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Reflections on the Windsor Report: N. T. Wright, Oliver O'Donovan et al

Reflections on the Windsor Report and its Reception a collection of pieces by the Bishop of Durham, Dr N. T. Wright, and others as at 5 November 2004

Introduction: Press Release by the Bishop of Durham on the day of the Report’s Publication

It was a huge privilege to serve on the Lambeth Commission under Archbishop Robin Eames, and it was a great encouragement that, despite our varied backgrounds, we were able to arrive at a common mind.

In particular, we recognised that the underlying question was not about sexual ethics, but about how we live together as a worldwide Communion. We all know that there are some differences that need not divde us, and others that are bound to do so. If someone reads the lessons in a different accent, we would not divide the church over it; if someone were to read the Koran in church instead of the Bible, we would. The question is, how do we know the difference between differences that divide and differences that don’t?

Many churches have established mechanisms for answering this question. The worldwide Anglican Communion has never before needed to develop such mechanisms, but the Commission argues that it now needs to do so. To this end, we are proposing various ways in which our existing structures can be strengthened and our existing processes clarified. We are urging the worldwide church to consider adopting a Covenant which would provide a framework for handling difficult issues in a wise, creative and above all Christian fashion. We are looking to the long-term future in which God’s mission to the world will be best served by a church which can speak and act with coherence and clarity.

Because at the moment we do not have such structures in place, but only a range of essentially consultative bodies (the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting, which together with the Archbishop of Canterbury form our four ‘Instruments of Unity’), there is no way the Commission was able to recommend the kind of actions which many have imagined we might, but which could only be implemented by a different kind of structure to what we currently possess. What we are asking, instead, consonant with the desire of the whole Anglican world to remain as a Communion rather than a looser ‘federation’, is for those whose actions have, in various different ways, caused rupture within the Anglican world, to acknowledge this, to express regret for it, and to abstain from further such actions. We very much hope that all parties will respond positively to this, and indicate thereby that they are putting the needs of the gospel, and of the whole Communion which is called to serve that gospel, ahead of their precipitate actions. Our aim throughout is that the church should return to the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace, which will enable us to fulfil our calling in and for God’s needy world.

Interview with Christianity Today, week of October 18 (available on line at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/142/42.0.html)

N.T. Wright: Anglican Report Is 'Fireproofing the House'. Top theologian on Lambeth Commission talks about what happened behind the scenes, whether the report should have been tougher, and why it's critical of some conservative bishops.
Interview by Douglas LeBlanc | posted 10/21/2004

Archbishop Robin Eames has said more than once that leading this commission was the hardest work he's ever done. How difficult was it for you as a member of the commission? Well, the fact that Robin was leading it made it a lot easier for the rest of us because he is a remarkable man in every way. And it was a privilege to work under him. And I'm not just saying that. I've sat under many chairmen in my time, and he's one of the best. And he's a very wise statesman who can see around the issues and see where the dynamics are and so on. So the fact that he was doing it made it a lot easier for the rest of us. In some funny ways, I enormously enjoyed it, rather like one would enjoy an extremely hard-played sports match. There was a sense of excitement and exhilaration about trying to wrestle with the big issues and work out what we all meant and particularly how to listen to each other and be sure we heard what each other was saying. Of the commission's three meetings, was there one in which that give and take was most evident? I think each meeting had its own internal dynamic. We had presentations from a variety of points of view at the first meeting and then we discussed those and really got to know each other and worked at what the issues were.

At the second meeting we had presentations from a team led by the presiding bishop of the United States and another team led by Bishop [Robert] Duncan of Pittsburgh [moderator of the Anglican Communion Network], with some colleagues of his. And then at the last meeting we were working frantically on drafting the statement, of course. The same working out of different paradigms occurred in each but in a different guise. The early part of the report cites Scripture frequently. Did you have a hand in writing it? Well, I think anyone who knows my work in detail, and anyone who reads the report carefully, will spot that there are some paragraphs which I drafted. I worked quite a bit on the first half. But I would stress that the drafts came back to us again and again, and we all wrestled through them and argued our way through them.

Some of the conservative leaders I spoke to Monday have expressed dismay that the report seems to treat border crossings by bishops as equally disruptive to Anglican unity as gay blessings would be. Do you think that just as much is at stake with border crossings? The word equally, I think, doesn't really reflect the balance of the report as it has come out. The trouble is that, as with any sort of tit-for-tat scenario, trying to say you did this first and then we retaliated, but it was you who started it, really doesn't get us anywhere.

It then becomes like the Middle East, you know, who started it, who fired the first shot, who dropped the first bomb? And there is no way you can go back and write all that history. And the important thing to say is that border crossings are disruptive. Not only are they against the spirit and the letter of Anglican formularies, they are against one of the decrees of the Council of Nicea, as we point out. And I think not a lot of people know this, but it's important to say this was a question that the early fathers faced at the same time as they were hammering out the doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ, and that they gave it their time to say people should not do this because that's not how episcopacy works.

Now, of course it's open to people to come back and say episcopacy has broken down because of this and this. But then the critical thing, and this is where it is very similar, is that we have mechanisms—they demand patience, of course, which many of us don't have in great supply. But we have mechanisms for bringing things to the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates' Meeting, and ultimately to the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. And the real charge against New Hampshire and New Westminster, according to the mandate we were given, is not so much that they are hallowing, consecrating people who are practicing homosexual relations, though of course that is the underlying issue.

The real charge that we were making is that they were going ahead with innovations without giving the proper theological rational, without paying attention to the rest of the communion, without doing all the things which as Anglicans we all thought we were signed up to doing before people make innovations. The bishops and archbishops who have intervened in other people's provinces and dioceses are, in effect, at that level making the same error. The question underlying it, of how liberal American Christianity may have got, is the presenting issue, but we were very concerned that this report should not simply be addressing the currently presenting issues, but should be working out what it means to be the Anglican Communion for the 21st century.

