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A Brief Analysis of the Windsor Report - by Walter Little

A Brief Analysis of the Windsor Report

by Walter Little


BIRMINGHAM, AL (1/8/2005)--In October, 2003, the primates of the Anglican Communion requested that the Archbishop of Canterbury establish the Lambeth Commission for the purpose of examining the rift in the Communion resulting from certain actions taken by the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and by the diocese of New Westminster in Canada. This commission (also popularly known by the eponym “Eames Commission” after its chairman) deliberated for approximately a year, issuing its conclusions, titled the Windsor Report, in October, 2004.

Section 2 of the Windsor Report quotes extensively from the Epistle to the Ephesians to conclude that, “The church, sharing in God's mission to the world through the fact of its corporate life, must live out that holiness which anticipates God's final rescue of the world from the powers and corruptions of evil.” The paragraph which follows, however, makes it clear that the call to corporate holiness of the Epistle to the Ephesians is not the subject of the report. As directed by the primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the report is concerned with “the unity of the church, the communion of all its members with one another” [emphasis in original].

The following brief response will examine the theological premise which informed the primates, the consequences of this approach, the issue which was neglected, and how the Communion might be guided in its future deliberations by a perspective which is more closely tied to the gospel and, specifically, to the Epistle to the Ephesians than is the Windsor Report.

The Theological Premise

Section 3 of the report notes that Christians are called to unity and communion as much as to radical holiness and asserts that all three attributes are absolutely interdependent. The document further claims a Trinitarian basis for this absolute relationship. Subsequently, the report treats the Anglican Communion as if it represented a Pauline vision of ekklaesia. Ekklaesia literally means “assembly,” and is often translated as “church.” In the Epistle to the Ephesians and the two letters to the Corinthians, Paul used the word to refer to the spiritual rather than to any institutional unity of Christians.

The assumption that the organizational Anglican Communion and spiritual Christian communion are somehow equivalent gave the commission license to treat the part as equivalent to the whole. As a result, the unity of the Anglican Communion was treated as having ultimate importance. The guiding premise for the Windsor Report, then, is that anything which degrades the unity of the Anglican Communion is ipso facto destructive of Christian unity, communion, and holiness.

These guiding precepts are not extensively examined or explained in the report, itself, but the Virginia Report of 1996 is frequently referenced and, according to Bp. Mark Dyer,1 the only American member of the Lambeth commission and the author of the theological section of the Virginia Report, the Lambeth Commission relied upon said section for its ecclesiological premises.2

The theological assumptions under which the Lambeth Commission operated were discussed by Bp. Dyer under the term “koinonia ecclesiology” in the speech referenced above, and the following logic is laid out: “The unity that we share is a divine gift over which we have no power to dissolve . . . So we're saying first off, we're asking the church to recognize that we together are in communion, and we will be together in eternity because it is a gift of God's fundamental grace.” Therefore, with reference to the Anglican Communion, “schism surpasses all crimes. It is a most horrible sacrilege.”

This present analysis does not further examine koinonia ecclesiology, the validity of its claimed basis in the Scriptures, or its implications for the very existence of the Anglican Communion or its member churches as entities separate from the Roman Catholic Church, though the reader may wish to reflect on these. It must, however, be noted here that “koinonia ecclesiology” is the product of mental operations upon Scripture to produce a set of hypotheses rather than being evident from the plain sense of any canonical writings. An indicator of this is that while the only Biblical work extensively referenced is the Epistle to the Ephesians,3 the most ecclesiological of all New Testament theological statements, these references are held up by the commission only to support its understanding of the importance of the Anglican Communion. Insights which might arise directly from the Epistle to the Ephesians and which might have been helpful, such as human bondage to the desires of the flesh, the deceptiveness and inconstancy of human teachings, or the importance of taking off the old person who was corrupted by deceiving lusts, are left unexamined.

Although such an undernourished theological basis does not necessarily mean that the conclusions of the report are false ipso facto, it does mean that the logic leading to the report is deficient insofar as it relies so heavily upon its made-to-order theological construct and presents its ecclesiology as if it were the core of revealed truth.

Consequences of the Premise

The most prominent salutary effect of depending so exclusively on koinonia ecclesiology is that the commission was thereby enabled to restrict its deliberations to questions of restoring and preserving unity. Furthermore, by employing this hermeneutics and pushing all other theological considerations into the distant background, the commission could issue a timely and unanimous report which it hoped would give space for discussion and resolution of those differences among Anglicans which have precipitated the current crisis within the Communion.

Yet, allowing koinonia ecclesiology to dominate the commission’s deliberations and conclusions has resulted in an impenetrable scotoma in the commission’s visualization of underlying questions of theology and praxis. The emphasis is almost entirely upon the effects of the theological crisis upon the Communion as an institution bound by institutional codes, ex officio privilege, and corporate policies. Only brief and superficial discussions of cause are included. In effectively equating Anglicanism with Anglican institutionalism, the report cannot fail but relegate the theological witness of both sides in this dispute to secondary status. It would in fact be more accurate to describe the commission’s approach as being based on “institutional ecclesiology” rather than “koinonia ecclesiology.”

As Archbishop Akinola has since complained, the commission was so inattentive to the reasoning of the contending parties that it saw no difficulty in using “equal language for unequal actions” as if it had taken the role of an exasperated parent who offers to punish two arguing children in equal measure and without a care as to the justice of the dispute. Little wonder that the report has proven unsatisfactory to most persons on both sides of the divide, for the foundational theological principals of each are treated as being insubstantial when compared with disunity.

