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ANGLICAN COMMUNION INSTITUTE: After The ACC - June 2005

AFTER THE ACC - JUNE 2005

From the Anglican Communion Institute
Denver, Colorado

What Has Happened?

The current meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) has already provided several key decisions that bear upon the life of the Anglican Communion. Among them were three in particular:

first, the decision to change the Constitution of the ACC so as to make Primates of provincial churches members ex officio of the Council, in addition to the current representation;

second, a renewed endorsement of the Lambeth'98 resolutions concerning the church's teaching and discipline around sexuality;

third, the decision to endorse the Primates' February request that ECUSA and Canadian representatives voluntarily withdraw from Council decision-making.

It is important to see these decisions in the unfolding context of the Communion's response to ECUSA's corporate rejection of the Lambeth Conference teaching on sexuality, a rejection provided in the consent and consecration of a sexually-active gay bishop and the permission of same-sex blessings around the church.

When General Convention '03 took place, it did so following conciliar decisions, warnings, and pleas from various parts and representatives of the Anglican Communion that ECUSA not proceed in a direction that would contradict the Lambeth teaching. Having done so, a good deal of concern was expressed that the Communion was, as a whole, incapable of responding with clarity and of maintaining her common life. A series of actions took place in the wake of General Convention, however, that have moved in a clear trajectory:

* the Primates of the Communion were convened, reaffirmed the teaching of the Communion on Scripture and sexuality, and called for a Communion-wide Commission to study the situation and provide recommendations (October, 2003);

* during this time, a wide range of Provinces expressed the impaired or even broken communion that ECUSA's actions had provoked with them; this was true, in some major cases, of ecumenical dialogues as well;

* the Commission came out with its report in October, 2004 - the Windsor Report - that basically affirmed the Lambeth teaching, emphasized the communion-subverting character of ECUSA's actions, and provided a theological and implied disciplinary outline for faithful life as a Communion; among other things, it called for greater integration of the Communion's "Instruments of Unity" in their common teaching and discipline;

* the Primates received and endorsed the Windsor Report in February of 2005;

* the Archbishop of Canterbury (following his own church's acceptance) endorsed the Windsor Report in his ACC Presidential Address; he also clearly and personally embraced Lambeth teachings, and the possibility of discipline within the Communion (through his distinction, using ecumenical language, between those "at the table" and "friends").

The clear trajectory of these actions is one along which the Anglican Communion has, through a series of formal conciliar bodies, reaffirmed a coherent understanding of Scripture's teaching regarding sexual behavior and church discipline, ordered her teaching in as consensual a fashion possible, and outlined the disciplinary consequences necessary within the Communion in order to uphold this teaching.

The ACC's actions, noted above, fit surely within this trajectory, and represent a final confirmation of its Communion-wide acceptance. While some have wondered at the closeness of one of the votes, it should be noted that the significant and strongly affirmed vote to include the Primates as ex officio members of the Council constitutes a clear decision on the part of the ACC both to follow Windsor's recommendations for Communion-wide "integration", and also a strong shift of representation in favor of Lambeth's teaching and the Primates' discipline. There can be little doubt. therefore, of the ACC's general and thorough embrace of both Lambeth and Windsor.

How Did This Come To Pass?

This question is important to answer, because it goes to the meaning of these events in the long term. And the answer seems to be that structures of conciliarity - decision-making through collegial councils of the Communion - have both emerged as functioning entities and as effective ones within the world-wide reach of the Anglican Communion. At every step, the matter of the Church's teaching and discipline around human sexuality - the presenting issue of the current global crisis in Anglicanism - has been dealt with on a conciliar level that has engaged subsequent gears of collegial consultation, each of which, in turn, has clarified and furthered the common and corporate witness and discipline of the larger Church. All of this has been done, furthermore, in terms of Scripture's teaching, and has thereby affirmed a basic character of Anglicanism's Christian commitments: Scripture read in council.

The Lambeth Conference in1998 articulated a clear teaching and its Scriptural basis on this matter. When concerns emerged as to the acceptance of this teaching by ECUSA, and when forms of rejection were seen as causing scandal around the world, various Instruments of Unity spoke clearly - the Primates Meeting, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the ACC in 2003 - laying out the consequences of continued rejection, outlining the dangerous results that might follow formal repudiation of Lambeth, and pleading for restraint and subjection by ECUSA.

When these public pronouncements went unheeded, the conciliar structures of the Communion again met, now with the particular task of responding to a formal breach of trust by ECUSA. The Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury commissioned a theological and disciplinary report with recommendations (the Windsor Report), produced by a representative body of theologians and ecclesial leaders in the Communion. This Report, when published, was formally discussed and embraced by the Primates themselves, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and now by the ACC. The final stage of this process now moves, full circle, back to the Lambeth Conference in 2008, where it is believed that a resolving set of actions will be made with respect to ECUSA's attitudes and behavior towards the Communion and common life within it.