We're looking way ahead of current crises and we're saying we'd like to set up and see a framework which will enable us to be faithful, wise Anglicans in communion with one another in 20 years' time, in a way which will mean we don't have to have this kind of crisis again. It's hugely expensive getting all the people together and having all the extra meetings. What happened in New Westminster and New Hampshire has cost the Anglican Communion tens of thousands of pounds, which we could ill afford, when we're all actually more interested in spending money on taking our mission forward, not in trying to sort out our own backyard.

Theologian Kendall Harmon mentions that when there was a false teacher in the early church, orthodox bishops considered that see vacant and would go into that diocese. This, of course, relates to several other questions, and it's not simply as easy as that, because who says that so and so is a false teacher? There's an article in this morning's London Times by our old friend Jack Spong. And actually I would recommend reading that article to anyone who thinks the report is not orthodox enough, because Spong is absolutely terrified that the report is far too orthodox and far too conservative. I read that and thought we must have done something right.

But the critical thing is that Spong, you see, would say that George Carey was a false teacher and that what George Carey did in influencing the Lambeth Conference in 1998 was so damaging that that now justifies other people acting against that. So you have to have some way of getting a handle on this and not simply one bishop saying that his next-door neighbor is out of line and therefore he's going to invade. That has never been the Anglican way. Conservatives who have watched Episcopal bishops many years expect no self-imposed moratoria on gay blessings or electing new gay bishops. I know it's always perilous to anticipate how people will respond to what you've called for, but if those changes don't happen, does that leave the Anglican Communion with this crisis exactly where it is now?

No, because right at the end, the very last paragraph of the report proper, we do address the what-if. And we were very clear. We would rather not have addressed that, but it would have been irresponsible not to say something about this. We say we would rather not speculate on actions that needed to be taken if our recommendations are not implemented. And then we note that in any human dispute, whether it's in a family or in a business, there are various courses that can be followed: mediation, arbitration, people not getting invited to represent bodies [churches] in meetings, and, as an absolute last resort, withdrawal from membership. And we say we earnestly hope that none of these will prove necessary. In other words, we were not concentrating on a last stage what-if.

We're saying this is a call to the whole Anglican community to maturity, to grow up, to learn better ways of being in communion with one another. And we really hope that people will respond positively to that. I can well see that many may not want to do that, or want to forge ahead with what they were doing anyway. But I have to say, I've had some good responses from friends in America who I would describe as certainly not conservative or orthodox and would be kind of the middle liberal center, not the extremes like Spong or whoever. They've said, yes, actually this looks as though it's really got some mileage in it and let's hope this will be a way forward. And I really, really hope that by taking the line we have, we may enable the great broad center of the Anglican Communion to hold together.

Was there any discussion on the commission of a tougher call on the Episcopal Church—not just to express remorse for not respecting the process of the Anglican Communion, but also for establishing new doctrine on sexuality? Well, that is implicit in the passage in paragraph 32, we say that there is a basic duty that if you're going to propose an innovation—and everybody agrees that it was an innovation, is an innovation—then it is incumbent on you to provide a full explanation as to why you're doing it. And they simply haven't done that. So that is a matter of process.

But it is also a matter of content. We must stress, and I think the report says this two or three times in italics, that we were not set up to talk about sex. Had we been, we would have had very different membership, for a start. We were set up to talk about the issues of communion, because in a sense, an obvious example, the issue of sexuality may be the fire that somebody has lit in one room that is actually setting bits of the house on fire. But what we're doing is actually fireproofing the house, and then saying now we've got to deal with this particular fire, which happens to have broken out in this room. But we're really more interested in long-term fireproofing the house. And of course that demands patience, because there's plenty of people who want to say what you should simply do is go in with all water canons as fast as you can.

And the difficulty about that is that the Anglican Communion, unlike some other churches, simply does not have an international canon law or polity that would enable that to happen. We could have shouted all we liked and there will have been one or two on the commission who would have wanted us to say much more strong and strident things. But it wouldn't actually have had any effect, because the Anglican primates and the archbishop do not have the kind of executive authority in detail over the lives of other provinces to be able to do that. And that brings us to the whole question of what autonomy means and doesn't mean, which is right at the heart of the report.

Projecting out a number of years, what would be the best case scenario for how this report is received? The best-case scenario is that the central call of the report—which is for quite fresh and episcopally led readings and teachings of Scripture—would come right back to the heart of our life. One of the things I find depressing about some of the upper echelons of Anglicanism on both sides of the Atlantic is that it's sort of taken for granted that we all basically know what's in the Bible, and so we just glance at a few verses for devotional purposes and then get on to the real business.

I look forward to the day, and I think the report is pressing for this very strongly, when not in some kind of fundamentalistic way but with real serious creative engagement and interpretative activity with Scripture, we can actually really learn from one another and one another's readings of Scripture. Not that all readings are equally good. I would never dream of saying that, of course, as a biblical scholar. But that we do need to listen to one another in our readings of Scripture and we need to grow up in those readings. And frankly, some of the readings of Scripture which come out of the liberal tradition, and some of the readings which come out of the so-called conservative tradition are really immature readings of Scripture and need to be challenged. I and others spend our lives trying to do that. Very closely allied to that, I would love to see the bishops of the Anglican Communion regarding it as their primary role—not as a little thing on the side, but their primary role—to be wise, godly teachers of Scripture.

That ought to be the center of episcopal authority rather than the business of phoning your lawyer every time something goes wrong. That ought to have no place in the church. The episcopal authority is the Word of God in prayer according to the apostolic model in Acts 6. And that has to be absolutely re-emphasized. Having said that, then my best-case scenario would be for a healthy, flourishing communion with the instruments of unity, the Lambeth Conference and the others, working well. We have gone through an enormous transition in the Anglican Communion, corresponding to the great cultural transitions which the world is going through. The North-South shift, the rich-poor question, all sorts of issues are swirling around us globally.

