Thursday, February 15, 2007

Kendall Harmon: The Episcopal Church has Failed to Respond Adequately to the Calls of Windsor

This article was written by Kendall and kindly posted by our friends at Stand Firm.

Kendall Harmon: The Episcopal Church has Failed to Respond Adequately to the Calls of Windsor

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 the Anglican Primates 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.

What I would say if I were before the Anglican primates in Tanzania this afternoon about the question of the adequacy of the Episcopal Church's response to the Windsor Report--KSH

“My two predecessors as Presiding Bishop held theological views that were essentially the same as mine and they were welcomed at the table.”

--Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori (as quoted in the Church of England Newspaper, January 19, 2007, page 1)

These words of the Presiding Bishop take us to the heart of the current huge crisis (Archbishop Rowan Williams’ phrase) in the Anglican Communion, and that is as a body we have failed to understand the events of 2003 as having “torn the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level’ (primates Communique, October 2003).

The Anglican Communion has an agreed teaching and practice in the area of human sexuality, and that is the Lambeth 1998 Resolution numbered 1.10. That resolution makes clear that while all people are welcome and entitled to pastoral care in the Church, marriage is the one place where sexual intimacy may be enjoyed, and practicing same sex relationships are off limits for Christians.

In 2003 there were two decisive challenges to this teaching from the Anglican provinces in North America. The diocese of new Westminster in British Columbia, against the settled mind of the communion, approved a Synod resolution which allowed those who wished to employ liturgies to bless same sex relationships in Anglican Churches in that diocese. Later that summer, in August, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention approved as a bishop a man who was living in the very relationship which Anglican teaching forbids. In addition, the General Convention passed resolution C051 which was understood by those who wished to see it that way to authorize them to allow for same sex blessings in their dioceses. That is, it encouraged more dioceses than were already doing so to begin the practice of same sex blessings. It should be noted that both of these actions took place in spite of numerous warnings from Anglican leaders and Anglican bodies not to proceed in this direction.

As the Windsor report notes (d.127)

The Communion has…made its collective position clear on the issue of ordaining those who are involved in same gender unions[88]; and this has been reiterated by the primates through their endorsement of the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution[89]. By electing and confirming such a candidate in the face of the concerns expressed by the wider Communion, the Episcopal Church (USA) has caused deep offence to many faithful Anglican Christians both in its own church and in other parts of the Communion.




It is worth emphasizing the words in this paragraph carefully. The Episcopal Church and the diocese of New Westminster had caused “offence” to their sisters and brothers throughout the communion; the word offense meaning “a violation or breaking of a social or moral rule; transgression; sin.” Indeed, it was not simply offense, but DEEP offense. It was as if North American Anglicans took out their hand and slapped their fellow Anglicans across the face, because they believe that to act this way is to act outside the will of God, and therefore they see a Church leading people away from the love of Christ. The consequences of such action, both in this world and the world to come, are awesomely serious, and for this reason offensive to them. This is not simply about life and death it is about heaven and hell.

It is no exaggeration to say that the damage done to the Anglican Communion, as well as to our ecumenical and interfaith relationships around the globe, has been incalculable. For this reason Rowan Williams gathered the primates in England in October 2003 where you named the depth of the tear in our common life for what it is. The Windsor Report was commissioned, and, in spite of its inadequacies, it was properly recognized later as the only way forward if this deep tear was ever to be repaired.

The Windsor report offered splendid reflections on the gift of the church God intends for us as Anglicans to be, namely a set of member provinces who live together with mutual responsibility and interdependence. It set out a diagnosis of our common ills in which autonomy as independence had arisen, although we are called to a life of autonomy in communion. Through a series of proposals, it sought to call us back to enable reconciliation where there had been enormous hurt and damage. It also laid out specific steps by which those in North America who had caused the offense could seek to enable the great breach to be repaired.