As an extreme example of dismissiveness which the report can only continue to foster, Bp. Dyer in the above-referenced speech approvingly quoted an archbishop not on the commission who said of the North American actions, “It's really very simple. It's a question of bad manners in terms of what it means to be an Anglican.” It would seem self-evident that anyone who thoughtfully voted for or carried out any of the disputed North American actions would find having their process dismissed as “bad manners” to be offensive and condescending.

On the other hand, the commission’s determinations seem to have had no effect in curbing the ever-increasing North American reliance on exceptionalism to justify taking actions of all sorts unilaterally and rashly. As an illustration of the hubris which the report has done nothing to dispel, a recent contributor to a popular Episcopal discussion board addressed the Windsor report with the non-ironic assertion that, “Most of the opposition to the consecration and the blessings is coming from the Churches south of the equator. Why should they be consulted? They live in societies that are primitive, backwards, and reactionary.”4

The Real Issue

The current crisis in Anglicanism cannot be solved by contrived institutional ecclesiology, for the root questions are not matters of manners or institutional role-playing. The blinders to which the commission voluntarily submitted made it impossible to see that the thoughtful, as opposed to the self-interested and the law-bound, on both sides of this divide are united by a pair of convictions held in common, that God seeks justice among his people and that the Church is to be the avatar of justice. Only by placing justice above the institution could the commission have worked in the spirit of the Epistle to the Ephesians so as to build up the communion into a house of God in the Spirit.

On the one hand, those who approve of or participated in the consecration and the same-sex blessing initiatives thoughtfully and without self-interest or political motives uniformly see the issue as one of social justice in which the church must take the lead in guaranteeing that persons are not denied full membership in the Body of Christ and in the human race because of sexual preference. This is not a position to be dismissed as inferior in importance to corporate etiquette and is one to which all parties owe prayerful consideration. The commission, itself, made perfunctory obeisance to the principal of social justice in section 146.

On the other hand, those who not only see the Scriptures as the word of God but who also have determined that the canonical writings unequivocally rank same-sex eros as sinful should not have been treated as thoughtless and unruly children who have violated convention needlessly. In their view, a double injustice is being done by the consecration to the episcopate of a self-professed sexually active gay man and by permission to formulate liturgical blessings for certain homoerotic relationships. They rely on such Scriptures as First Corinthians 5-6 to see not only injustice to individuals who are being denied the possibility of seeing sin as sin and thereby repenting but also injustice in having the world of sin brought into and allowed to defile the kingdom of God on earth. Since these beliefs are not sham and since so many of the powerful among their North American co-religionists have refused to take this understanding of the gospel seriously, their faith leaves them no choice but to respond by offering themselves as servants when they are faced with the plight of congregations who share their vision and are hungry for the gospel’s full message of sin and salvation.

A Better Way

Rather than relying upon a theory of ecclesiology which would have been unrecognizable to the author of the Epistle to the Ephesians as having anything to do with ekklaesia, it would have been far better to address the real issues. Doing so would not have required reconsidering either the Lambeth resolution on sexuality or the subsequent Primates’ statement on same-sex eros. Without judging between the parties, the report could have simply acknowledged that the diocese of New Westminster and ECUSA acted precipitously and in the way of the world rather than as upbuilders of the One Body of Christ in unilaterally choosing a culturally dependent vision of social justice while closing their ears to the pleas of the majority of their faithful brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.

These offenders did not take into account the warning of Num15:39 concerning the dangers of following after one’s own heart and own eyes, and they refused the council of their own theology committee, not to mention discussion of the matter with others in the world who see things differently.

If instead of attempting to heal the wounds of the Communion lightly, the true offenses of ECUSA and New Westminster were to have been acknowledged for what they were, this would have challenged all parties to this dispute to henceforth treat one another as brothers and sisters seeking the truth. North America would be forced to choose to either accept the full consequences of exceptionalism or to repent and come together with their fellows in the Communion to seek a common vision of justice. The bishops who reject the reasoning used to justify the consecration and blessings of same-sex unions would be forced to listen to and consider the position of the majority within ECUSA and to treat with them as honest fellow-seekers after the truth.

As for the phenomenon of intervention across diocesan lines, a less legalistic and institutionally protective approach would be helpful. The commission admits that “we fully understand the principled concerns that have led to those actions even though we believe that they should have been handled differently“ (Section 149). Yet, no practical way to approach the problem differently is suggested. Commending “the proposals for delegated episcopal pastoral oversight set out by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) in 2004[104]” as section 152 does is simply inadequate, for said proposals leave the very party whom the petitioners see as unfaithful in control of the petitioners’ fate. It would be far better to provide that parallel jurisdictions or alternative oversight by bishops who share the petitioner’s view of justice be not unreasonably denied unless and until the true theological questions can be settled.


The Windsor Report is impoverished by its reliance upon equating institutionalism with ecclesiology, thereby making institutionalism paramount for the communion; defective vision; and a lack of practical solutions. It is to be hoped that the primates’ February meeting will seek deeper for answers which will allow the Communion to remain together, if possible, but which, above all, will frankly acknowledge the immediate issues and their theological underpinnings.

1 Speech given on November 6, 2004. Transcript available at http://www.anglican.tk/docs/dyer.htm

2The Virginia Report may be read at http://www.anglicancommunion.org/documents/virginia/english/

3see sections 2, 6, and 56 of the report

4See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/episcopalchurch/message/18574

--Dr. Little is a retired physician and layman who attends Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama.Walter He holds a Masters in Theological Studies from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, the first Catholic school in the Southeast and the third oldest Jesuit college in the country.

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