The Anglican Communion, like any church, is caught in the middle of that and it doesn't surprise me that we're in pain as a result. Our task is to hold on to that pain prayerfully in the presence of God and the power of the Spirit, believing that by doing so we will actually further the mission of God in the world. Another thing that's central to the report is the question of what is known in the trade as adiaphora, things indifferent. It has been a principle of Anglicanism, from the very beginnings in the 16th century, that there are some things which Anglican Christians can agree to differ about.

The real question at the heart of much of this is, which of the things we can agree to differ about and which of the things we can't agree to differ about. Again and again I hear people on both sides of the argument simply begging that question and assuming that they know without argument that this is something that we can agree to differ about, or assuming that they know without argument this is one of the things we can't agree to differ about.

What we all have to do is to say about any issue—whether it's lay celebration [of Communion], whether it's episcopal intervention, whether it's homosexual practice—How do we know, and who says which differences make a difference and which differences don't make a difference? [Presiding Bishop] Frank Griswold and his colleagues make a great song and dance about difference and about accepting difference and respecting difference. That's almost the only moral category that is left within postmodernity, welcoming the other, which is actually a very difficult moral standard to implement right across the board. The critical thing is there are some differences which would divide the church. For instance, if somebody decided to propose that instead of reading the Bible in church, we should read the Bhagavad-Gita or the Qur'an, most Christians would say this is no longer a church and that's a difference that we simply cannot live with.

But if somebody says I really think we should never put flowers on the altar and somebody else says I think we should always have a bowl of flowers on the altar, most people would say that's an issue which we must not divide the church about. It's a local issue, which each church will have to decide for itself. And there's no point in getting in a lather about it. Now the question is, all these different issues that we face, which of those two categories do they come into? How do you know? And who says? Until we have prepared to address the question in those terms, the thing will just remain as a shouting match.


1. On Getting Out of the Mud: Reflections on the Windsor Report (published in the Church Times, 22 October; headlined ‘We Can All Celebrate Diversity’) When you’re stuck in the mud, you need two things. First, you need to find solid ground underneath the mud. Second, you need to know which way to go to find the road ahead. Only then can you take the steps – which may themselves involve getting even muddier than you are already – from where you are to where you need to be.

That is the shape of the Windsor Report. Sections A and B find the solid ground which really is down there somewhere, if only we could get our feet on to it, and explains a bit about how we got into the mud in the first place. Section C sets up some signposts for where we should be aiming in the long term, the solid road which would help us to avoid getting stuck like this again. Only then, in Section D, do we suggest to the Archbishop and the Primates (to whom we report, and who alone can move our recommendations forward) the steps that ought to be taken to extricate ourselves from our present muddle and mess. We on the Commission were determined not to let our wider reflections be distorted by the immediate problems.

There might in principle have been many issues which would have raised the same questions about how we act together as a Communion. In fact, one good thing to emerge is a reminder, particularly to the Church of England, that there is such a thing as the Anglican Communion, which is both far more and far less than the old Empire at prayer, and membership in which has given enormous encouragement and support to many beleaguered Christians, for instance in countries like Sudan and Pakistan.

The question is, how can this Communion be enabled to flourish, above all in its task of bringing the gospel of Jesus to the world that needs it so badly? We were happily unanimous that we must remain a ‘communion’, not something looser like a federation. Nor do we want to create any equivalent of a Papacy and Curia, not simply because we want to be different to Rome but for good reasons about the nature of authority within the church. Healthy ecclesiology includes a dynamic interplay, under God and in the power of the Spirit, between scripture, episcopacy, and the whole people of God, and we rejoice that the Anglican tradition provides a framework where this can flourish.

The fact that it seems not to have done so in the last few years indicates that things have become unbalanced, which is why the somewhat ad hoc ‘instruments of unity’ which have evolved – the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury himself – have proved insufficient to cope with the new questions. That is why, in Section C, we urge a further ‘tuning up’ of the ‘instruments’, to include a Council of Advice to support and assist the Archbishop of Canterbury and, crucially, an Anglican Covenant to provide a framework within which our future life together can flourish. The basis for this is a fresh consideration of the key concepts of autonomy, adiaphora (‘things indifferent’), and ‘subsidiarity’ (the principle of deciding all matters as close to the local level as possible).

These work together. Autonomy doesn’t mean total independence: I have autonomy over what I grow in my garden, but if I grow a plant which invades or infects your garden, you will ask me to prune it or dig it out. Many matters can and should be dealt with locally, but some inevitably involve the wider church, and then local initiatives become questionable. Similarly, all Anglicans know that there are differences we can live with (e.g. bread or wafers at the eucharist); equally, there are some we can’t (suppose we tried to consecrate a practising Muslim as a bishop).

We all celebrate diversity; the question is, what sorts of diversity are appropriate, and hence capable of local expression without damaging wider unity, and what sorts are inappropriate. One leading bishop said to me the other day, ‘I want us to make room for both opinions in the church’. That simply begs the question, as well as satisfying neither extreme. It assumes that the issue of sexual behaviour is one of the ‘things indifferent’; and the question before us is precisely whether or not that is the case. These issues, of how we ‘do’ communion, lie at the heart of the report.

The recommendations in Section D have already been criticized by some as too weak and by others as too strong. Note carefully what is said in the crucial paragraphs 134 and 144: we invite the persons concerned with the events in New Hampshire and New Westminster to express regret that ‘the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached’ in the actions that were taken. This is far more than merely saying, in effect, ‘we regret that some of you weren’t up to speed with modern thinking, and so have been puzzled and hurt’. It is saying ‘we recognise that there were proper constraints, belonging to the bonds of affection at the heart of our common life, and we went ahead and breached them’.

