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Liberals Spin Windsor Report In Panel Discussion


General Seminary Hosts Panel Discussion on Windsor Report

NEW YORK CITY - The future of the Anglican Communion hangs on "bonds of affection." That was the consensus of a panel of prominent Episcopal and Anglican Church leaders in a roundtable discussion on the Windsor Report sponsored by The General Theological Seminary (GTS) on January 28. The audience for "After the Windsor Report: The Future of the Anglican Communion" filled the seminary's auditorium, with many watching the proceedings on a big screen monitor in an adjoining room. The four bishops and two scholars who served as panelists agreed that continued, open communication among members holds the key to the Anglican Communion's survival. They differed on the role of structures and new mechanisms suggested in the Windsor Report.

The Rt. Rev. John B. Lipscomb, Bishop of Southwest Florida, said the problem facing the Anglican Communion is not simply about the ordination of a gay bishop, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. "Let's take Bishop Robinson out of the hot seat and realize what we are talking about," he said. "It is putting the focus on what it takes to be in communion and what it means for the United States to be setting the agenda." Robinson's ordination simply sparked the current debate on the nature of the Anglican Communion, a debate that would have arisen sooner or later, Lipscomb said.

The other panel members agreed that the debate is on the nature of communion and the means of keeping that communion alive. The Very Rev. Titus Presler (GTS 1972), Dean of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, said of the Episcopal Church: "Our Anglican identity is weak and tentative. We have to come to see ourselves as part of the larger church." He supported the idea of "bonds of affection" as the glue holding the communion together. "I'd like a shift from talking about instruments of unity to instruments of communion," he said.

That note was echoed by the Rev. Ian Douglas, Professor of Mission and World Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity School. "Our future is to be found in relationships across differences," he said. Douglas expressed concern with the narrow focus of the Windsor Report in considering what constitutes relationships and identity. "There was astonishingly little on common prayer and the Eucharist as defining Anglicanism," he said. Those must be considered alongside the Bible and episcopal structure, he said.

On the other hand, the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, Bishop of Southern Malawi and a Visiting Professor at GTS this Fall, laid out the current situation as a "crisis based on our understanding of Scripture." Speaking in a prerecorded video, Tengatenga said, "It is time to get down on our knees to pray, to get down on our knees to study Scripture." He warned that some Anglican Communion members must learn to accept defeat. "Some may lose and some may win, but that is how dialogue works," he said.

The Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley Jr., (GTS 1973) Bishop of Alabama, responded, "There is a danger in win/lose thinking. I believe the Windsor Report calls us to a win/win situation." Parsley, who is Chair of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops, also addressed the panel's concern with the Windsor Report's concentration on structural answers to problems. Parsley said he is concerned with the Windsor report's "centralizing tendencies," but warned that relationships must exist within structures.

The Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam (GTS 1984), Suffragan Bishop of New York, said the Windsor Report would have read quite differently if more women were involved in the Anglican Communion's leadership. "My sisters in Africa come to me and ask, 'Why are our bishops so concerned about what's happening with one man in your country when they are not saying anything about the women who are dying every day where we live?' " Roskam said the African women she knows represent a variety of positions on ordination of homosexuals, but insisted that to them, it is not a church-dividing issue. She returned to the panel's themes of relationship, communication and affection and said serious conversation must continue. "I don't want to have to choose between Gene (Robinson) and James (Tengatenga)," she said. "That is untenable."

Each of the panelists gave an opening statement of about ten minutes length after which the format became that of a roundtable discussion. GTS Sub-Dean Robert Bruce Mullin moderated the discussion and GTS church history professor Dr. J. Robert Wright provided a summary at the evening's conclusion. The Very Rev. Ward Ewing, Dean and President of GTS thanked the event's coordinators, GTS staff member Helen Goodkin, who directs the Seminary's lay education program, and GTS doctoral student Ronald Young, adding "The problems which face us are complex but General Seminary's effort in bringing together a panel to thoughtfully delineate the issues exemplifies the critical role centers of theological learning must play in this process."


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