The Primates Communiqué has eviscerated and desiccated whatever the Anglican Communion had become in the minds of those promoting a "four instruments" model of common life and communal discipline. The dry and convoluted meanderings of that document have produced nothing but destruction. Now there are the bare bones of the Anglican Communion "idea" strewn about on the creek bed - but there is no generous flood, nothing blooms. There is nothing that lives.
The Primates in their meeting in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, demanded a number of things of the Episcopal Church. Demand is not too strong a word, since concerning two of those matters a specific date for response is required. Here is what the Communiqué put to the Episcopal Church:
- That we reassure the Primates that "there is a genuine readiness in the Episcopal Church to embrace fully the recommendations of the Windsor Report." In particular that means affirming the "standard of teaching commanding respect across the Communion," i.e. Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.
- That there be set in place a Covenant for the Anglican Communion.
- There be a "robust scheme of pastoral oversight to provide individuals and congregations alienated from The Episcopal Church with adequate space to flourish within the life of that church in the period leading up to the conclusion of the Covenant Process."
- That The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church "make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention, (by September 30, 2007) and
- That The House of Bishops will confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for Episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent." (by September 30, 2007)
About (i) the matter of embracing fully the recommendations of the Windsor Report and Lambeth 1998, Res. 1.10, it might be useful to look back at Louie Crew's analysis of who of the bishops of the Episcopal Church voted for and against Lambeth 1.10, who signed off on the statement to "listen to" gay and lesbian members of the church, and those who were at Lambeth 1998 who might be at Lambeth 2008 (if there is one.)
There was in 1998 considerable reservation by bishops from the US about the resolution. The statement of support for gay and lesbian Christians was even more telling. But the Windsor Report, slowly turned into the instrument for the canonization of Lambeth 1.10 has become repugnant not because of its content alone, but because of the way in which it is promulgated. Windsor has killed Lambeth 1.10.
The "robust scheme" of pastoral oversight, has essentially been dismissed by the House of Bishops, by way of its recommendation to the Executive Council.
The "unequivocal common covenant" regarding blessings is either an impossibility, since at its best it would be a temporary covenant of a majority of bishops of this Church or an attempt to contravene the explicit understanding under the canons that bishops may authorize services not otherwise prohibited as need be.
The notion that the House of Bishops confirm Resolution B033 as meaning this or that, is essentially put to rest in the House of Bishops' statement that it is General Convention that determines just what the canons mean, and not the House of Bishops itself.
This leaves only item two: "That there be set in place a Covenant for the Anglican Communion."
There is no question that this is a live option. There is a great deal of question as to whether or not the draft Covenant proposed by the Covenant Drafting Committee is the text that the Communion will or ought adopt.
The Primates have almost done themselves in on this one: By maintaining that the draft covenant must be accepted in its broad outline if there is to be any reconciliation of the churches it has almost ended the discussion. In its broad outline the draft covenant commits this church to a variety of things that are most likely unacceptable. Further, this draft covenant is presented as an ultimatum: either The Episcopal Church commits itself to the basic structure of this covenant prior to Lambeth or suffer the consequences.
In reality the "ultimata" of this Communiqué are the five together: Lambeth 1.10, Covenant based on the draft, the Pastoral scheme, the end of blessings, and the assurance of non-consent to the ordination of a gay bishop in relationship. That is, I think, the honest read of the Communiqué.
But of course we regular paid up Episcopalians are under no obligation to read it this way. The House of Bishops and Executive Council can correct the misunderstanding regarding polity. The HoB and the Executive Council can continue discussions about an Anglican Covenant without buying into the proposition that we must accept the broad outlines of the proposed covenant.
But what then of the dry bones of the Anglican Communion that are left?
Some have suggested that the draft Anglican Covenant is so flawed that it should be dropped all together, and that because such a Covenant is seen finally as a basis for judgment, NO such covenant should be developed. I think that is premature. A reassertion of the Lambeth Quadrilateral as a common basis for reunion and covenant might make sense. The Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism document, "A Covenant for Communion in Mission" might be a starting point for other ways of seeing our common concern. We do not have to do what the Primates propose simply because a "Draft" has been written by a committee responsible only to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Others have suggested that the Lambeth Conference ought to be called off. I think that is an interesting idea, but premature. I still believe the Archbishop of Canterbury should invite all the bishops of all the provinces of the churches with which the Church of England is in communion. Those who wish to will come. Those who will not will stay away. But he should invite ALL. Any attempt to invite only some of the bishops from The Episcopal Church ought to be met by a studied and clear abstention of all the bishops of The Episcopal Church. If invitation is only to the clean, those who go will be the dirty. Still, it's his party; he can do what he wants to. But picking and choosing will be unhealthy for us all and a thundering condemnation of his role as an instrument of unity.
The absolute worst scenario is for the Archbishop of Canterbury to give over to the Primates or any other "instruments of communion" the authority to invite.
The Primates Communiqué has produced dry bones: Not a single one of its demands of the Episcopal Church are sustaining, meaty, nourishing, and flourishing. They are dry, desiccated, eviscerated.
It is time to put new meat on the bones, new sinew, new flesh, and new skin. The Anglican Communion is alive and well, but not there, in the abstract land of primatial discussion groups gone awry.
The Anglican Communion is alive in mostly lowly places. We in the Episcopal Church have friends, companions, and fellow travelers all over the world. They are in places we least expect. The Archbishop of Nigeria may be opposed to us, but people on the ground will make relationship with companions in faith wherever they may be found. The Church in Uganda may stand opposed to our stance on inclusion, but there are people there as here who will find ways and means to relate to people here.
The principle here is simple: Love will find a way. All of this dry humbug of the Primates Communiqué cannot win. The reality is too important: In Christ Jesus, love will find a way.
The bones will rise; grow sinew, flesh, and skin. It may well be that the Anglican Communion is sloughed off like old dead skin. But the bones, ah, the bones will live.