Everything else follows from this, including the similar though not identical request to bishops who have intervened in other people’s areas (paragraph 155). We have set our face against speculating very far on what might happen if these requests, and the others which flow from them, do not find a favourable response. We were very clear, though, that the Anglican Communion is called to take forward God’s mission in the world as a Communion, and that for the sake of that mission we must work much harder than before at the rich unity-in-diversity which declares to the world that Jesus is Lord.

2. Towards Maturity: The Windsor Report and Anglican Ecclesiology (published in the Tablet, 23 October 2004; headlined ‘The Windsor Report is a Step Towards Maturity’)

No Pope, no Curia, no hierarchical decision-making structure: how do we Anglicans manage (and I mean, manage)? How do we get things done? How do we maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace? That is the issue addressed by the Windsor report, despite the shrill chorus of those who think we were really talking about sex and are now cross because we didn’t say what they wanted to hear. The Report is a necessary and urgent step in the Anglican Communion’s path towards ecclesiological maturity.

We have existed for a long time with an ad hoc structure, including the ‘Instruments of Unity’ which have grown up over the years – the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting, and, at the centre, the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. The Commission is clear that it’s time to go deeper and work out in more detail what our ‘communion’ means and how it can function properly. This question could have been raised by any number of issues. The ‘presenting issues’ of New Hampshire and New Westminster, and of invasive episcopal actions in response, made the question urgent, but we tried not to let the shape of our thinking be distorted by those particular questions. We have tried to look further ahead, to see how the Anglican Communion might take forward God’s mission in the world in a vigorous and healthy way in decades to come.

The Report is in four sections; the recommendations in Section D only make sense when Sections A, B and C have been fully understood. It is in those earlier sections that we find the elements which will enable our ecclesiology to grow to maturity, neither collapsing into the muddle of a loose relationship of detached bodies nor squeezing into the brittle security of a tight, top-down authoritarian structure. Section A sets out the biblical and theological basis of ecclesiology. The church exists in communion with the Triune God, and receives from God the gift of unity and communion, and the call to radical holiness, as key elements in its essential task of witness to Christ and to God’s ultimate purposes. Anglicans have relished the way in which this mutual communion has sustained vulnerable parts of the Communion at times of crisis – for instance, during the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. We have developed ways of making difficult decisions. Member churches have recognised, until recent events, that on contentious matters no Province can go it alone; but on some issues (women bishops, for instance) the Lambeth Conference and the other ‘instruments of unity’ have given a green light for Provinces to make their own decisions, thus creating space for a diversity which does not threaten the overall unity.

The fact that this did not happen in the events of New Hampshire and New Westminster is what has precipitated the current crisis.

Section B explores the ecclesiological issues thereby raised. We make a fresh attempt to articulate what the phrase ‘the authority of scripture’ actually means: it must indicate the authority of God somehow exercised through scripture. When we understand scripture’s authority and how it works, taking into account the task of interpretation and the need to listen to one another as we engage in it, we discover that it correlates closely with the vocation of church leaders, particularly bishops.

The heart of the report, for me, is its exploration of three key concepts: ‘autonomy’, ‘subsidiarity’, and ‘adiaphora’. ‘Autonomy’, we argue, does not mean (as many imagine) that each province is free to do what it likes in all matters. ‘Autonomy’ implies a limited authority, much as the freedom of my fist stops where the freedom of your nose begins. This begs the question of how we can tell which issues do affect the larger family, but it is important to recognise that some issues can and do, and that only when they do not can things be decided at the local level. This leads to ‘subsidiarity’, the principle that matters should be decided as close to the local level as possible. The New Testament offers a rich interplay between ‘the church’ as the single family of all Christian people, transcending space and time, and ‘the church’ as the local expression of that one body.

‘Subsidiarity’ is a way of making sure that the latter is never ignored in favour of the former, while recognising that there are many times when local decisions must reflect the mind of the whole Communion. ‘Subsidiarity’ is also closely correlated with ‘adiaphora’, the Pauline principle that some matters are ‘things indifferent’, about which Christians can disagree without dividing the church. For Paul, this included eating or not eating meat offered to idols, and observing or not observing special holy days (the key passages are Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8—10). We all agree that there are some, perhaps many, things on which we can agree to differ without breaking communion.

The key question is, how do we know which issues these are, and who is to say? The vital point, which I find myself making again and again in discussion, is that we cannot beg this latter question. We cannot simply say, with so many, ‘I just think we should agree to differ, and should make room for diversity of opinion’. We would not say that (to take a ridiculous example) about a suggestion that we should give up reading the Bible in church and read the Koran instead. To propose that a particular course of action should be considered ‘adiaphora’ is just that, a proposal, which must be tested and weighed. Only when all relevant parties are agreed that the matter is indeed ‘indifferent’ can the principle of subsidiarity come into play, and the issue be decided in different Provinces or local churches. These are the principles upon which our ecclesiology can grow to maturity.

Section C applies them to the Instruments of Unity, suggesting ways in which their role can be clarified and enhanced. Of particular interest are the proposals to establish a Council of Reference to assist the Archbishop of Canterbury, and an Anglican Covenant which would function, not so much as a body of international canon law, but as an agreed framework for maintaining the highest degree of communion and for working through problematic questions and decisions. This possible Covenant is a characteristically Anglican way forward, allowing both for local autonomy and coherent and responsible worldwide communion. Only in the light of all this can the recommendations of Section D be understood.

The Anglican Communion does not currently possess structures that would allow for formal ‘punishments’, whatever that might mean. We have asked instead for expressions of regret from those churches that have acted precipitately, without going through the established procedures or providing the rest of the Communion with a reasoned and biblical explanation for their actions. This includes both New Hampshire and New Westminster, and also those bishops who have intervened in other dioceses and provinces, in contravention not only of Anglican custom but of the Nicene decree on the subject. We have asked all parties to refrain from any further actions of the same kind. If the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates accept and implement these recommendations, and if the various bodies in question respond positively, there is a good chance that we shall be able to grow towards that maturity in Christ, and that mutual support and rich communion, through which we shall be able the better to take forward God’s mission to the world.