It should be noted that the reason Presiding Bishop Griswold was welcomed in the midst of the primates in October 2003 was because the decision the General Convention 2003 had not yet been acted upon. Beliefs and ideas are one thing, but actions are another. However, a number of the Global South primates felt so violated by Frank Griswold’s choosing to vote in favor of Gene Robinson that they struggled as to how to be able to receive communion with him. They went to Rowan Williams beforehand and said we at that time could not, because the trust had been so broken, and God’s will so transgressed. Archbishop Williams pleaded with them to reconsider, and they did join in communion, out of deference to him and his office, but also because many of them believed that through this meeting there was yet a chance that Frank Griswold would not go through with the consecration.

It is worth observing that many of the primates were stunned, given the unanimous agreement about the communiqué that they achieved as a group later, that Bishop Griswold indicated he planned to proceed at the press conference that very night. The terrible tear had only deepened still further. It was for this reason that a number of primates were unable to commune in Dromantine in February, 2005.

Although the Windsor Report was slightly modified as it was received by the primates in Dromantine , its central thrust and ecclesiology were warmly welcomed. Because the Episcopal Church had still not even begun adequately to respond to the specific requests made of it as a province (a great opportunity for this was lost at the House of Bishops meeting in January 2005) the primates asked the Episcopal Church’s members to withdraw from participating in the Anglican Consultative Council for a period of three years. In spite of even further breaches of the bonds of affection, the primates decided that the appropriate body of the Episcopal Church, the General Convention, needed to be given the opportunity to respond to the requests of the Windsor Report in 2006.

The specific calls of the Windsor Report to the Episcopal Church were quite clear:

--to pledge that they actually WANTED to be members of the Anglican Communion and to live out the call to mutual responsibility and interdependence, and that they supported the Communion’s teaching and self-understanding
--to express genuine regret for the two specific things which they had done and the way in which they had torn the bonds of our communion
--to show that this regret and penitence was genuine by agreeing to halt both the actions which have shattered our common life until and unless a new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges


Now while it is true that there were many other aspects of the Windsor Report and a few other calls, these were the ones most in focus as the Windsor Report was received in Dromantine. It is worth evaluating them.

As the General Convention approached, the primates were interested to watch the House of Bishops meeting in the spring of 2005. Clearly in a manner unlike the meeting in January that year, there was among the bishops a sense of how seriously many other people in the Communion regarded what they had done.

But while the primates heartened by this reaction to Dromantine , and saw an attempt to begin to express at least some preliminary form of regret, they were deeply disturbed to read that in response to the call for a moratorium on the election and the consecration of any bishop who was living in a non-celibate same sex union specifically, the House of Bishops took the specific request of Windsor and modified it as they saw fit and thereby instituted what amounted to a voluntary moratorium on all Episcopal elections until the General Convention of 2006. This type of willful shifting of specific requests by those in the very province which had caused the most damage showed to us a continued recalcitrance and arrogance, the very attitude of autonomy as independence which had gotten Anglicans into the terrible mess we were all in.

From the perspective of the primates, General Convention 2006 was the Episcopal Church’s very last chance on this matter of whether we would, as the Windsor Report says in its conclusion, walk together or walk apart.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that the overall response of the General Convention 2006 to the Windsor Report is desperately inadequate.

(1)True, the Episcopal Church did express a commitment to a life of interdependence, but when one looks at what that seemed to mean, one is disturbed. An opportunity to support Lambeth 1998 1.10 by our province was turned down in committee (where its consequences were clearly known). A resolution affirming the Anglican Understanding of Holy Scripture, quoted verbatim from the Windsor Report, was modified in committee so that the affirmation of Windsor ’s teaching was lost. A Presiding Bishop was elected who not only supported the Episcopal Church’s new unAnglican theology and practice, but who with her entire diocese had proceeded to allow for same sex blessings in the parishes of that diocese in the very week in October 2003 when the primates were gathering in England. Finally, when the resolution expressing regret for “breaching the proper constraints of the bonds of affection” was considered, the House of Deputies would not accept the language of the Windsor Report, which properly expressed the depth of the problem. Instead, they insisted on changing the language to straining the bonds of affection. All these pieces fit into a large puzzle of a willful province seeking to look committed to others but underneath in fact demanding when necessary to have its own way.

