Windsor Nosh #1: Four really bad ideas in the Windsor Report

(Note: This begins a series of comments on the Windsor Report meant to be food for thought. They will be interspersed with other essays and comments, so need to be distinguished somehow from them. They represent my personal concerns and NOT the concerns of any committee to which I now or ever have belonged! I hope they are useful. They will be titled WINDSOR NOSH # , and then a subtitle.)

WINDSOR NOSH #1: Four really bad ideas in the Windsor Report.

Bad idea #1: Walking together vs. walking apart as quasi-poetic imagery for being in or out of communion.

This business of walking together – its source is in Amos 3:3, where the prophet asks, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” KJV. It is translated in the RSV, “Do two walk together, unless they have made an appointment?”

The two translations are very different – if the first is used it makes it appear that people only walk together if they agree. If the second, it may be that they walk together because they are going somewhere together, and the hell with their being on the same page. The first is about being together because they think alike. The second is about being together perhaps because they are on the way to something, somewhere or someone.

Whatever possessed the writers of the Windsor Report to use this is hard to say, but its effect is wonderfully filled with portent, most of it dramatic but without foundation.

So, let us be clear: What makes us all pilgrims on the way is not that we agree with each other, but that we have reason to be together, and for Christians that reason has to do with God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. We are hurrying to meet Jesus, not on a jaunt with right thinking people.

The “walk together or walk apart” image is a bad idea… bad because it makes the choices precisely about right thinking, and not about hastening to meet Jesus, the perfecter of our souls. It makes Communion a matter of like-mindedness (or perhaps like-spiritedness), rather than a meeting with the Lord.

Bad idea #2: Subsidiary and adiaphora, which is more or less the notion that decisions should be made at the most basic level possible (subsidiarity) and that things of lesser import are the ones made at the more basic level (adiaphora). This means, of course, that really important decisions must be made by really important people, at the highest levels. This means, in an Episcopal system, big decisions get made by bishops. What it also means in the Anglican Communion is that some few decisions get made by the Primates, and in particular by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the Anglican community almost none of these persons are accountable in any way to the folk at the bottom, and in many cases not accountable to folk in the middle either. Oh yes, and by the way, very few of them are elected by any combination of people other than fellow bishops. Some, like the Archbishop of Canterbury are appointed by the State. It is hard to see how subsidiarity works in any way to the good of the whole, unless domestic decisions regarding church leaders in England really do have meaning ordained by God for the whole Communion.

Bad idea #3: “What touches all should be decided by all.” WR par 51 mentions this “ancient canonical principal (regrettably without footnote). It gets bandied about as a way to support Bad Idea #2. This is actually a good idea, but for a world in which there is greater clarity. The big question is, who is “all”? And the reason this good idea gets poisoned is that those who support Anglican Communion wide concurrence on the resolution to issues make claims that the “all” involved is every Church in the Communion, when in fact such an “all” has never been organized in any kind of way that could be viewed as representing the whole of the Communion. There is, in other words, no “all” to refer to beyond the canonical communities of the various Provinces.

Bad idea #4: Moratoria until there is Anglican Consensus: Used three times in the Windsor Report, moratoria are actions by which churches or church leaders essentially stop doing something, in two cases (ordaining gay or lesbian persons in relationships, and in blessing same sex relationships) until hell freezes over or until there is Anglican consensus whichever happens first. Appropriate punishment for not effecting such moratoria (that is until hell freezes or consensus is reached) is the recommendation that the offenders withdraw from Anglican Communion representative functions. This of course means they are advised to walk away – in which case they clearly are walking apart, etc.

In the third case, the moratorium is meant to be forever because the matter was settled by ancient canon, namely that bishops are not to spit in other bishop’s soup. Nothing is recommended re withdrawing, and therefore no one is accused of walking away.

Again, the idea of settling in for a good long prayer and thought process, not to mention conversation, prior to action that is new, different, and controversial is a good one. Chew ten times before swallowing works for theological and pastoral changes as well as it does for tough beef. Hooking this to consensus (however defined) is a bad idea, won’t work, is a come on to infinite delay, and by the way cannot be effected by action of our Synod (here in the Episcopal Church) because no General Convention can bind future conventions to its decisions. An indefinite moratorium would be up for challenge every three years.

Well… bad ideas coalesce into identifiable lumps, and this lump of bad ideas is called the usurpation of koinonia. These ideas lumped together makes institutional communion a matter determined by the leaders, acting as a cabal, freezing out those who do not comply with their actions on behalf of all.

This is NOT what our Lord Jesus was talking about when he prayed that we might be one. (So much for humble opinion.) I believe Jesus wants that kind of unity that comes from walking towards him as the door into the fullness of life.