3. Which Differences Make a Difference? Reflections on the Windsor Report (published in the Guardian, 23 October 2004; headlined ‘Blindly Embracing Diversity Will Damage Unity’)

Sex was the occasion for the Windsor Report, not its subject. The Commission was charged with looking at the deeper problem within the global Anglican family: how to remain as a family, despite diversity.

The theological word for ‘family’ is ‘communion’. This pregnant term evokes, among other things, participation in the life of the triune God, the consequent partnership of Christians with one another, and the expression of both in the Eucharist. The question is: What does this ‘communion’ mean in practice? Does it have boundaries and constraints, and if so what are they? How much diversity is appropriate?

At this point some contemporary Anglican discourse, especially in America, has reached for two contemporary philosophical ideas: ‘difference’, echoing Derrida (though without his bottomless subtelty), and ‘the Other’, a central theme in Levinas. Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA), has repeatedly invoked these: we must ‘celebrate difference’ and ‘embrace the Other’. In other words, we must be a Broad Church, without nasty rigid boundaries.

These concepts are problematic even in their own terms, though this is usually ignored in the public discourse which has made them central to its (ironically narrow) new morality. But invoking them in current Anglican debate simply begs the question. We all agree that some differences are to be celebrated. We all agree that some ‘Others’ are to be embraced. But, as the Yale theologian Miroslav Volf argued in his award-winning Exclusion and Embrace (Nashville, 1996), random ‘embracing’ risks colluding with evil. To celebrate all differences (not that anyone does, but some talk as if we should) is to collapse into soggy Anglican niceness, a simpering, ‘tolerant’ parody of genuine Christian love.

Here the Windsor Report restates a classic Anglican (and Pauline) doctrine: adiaphora (‘things indifferent’). Some differences, particularly those involving ethnic diversity, must not be allowed to fracture communion. But one must distinguish the differences which must not make a difference and those which are bound to do so. Not all cultural characteristics are to be embraced. The Scythians were famous for being hot-tempered; the Corinthians, for sexual laxity. Both lifestyles are ruled out, declares Paul, for those ‘in Christ’. To insist on them is to divide the church.

The question then is: which things come into which category? Which differences make a difference? At this point some would have liked the Windsor Report to short-circuit the argument – either to declare that the north American churches had been ‘prophetic’, pointing towards a bright new future, or, with the global Anglican majority, to reaffirm traditional biblical ethics. Either of those courses would likewise have begged the questions: How do we know?, and Who says?

Anglicans have developed, over the years, soft-edged and subtle ways of addressing those questions. The Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates’ Meeting, and the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, together constitute, not a papal-style Curia, but a network of ‘instruments of unity’. In previous hard cases (e.g. women bishops), individual Provinces have taken care not to proceed without these bodies agreeing that the innovation will not harm ‘communion’. The charge against the north American churches, for which they have been invited to express regret, is not that they took certain decisions, but that they thereby knowingly ignored, and hence damaged, the ‘proper constraints of the bonds of affection’ which, expressed in these ‘instruments’, hold us together. That is why the Report also criticizes inter-diocesan invasion, however well intentioned.

So far, to my knowledge, the only expressed regret has been that actions taken have hurt other people. That is not the point. What matters is a refreshed understanding, rooted in scripture and common tradition, of how ‘communion’ works. That is what the Report is all about. That is why we have urged that the ‘instruments’ be tuned up, without losing their essential character, to meet the needs of a new day.

The natural consequence of treating the ‘instruments’ with contempt is that one would not then participate in them oneself. The Report, determined to treat those involved with proper respect, suggests that they might in conscience (and, we could add, in logic) draw this conclusion for themselves. Whether they will do so remains to be seen. The crowning irony might be that, in seeking to embrace the Other, the American churches will ignore the rather obvious meaning of that idea within sexual morality itself; and that, in celebrating ‘difference’, they will ignore the difference between one kind of difference and another.

4. Thoughts on Concerns and Questions about the Windsor Report (posted on the Fulcrum website (www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk))

The main reason the Lambeth Commission was asked to talk about communion life and structures rather than about sex was because there would have been no point in doing the latter. The Lambeth Conference 1998 had already reaffirmed the church’s stance on the subject, by a very substantial majority; and this had in turn been underlined by the ACC. The Primates had then made it very clear that to break this line in the case of Gene Robinson would have enormous and damaging implications for the Communion, and the Archbishop of Canterbury had reinforced this. Thus all four ‘instruments of unity’ had already spoken; what more could the Commission have said? If they do not hear Lambeth and the Primates, neither will they be convinced even if Robin Eames were to rise up and repeat it all.

We were thus in the position of Paul, not in 1 Corinthians, addressing ethical issues head on, but in 2 Corinthians, addressing the second-order issue of what happens when a church has resisted such authority structures as it has. Just as Paul has to go back to first base and explain the nature of his apostolic authority, so the Commission had to go back to first base and explain why the Lambeth Conference and the other three Instruments of Unity are what they are, how they have come to function, and more especially how they enable the church to carry forward God’s mission to the world. The charge against ECUSA and New Westminster at this level was precisely not that they had acted in certain ways in relation to same-sex relationships; that was presupposed. As in 2 Corinthians, the charge this time is that by acting the way they did they were ignoring such structures of authority as we possess, which being Anglicans we prefer to articulate not in terms of a top-down Curial structure but in terms of the well-known and long-established ‘bonds of affection’.