(2)In terms of the expression of regret, the language of regret was changed away from what the Windsor Report asked it to be, as already noted, and neither of the two moratoria was instituted as requested. The moratoria on same sex blessings was not even acted on at all which is simply inexcusable. And it will not do to say that because the language speaks of “official liturgies” it does not apply to the Episcopal Church, whereas numerous diocesan practices, whether same sex blessings in house or private same gender partnership celebrations are not in view. The Windsor Report focused on official liturgies for two reasons: because as Anglicans we pray and live out in liturgy what we believe, and so if there is a theological change there will necessarily follow a liturgical change, and, secondly, because the specific instance the Windsor Report was addressing in New Westminster had to do with official liturgies. But the key point as addressed in Lambeth 1998 resolution 1.10 is the practice, in whatever worship or setting, and these blessings have not ceased, they have continued, to the shock and shame of The Episcopal Church’s sisters and brothers around the Anglican world.

Indeed, resolution C051 which added more momentum to the movement of different dioceses moving ahead with same sex blessings (one of which was Katharine Jefferts Schori’s Diocese of Nevada) remains the Episcopal Church’s unchanged position. All one needs to do is look at the decision of the diocese of Arkansas, after the General Convention of 2006 to see yet another diocese acting against the teaching and practice of the Anglican Communion. As if our sisters and brothers voices do not even matter The Episcopal Church apparently continues on its way—away from Christ, and therefore, alas, away from the Anglican primates and the Anglican Communion.

As for the call for a moratorium on bishops election and consent if the person is living in a non-celibate same sex partnership, the Episcopal Church changed the language and eliminated any reference to election at all. Hence any diocese can still elect a person living in defiance of the teaching and practice of the Communion, even though exactly this caused such offense. Indeed, the Diocese of Newark recently had such a person as a finalist in their election, and the Diocese of California had a number of such people as finalists.

True, Resolution B033 does refer to the consent process at least, but it does so in language less forceful and specific than necessary. Indeed, its language (“to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion”) is not the language of the Windsor Report which was specifically requested. Apparently the Episcopal Church knows better than the rest of Anglicans, alas.

It also need to be said that the harried and confused manner in which the resolution B033, inadequate and too far away from Windsor as it is, was passed through the General Convention in a flurry of sudden activity on the very last day is deeply disquieting. Bishops at the time said they had no intention of honoring this resolution, which shows it will not help repair the breach, but what should particularly interest the Anglican primates meeting in Tanzania is the number of people who have said after the fact that they regret their vote or were unclear as to exactly what they were doing. There are real questions as to how much B033 actually even reflects the mind of General Convention given the climate and method with which it was implemented so suddenly with what seemed to be so little prayer and so little real deliberation.

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.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis of the problem. I think it is also fair to say, on a slightly different topic, that when TEC (USA) consecrated Robinson and New Westminster acted, they were emphatically making a statement as to their expectation of the one way nature of the "listening process" they go on and on about so much. It was essentially "the rest of the communion must listen to us, but we have no need to listen to the rest of the communion".

Dave C.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Thank you Kendall. Your summation is an honest appraisal that should be read by all. As a deputy who originally voted for VGR, I sincerely regret my actions and fully support the WR. There must be others out there who feel the same way. Where are you? Is there anything we can do?

7:27 AM  
Anonymous Bill Matz said...

A clear and thoughtful (if painful) summary. The only thing I would have added is that B-032, affirming the "separate and independent status" of TEC effectively repudiates A-159's commitment to interdependence. A final gift of pluriform truths?
to me the concurrent passage of both those resolutions encapsulates TEC's belief that it can have it both ways. It cannot.

12:28 PM  

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