This entire process provides a kind of response to two common misperceptions about the Anglican Communion's life in Christ. The first misperception is that the Communion is not really a living thing, in corporate terms, but is "being made up as we go along", perhaps subject purely to political pressures and party manipulations. It is certainly the case that the present crisis has never been faced by the Communion before, and therefore the present journey traveled by the Communion's conciliar arrangements and commitments has never been pursued before. But, as it has turned out, the actual structures of the Communion, already in place before the present crisis, have responded consistently, effectively, and (we believe) faithfully, according to understandings of Communion that have long been in place within Anglicanism.

In this sense, nothing has been "made up"; rather, life together has been engaged and lived out as we have both prayed and organized ourselves for it to do. We are seeing confirmation, not invention, of Communion; and the Windsor Report's own articulation of this matter is seen to be more descriptive than innovative.

A second misperception has centered on the "time" demanded of the conciliar process itself, and the charge has been made that this process is ill suited to the demands of a rapidly moving and fast communicating global society.

Again, it is true that the Communion and individual provinces and Christians have suffered much during the relatively lengthy extent of counsel and decision-making as life-in-communion has demanded. But "relatively" to what? Often, it seems, to the expectations of instant resolution that simply reflect individual and local desires, rather than the deep and extended requirements of collegial life that often expose the individual to periods of uncertainty and pain. But this is only to say that communion in Christ has about it an essential characteristic of human weakness as it gives itself over to the divine strength of God's grace. And here is where the journey being traveled by the Anglican Communion in the present case exhibits, in itself, aspects of the very Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What Is Its Significance?

The manner of the Communion's conciliar decision-making up to this point is thus tied to the divine meaning of its common counsel. This involves the seeking of a "common mind" in Christ, through an embraced form of mutual subjection in Christ and before the difficult demands of life in the world's time and space, all of which provides for a witness to this world of Jesus' Lordship and victorious grace (cf. Philippians 2:1-11). Far from being a "triumphalistic" message, the current trajectory of the Communion's life is one demonstrating the consistent call to and promise within patience, trust, and faithful witness, all possible because of the surpassing power of Christ's Cross and Resurrection as the only basis for common life in the Church.

The final form of ecclesial existence to which this surpassing power will give rise is still unknown. Anglicanism's future is still shrouded, even in the context of the present crisis. No one should be "triumphalist" at all in this regard. What is being offered to the world - and to the larger Church Catholic - is the witness of "communion" as more than a local phenomenon, and as more than a coercive demand; but rather as a hope embraced and, with whatever frailty and missteps, as a gift willingly and with increasing joy pursued. It is possible for the Scriptures to be read "in common", among different cultures and societies; it is possible for the teaching of God in Christ to be received, in all of its profundities and breadth, and discerned as an effective means of common self-ordering and individual holiness; it is possible to hear a Word that directs our common life and shapes our personal interactions; it is possible for disagreements to be confronted and worked through; it is possible for hard decisions to be made; it is possible even for discipline to be asked for, enacted, and (as we yet shall see) received for the reconciliation of the church and for the witness to the world.

These are all elements of hope that a thirsting and divided world yearns for, that a broken church seeks after, and that humble hearts can still receive with thanks. The councils of the church, even within the turmoils of Anglicanism, embody the life of Christ's Body, and as such are vehicles of God's own redeeming purposes. We must pray that we are worthy of such a trust.

What Comes Next?

What must the Communion do to remain intact?

As said above, the Windsor Report now appears to be as much a description of as a prescription for the shape of our Communion in Christ. The key to the Anglican Communion's future, then, is to remain in accord with this shape. This must happen through the maintenance of the Instruments of Unity in their integrity and interrelationship and especially through the deliberate mutual subjection of provinces and their leaders to the demands of common life as they are embodied in these Instruments' witness and teaching.

The collegium of the Primates has emerged as a key component of this common life. Given the episcopal center of Anglican life, this is not surprising. In this light, the Primates themselves must take the lead in witnessing to mutual subjection as laid out by the dynamics described by the Windsor Report. It is critical that the Primates themselves offer, through their individual and corporate discipline, an example in this regard - maintaining patience, humility, transparency, common determination and discipline, and the willingness to let go of behaviors that are not in accord with the common mind of the Church.