They have been asked to express regret for doing so, and to promise not to do so again. I leave it to semantic pedants whether this means ‘repentance’ or not, but I have to say that when I tell God and my neighbour that I regret breaking the high call of love and promise not to do so again that looks and feels pretty much like repentance to me. And that, of course, is precisely what the expressions of regret currently coming from Griswold and Robinson are not doing; they regret that some people were upset, much in the same way that when I’m driving lawfully down the road I regret that someone’s pet mouse ran out in front of me and was killed; that is, I regret the hurt but am not guilty, and will continue to drive at the same speed down the same road. My sense from this point is that by explicitly not expressing the ‘regret’ they have been asked to express they are setting a tone, which I hope ECUSA and NW will not adopt but fear they may, which will simply result in us reaching the questions of paragraph 157 sooner rather than later. From that point of view, all that the ‘orthodox’ will have to do is to hang on and wait and see whether those charged will draw the logical conclusions of their actions (as I said in my article in the Guardian today), i.e. that having ignored the Instruments of Unity they should now withdraw from participating in them.

Because the issue of the Report is about structures of authority, it was and remains important that we also said something about those who have invaded other dioceses. As Josiah Fearon has made clear in an interview, there were plenty of people on the Commission who did not see this as an ‘equal’ or ‘even-handed’ question; Josiah’s image about someone breaking into a neighbour’s house to rescue their children from a fire was used, and though the Commission as a whole didn’t sign up to that there was a lot of sympathy for it. However, we must recognize – as I know from first-hand experience – that there are some Anglicans who have for some time been looking for a chance to set up independent networks and structures, and have engaged in aggressive planting which cannot be justified by this or other particular emergencies. I know this is not what (for instance) Bob Duncan and many others in the US were doing, but the Commission was aware of a wide spectrum of cross-boundary activity and wasn’t about to engage in detailed analysis of different movements and actions. The point is this: since ECUSA and NW had forced us to look at structures of authority, bonds of affection, and so on, we could not ignore the fact that Lambeth and the Primates had also urged members of the Communion not to invade one another's territory, and that some had nevertheless gone ahead and done so. If we are to live with the instruments of unity we currently possess – and I know there are some who would like us to invent new and more solid structures, but we have to start where we are, not where we aren’t – then it is vital, precisely if we want those instruments to work in terms of the rebuke now issued to ECUSA and NW, that we all sign up ourselves to living within them and making them function to the glory of God and the work of the gospel.

In fact, if you look carefully at paragraphs 134 and 144, and then at pargraph 155, you will see that we are precisely not asking for an ‘equal and opposite’ statement. In fact, paragraph 155 simply asks the invading bishops for an expression of regret for the consequences of their actions, i.e. the anger and frustration of those who were genuinely trying to make DEPO work, etc., not for regret that they did them. (I know, by the way, that there are several different viewpoints about DEPO. The Commission was assured by the one of our members who was in the best position to know, and who we trusted deeply, that though there were a few places where difficulties were being experienced, one in particular, every effort was now being made to put it into practice and that in general this was working well.)

I fully appreciate – as those who know my writings on other subjects will realize – that there are massive theological cleavages within American Christianity and that these are not going to go away. I am also horribly aware that this comes at a time when American society is polarized as seldom before in the run-up to an election, and that many in America see all ethical issues in a straightforward way in terms of their own particularly cultural and political packages. This puts many of us in an impossible position when, for instance, we remain implacably opposed both to America’s actions in Iraq and to same-sex blessings. It is vital, for the health of Christianity worldwide, that the rest of the Communion refuses to be drawn into this false and trivializing presentation and polarization, and gets on with the tasks the Commission urges upon it, i.e. the work of the gospel and the serious reading of scripture. We need to take courage; not to lose our nerve; to hold on and see the new work that God will do.

5. Further Comments as yet unpublished: as at 30 October 2004

Since writing the above I have received quite a lot of messages, letters, emails and so on castigating me for signing a document which rebukes the ‘invading’ bishops, making their actions morally equivalent to those who consecrated Gene Robinson. This is a blatant misrepresentation, and I have replied quite strongly that to read the Report, or my remarks above, in this sense amounts to malicious misrepresentation. In the Christianity Today interview I was careful to stress that the invading bishops are at that level making the same error, that is, failing to live and act within the bonds of affection as stressed by successive Lambeth Conferences (not to mention the Council of Nicaea). This is why it’s important to grasp, as in the Fulcrum piece above, that we are not here dealing with the first-order presenting issues at all, as in 1 Corinthians, but, as in 2 Corinthians, with the second-order issues of authority and ecclesiology. I am very sympathetic to the plight of those churches who find themselves persecuted, vilified and threatened by bishops of a particular theological stripe. But if we are appealing to the ‘bonds of affection’ created by and around the ‘instruments of unity’ – and as international Anglicans that is all we have got to appeal to, since we have no international Canon Law or anything like it – then we have to take note of other things which the same bodies have repeatedly said. I stress, as does Oliver O’Donovan in his piece below, that the ‘invading’ bishops have not been asked to express the same kind of regret as the consecrators of Gene Robinson. But I stress above all that the Report itself demands to be read carefully. It is a theological whole. It is not, as the Archbishop of Sydney seems to think, a bit of biblical exegesis followed by a lot of polity. It is not about church organisation rather than theology and living under scripture. It is about how, as Anglicans determined to live under God’s authority expressed in scripture, we work out the scriptural commands to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Reading the Report carefully is itself, it seems, a challenge to some to grow to maturity of thinking, just as what the Report actually says is a challenge to the church to mature in its ecclesiological practice.

Sermon: University Sermon preached at Merton College, Oxford, October 31 2004

Two weeks ago, Private Eye ran a cartoon which, though a correspondent this week has declared it blasphemous, I regard as shrewd in its observation and implication. It is a crucifixion scene; but instead of Mary and John at the foot of the cross, we find a man on a soap-box, presumably Peter, addressing the other disciples, and saying ‘It’s time to put this behind us now and move on.’