  1. This group of comments is just so excellent and I really appreciate your discussion of subsidiarity and adiaphora in particular. To my way of thinking, some of these criticisms are not "out there" in the conversations enough. I do realize that some of your comments are very consistent with the To Set Our Hope on Christ document (I'm sure you commented on this document long ago, and I really should have looked for it on your blog...sorry).

    Having heard recently from some of the authors of TSOHOC at VTS, I appreciate your futher elucidation of some important claims and assumptions from the Windsor Report that seem to have gone (somewhat) unchallenged.

    I have no idea of the mind of God, but I, myself, grieve that we are spending THIS amount of energy on THIS issue while we are in an intracted war in Iraq, contemplating nuclear war in Iran, not being proactive enough to hold the various factions in Palestine/Israel accountable, as our social service agencies are getting cuts in funding, and as we very nearly made felons of a whole group of immigrants in the United States .... to say nothing of Sudan, the devastation in New Orleans, racial non-reconciliation, and all the other calls upon our time and energy!

    Ok, that was a long rant, peace and thanks for all your reflections!

    Peter, Alexandria, VA

  2. Just a point. I read Amos as paradox. YES they walk together, but not because of any other reason than that they are both heading for the same destination.

    Roads are unsafe.

    More so now, than ever in my lifetime.

  3. Your blog is making a valuable contribution to the present debate, and I hope that it is being widely read , not least in Lambeth Palace!

    This series on the Windsor Report is most promising, if the first Nosh is any indication. I think you hit the nail on the head. Too much of the debate is going on at the level of those who have arrogated to themselves the role of parent, leaving the rest of us as the children. The result is that too much energy is being thrown at purely institutional and structural concerns, and rather less on what the Spirit is trying to say through the noise.

    So I look foreward to reading the rest of the Noshes, and all of your future postings too.

  4. Peter c said, "I have no idea of the mind of God, but I, myself, grieve that we are spending THIS amount of energy on THIS issue while we are in an intracted war in Iraq, contemplating nuclear war in Iran, not being proactive enough to hold the various factions in Palestine/Israel accountable, as our social service agencies are getting cuts in funding, and as we very nearly made felons of a whole group of immigrants in the United States .... to say nothing of Sudan, the devastation in New Orleans, racial non-reconciliation, and all the other calls upon our time and energy!"

    You are exactly right! And I am complicit in this foolishness. The only thing in my defense is that each Sunday, rain or shine, I follow church by standing on a corner in Lewes with 20 or so others in a Silent Vigil with signs naming the human costs of war and am involved with a small group here called "The Coalition for Tolerance and Justice."

    But your comment jogged me to write something about American arrogance, which God willing and the spring day not calling me away, I will post later today.

    Thanks for the high calling!

  5. I'll just repeat what others have said—thank you for this recent series of comments.

    There are many issues our church needs to be focused on. We are focused on one of them now—full participation in the life and mission and work of our church by all those who've affirmed the rights and responsibilities of our Baptismal Covenant and who are otherwise qualified.

    This is a high calling. It goes directly to who we are as a Church and as Christians. It proves that we live by what we preach and that we take seriously the Lord's command to love one another as He loves us.

  6. 'Cuz I'm walking away from,
    Walking away from things in my own past.
    Walking away from,
    Walking away from things that just won't last.
    And I'm walking away from,
    Walking away from things that move too fast. -Information Society, "Walking Away"

    Not me, of course. I've been eagerly walking towards the Anglican Communion, wanting to embrace the Scriptures, and the creeds, and the Sacramaents and the episcopate. I wanted all that and embraced them into myself. But when it turns out there are parishes just down the road that want nothing to do with me, because I'm gay, it seems to like they already have walked away.

    Their choice. I'm not particularly interested in stopping them.

  7. Thank you. I've seen these concerns before, but not quite so clearly stated and expanded on.

  8. Just to be clear, I think that this issue outlined in Windsor and To Set Our Hope on Christ IS ONE of the important issues, ONE of the important calls of the church, I just see signs that he proportion of energy and time on this issue (to me) is unfortunately detracting from other worthy and concerns.

    Susan Russell has a nice entry on her blog from Easter that outlines the work that a coalition of peace and justice groups hope to highlight at General Convention.

    Susan Russell States
    "It strikes me as an extremely hopeful sign that as we move closer to Columbus and General Convention 2006 there are faithful folks at work creating a proactive platform for a vision calling us to look beyond fighting over the unity of the institutional church to proclaiming the mission of the prophetic church: Alleuluia, Alleluia!

    The Consultation Platform: The Consultation is a coalition of eleven independent organizations* in the Episcopal Church committed to peace with justice. We come to the 2006 General Convention in Columbus understanding clearly that the Episcopal Church is once again at a watershed moment in history. Now more than ever, it is critical to articulate what we believe and what we are called to do."


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.