” It is not and all power given to those instruments is derived from the consent of the governed, consent which was never granted but rather assumed by some of the Primates and never challenged.
Vigilance is still necessary. “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. (Matt 24:42-43) RSV.