The cartoon is not, I take it, satirising the Christian message. Indeed, it assumes two things about Christianity: first, that the disciples were in fact only able to ‘move on’ from Good Friday when Jesus was raised from the dead, and, second, that in another sense neither they nor we have ‘moved on’ from Good Friday, since Christians have always continued to look with awe and gratitude on Jesus’ death as the ultimate outpouring of God’s love. No: the cartoon is assuming the normal Christian understanding of the cross, and is using it to satirise instead the tendency in today’s world to speak of ‘putting things behind us’ and of it being ‘time to move on’, when actually what has occurred is serious, perhaps earth-shattering, and can only be put behind us by being faced, worked through, and dealt with. Of course there is such a thing as paranoid or morbid clinging to past events and allowing them to deform us, mentally, morally and emotionally. But there is also such a thing as sweeping things under the carpet, as shrugging our shoulders and walking away as though life could ever be the same after what has happened.

Having served on the Lambeth Commission that produced the Windsor Report, I have often felt, these last two weeks, that it was time to put it all behind me and move on; but clearly that is not an option. Likewise, the events which precipitated the Commission’s work, namely the actions in New Hampshire and New Westminster, on the one hand, and the activities, on the other, of bishops who have invaded other people’s dioceses to support dissenting parishes, have happened and are not going to go away. It won’t do to say, as some have tried to do over the last year, that we could put it all behind us and move on. Something has happened. Something is happening. Life is not going to be the same.

But how can we begin to understand what has happened and what is happening, in the Anglican Communion but also, in a measure, throughout the Christian world – since, as our ecumenical partners regularly remind us, everyone from the Russian Orthodox Church to the independent free churches is looking over our shoulder to see how we’re going to handle this one? I turn to the book which, arguably, offers the fullest and most rounded ecclesiology in the New Testament, namely the letter to the Ephesians, which the Report, too, took as its starting and finishing point. And, cheerfully begging the question for the sake of brevity, I refer to its author as ‘Paul’, leaving you to imagine inverted commas around that name should you so wish.

The letter comes in two halves, which in some ways match one another. The first three chapters open with a prayer of celebration and hope, looking back to the facts of redemption and on to the time when God will sum up all things in Jesus Christ, things in heaven and on earth, and praying that the church may come to understand and appropriate all that this means, and to live by hope in the resurrection power of God. This gives way to a robust statement of the sinfulness of all humans and their salvation by grace through faith, and to the direct result of this in terms of the tearing down of the ancient dividing wall between Jew and Gentile and the construction instead of a new, living Temple in which all are welcome on equal terms. This in turn leads Paul to reflect on his own work and suffering, which is aimed at displaying God’s richly varied wisdom before the rulers and authorities of the world. The first half of the letter concludes with another prayer for the church to be strengthened in and by the powerful love of Christ.

The second half of the letter, beginning with the passage we heard a few moments ago, consists of an appeal that the church should base its life on this foundation. The passage we heard is an appeal for rich, vibrant, multifacted unity within the church, stressing that the reason God gives varied ministries to the church is in order to bring this unity about. This then leads, as in the first half of the letter, to working out in practice what it means to leave behind the life of sin and to live instead by the love, new life, and radical holiness of God. This brings Paul, again mirroring the first half of the letter, to the confrontation between the gospel and the principalities and powers of the world. Spiritual warfare is the inevitable consequence of being caught up in the present time by the powerful, lifegiving love of God which has broken into the present world in Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading must be seen within this larger framework. Only so do we understand that the unity of the church, which our passage emphasizes, is not simply one ethical goal among others. It is foundational for everything else. It has of course been fashionable among protestants, for obvious reasons, to sit loose to the call to unity, preferring instead to plough one’s own furrow and find such partial unity as one can with others who happen to be nearby. (Perhaps that is one of the reasons why some have rejected Pauline authorship of Ephesians.)

Some, in reacting to the Windsor Report, have even suggested that the Report is not concerned with Christian doctrine so much as with mere ‘polity’ – failing to realise that the question of what church unity means in practice is, for Ephesians 4 at least, not only a deeply theological point but one which is grounded on nothing less than the action and promise of God in Christ, as in Ephesians 1. The unity which the church is to make every effort to maintain in chapter 4 is the anticipation, during the present time, of that eventual unity which God has promised for all things in heaven and earth. The church is called to live before the world as a sign and foretaste of that final unity. This is a vital piece of what is known in the trade as ‘inaugurated eschatology’, bringing a bit of God’s future forwards into the present; and this sets the context for Christian holiness as itself the inauguration, in actual human lives, of the new way of being human which is made possible through Christ and the Spirit, and which will one day be fully attained in the resurrection.

The spiritual warfare which results, towards the end of both halves of the letter (3.10; 6.10–20), follows as the direct consequence, and consists not simply of a battle between good and evil but of a battle between the present world, vividly described at the start of chapter 2, and the future world which has already broken in to the present one in Jesus Christ and whose powerful, healing energy is to be lived out here and now in the church. The struggle for Christian unity is to be located on this larger map of belief, hope and life.

We should not therefore be surprised when we discover that the present extraordinary divisions in the church match quite closely the present extraordinary divisions in the wider world where we are called to live and bear witness. Nor is this simply a matter for regret, as though it merely indicated that the church were, once again, aping the fashions and fads of the world around. I see it in a much more positive light: that the church ought not to be surprised if it finds itself called to live in pain and prayer at exactly those places where the world itself is in pain. That is part of our vocation, part of the spiritual struggle in which we are called to engage.

Of course, there may be compromise as well, at various levels and in various ways. It would be surprising if there were not. But sharing the pain of the world, in order to hold that pain before God the creator and redeemer in prayer and in the power of the Spirit, is a central and characteristic Christian place to be. It does not of itself mean that we have taken a wrong turning, but suggests rather that we are following the path marked out by our crucified Lord. And when we find ourselves once more at the foot of his cross, we must not quickly declare that it’s time to put this behind us and move on, but rather conclude that it’s time to wait and pray and ponder and mourn and hope.