In particular, there are at least three areas of concern where this must be done. First, genuine efforts must be made by the Primates to order in a mutually agreed-upon and regularized manner the matter of congregations and clergy now under extra-geographical jurisdictions. This is a critical concern if the credibility of communion is to be maintained and furthered. How this can now be done, given the disorganized and multiplied cross-jurisdictional arrangements that have grown up in the wake of the current crisis, is a matter for discussion and decision. Every effort, however, must be made to gather these dispersed forms of oversight into a common order, most appropriately done through the Archbishop of Canterbury's Panel of Reference (on behalf of the Primates), and in conjunction with the common ministry of (in the case of the U.S.A.) those ECUSA bishops compliant with Windsor.

Secondly, the Primates must offer clear, common, and speedy direction (perhaps sooner than their currently scheduled meeting in 2007), after General Convention '06, as to the criteria for ECUSA bishops being invited to the Lambeth Conference. While it is for the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury to issue these invitations, it is crucial that this be done in a manner that embodies common discernment and mutual agreement among the Primates themselves (cf. the Windsor Report, para. 110). The coherence of Canterbury with the Primates as a whole is one of the great signs of Communion that have been lifted up in the current time.

Thirdly, the Primates must work among themselves and with their own provincial episcopal synods, for a faithful, coherent, and clear response at the Lambeth Conference itself to the character of teaching and discipline to be upheld and imposed in the face of ECUSA's actions. It is not so much that this affair constitutes the center of the Communion's concern; however, a clear resolution to its divisive impact and public scandal is a critical basis upon which the larger and more important mission of the Communion can and must proceed.

What must ECUSA do to remain intact?

ECUSA's future as an integral member of the Anglican Communion now clearly rests with her formal decision to embrace the teaching and discipline enjoined by the Windsor Report and now embodied in the public commitments of the Communion's Instruments of Unity.

a. The Presiding Bishop must publicly desist from working against the Windsor Report's teaching and discipline, and must instead embrace them and submit to them. If he cannot do this, he should resign immediately.

b. ECUSA's House of Bishops must embrace, as a House, the Windsor's Report's teaching and recommended discipline, and do so clearly and quickly. Despite claims to the contrary, the House of Bishops can and must speak for itself apart from General Convention (even the ECUSA report to the ACC makes clear in its historical account of matters that such action is possible).

c. The place of Gene Robinson in the House of Bishops remains problematic. The clearest action in this regard would be his own resignation.

What must ECUSA bishops do to remain part of the Communion?

Independent of the entire House of Bishops' corporate and formal embrace of Windsor, each individual bishop in ECUSA must publicly affirm his or her embrace of and compliance with Windsor's teaching and enjoined discipline. This can be done through individual statements, through common resolutions of diocesan Standing Committees, and through diocesan convention. A range of suggested forms for doing this have been made public over the past few months. It seems both logical and likely that, short of such individual commitments, invitations to the Lambeth Conference will not be forthcoming, with all the consequences this might encourage.

Having made individual commitments, bishops should remain at their pastoral posts, faithful, consistent, and patient as the Communion herself carries through with the forms of common discernment and discipline she has already begun to engage.

What must ECUSA clergy and congregations do to remain part of the Communion?

Should local diocesan bishops embrace Windsor, clergy and congregations under the bishop's charge should continue in their faithful, consistent, and patient witness and life in Christ along with their bishop.

If the local diocesan bishop either rejects outright or fails to embrace Windsor, clergy and congregations should:

a. formally endorse Windsor and the Communion's standard of common life as their own;

b. give notice to their own bishop, a representative of ECUSA's Windsor-embracing bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Archbishop of Canterbury's Panel of Reference of their position in discontinuity with their own bishop's teaching and discipline; in doing so, they should request Communion adjudication in favor of Communion-related episcopal oversight;

c. they should avoid unilateral action of their own apart from the formal direction of the Communion's Instruments of Unity, communicated through ECUSA Windsor-embracing bishops;

d. they should study, imbibe, and follow the injunctions of our Lord himself regarding faithfulness, patience, and endurance in the midst of troubling times.

The Final Outcome

Everyone is aware that there are, in fact, potential legal consequences attending a determination as to whether this or that bishop, this or that diocese, or ECUSA as a whole might be considered no longer an integral part of the Anglican Communion. The exact character and agent of such a "determination" as well as the testing of such consequences in a U.S. court of law remain unknown. Everyone, furthermore, is probably eager to avoid exploring this whole set of possible ramifications to some alteration of "communion status". The only options available for avoiding this, however, appear to be either Windsor compliance or some kind of mutually agreeable parting of the ways among different groups of those currently members of ECUSA. We pray for the former, we would seek the latter in a case of non-compliance, and we would humbly and fervently ask for God's unmerited mercy in the case that neither option is seized.

END

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