In particular, it is extraordinary that the two weeks since the Windsor Report was published have seen a strangely similar battle being fought out in the corridors of European power. The presenting issue is that someone was appointed as a Commissioner whose theological and moral beliefs were deeply out of tune with the prevailing European secular liberalism, someone whose opposition to homosexual practice put him as much at odds with those around him as the support for homosexual practice within the Episcopal Church of the United States puts that church at odds with the great majority of Anglicans worldwide. That alone is striking. But the parallel goes deeper.

The issues raised by last week’s European fiasco have to do with the question of how we hold together as an international community embodying widely different points of view – an issue which is going to become more pressing as Europe enlarges ever more in an eastwards direction. We simply haven’t figured out how to live and work together. That’s why, I take it, the new European Constitution has been signed this week; and, in a similar though not identical way, that is why the Windsor Report is proposing that we inaugurate a pan-Anglican Covenant – not to decide all issues in advance, certainly not to establish a kind of top-down quasi-papal structure as some have imagined, but to create a network within which we can live together with that blend of autonomy and interdependence which, as the Report argues, reflects as closely as we can the richly varied unity of which Ephesians speaks.

There is thus a remarkable parallel between current events in Europe and current disputes in the Anglican Communion. I am reminded of what George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community, used to say: ‘If you think that’s a coincidence, I wish you a very dull life!’ The world is in pain at various levels, and the church finds itself in the self-same pain. That has the marks of the cross of Jesus Christ upon it, and constitutes, as I said, a call to prayer, patience and hope.

But of course it doesn’t stop there. The world is also in pain right now around the issues of truth and truthfulness, and their correlatives, trust and trustworthiness. As Bernard Williams argued in his last book, we are faced with a sharp irony in the contemporary world. At one level, we demand more truth, more facts, more data, more pieces of paper in official filing cabinets.

Our culture has swung sharply towards more accountability, compliance with more and more regulations; and this means more records to keep, more police checks, more forms to fill in, paper-trails for every decision and action. At the same time, we have learnt that truthfulness is harder and harder to find. The late lamented Jacques Derrida forced into our subconscious the principle of deconstruction that casts suspicion on anything, no matter how truthful or factual it may appear. We all want justice, but whose justice? We all believe in reason, but whose rationality? We all search for truth, but truth-claims often mask the will to power. We are caught between the upper millstone of an imperative towards factual truth and the nether millstone of the undermining of all truth-claims.

And in the middle of this irony, which squashes and pinches us day by day, we hear again the words of Paul in Ephesians 4.14 and 15: ‘We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. Rather, by speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.’ And now at last we can hear that, not just as a tricky imperative, a moral chicane to be negotiated with care, but as good news, as gospel.

There are such things as deceitful schemes producing howling gales of wrong ideas, liable to blow us all off course. But there is also such a thing as a truth which is to be spoken in love, indeed which can only be spoken that way if it is to remain truth. Just as the gospel of Jesus deconstructs deconstruction itself, because the grand narrative which centres upon the cross cannot be construed as a power-story but only as a love-story, so the task of the church, and specifically the task enabled by the varied ministries within the church, cannot be seen as a power-play, though most Christians are sometimes tempted to turn it into one, but can and must only be seen as, and particularly lived as, a love-play.

The elusive combination of truth and love constitutes the church’s call to live at the place where the world is in pain between truth and truthfulness. Near the centre of the problems addressed by the Windsor Report is the question of trust, trust which has broken down in various parts of the Anglican Communion, trust which is threatened again when people fail to read what the Report is actually saying and hurl against it ridiculous accusations which condition the way others in turn will read it. Speaking the truth in love is the only way to reinstate that trust which our society, our world has all but abandoned.

The call of Ephesians to a costly, difficult unity is thus a call to the church to stand at the place where the world is in pain, as in Europe at the moment, and as in western culture we are trapped between the peremptory demand for truth and the persistent deconstruction of truthfulness. But there is a third place where the tectonic plates of the world are grinding together right now, related to these two but going beyond them; and the Anglican Communion finds itself there too, amidst the earthquakes and tidal waves that have resulted. And we find this third place both to the east and to the west: in the Middle East, especially just now Iraq, and of course in United States. And just as we in the UK are caught up in these issues whether we like it or not, so all those in communion with the ancient See of Canterbury are caught up in events not of our making or desiring, but which will nevertheless decisively shape our future.

I had thought it was only my perception, but today’s political commentators assure me that the present presidential election in the USA is indeed the most bitter and divisive anyone can remember. The ideological stakes are massive, with the swirling currents of opinion in that great melting-pot of a country hardening into two solid blocks about to crash into one another like a pair of enormous conkers. There are of course Christians on both sides; but the most thoughtful ones are aware of the deep ambiguity of lining up either candidate as the natural one to claim a Christian vote.

And the real problem, which constitutes the third point at which the Anglican Communion is called to stand in pain and prayer at the point where the world is in pain, is the deeply misleading bundling up of all moral and political issues into these two great blocks, so that to be for George Bush is to be for guns and low taxes and big business and war in Iraq and the security of Israel, and against abortion and gay marriage; and to be for John Kerry is to be for abortion and gay rights and the Palestinians and higher taxes and ecological responsibility, and against the war and America’s thoughtless global imperialism. It doesn’t take much knowledge of ethics and moral philosophy to protest that the component parts of these two blocks do not self-evidently belong together, and that none of the issues involved is well served by being thus bundled up. But it is the misfortune of the moment, a misfortune which (because of America’s current status in the world) we all share, that we are caught up in the rhetoric, if not in the election itself, so that a voice raised on one issue is heard as a trumpet call for the entire package.

And the Anglican Communion, not from its corporate choice but from the pressure of events, finds itself called to stand in the middle of it all and say No. No to the misleading bundling up of different issues; No to the unreason which refuses to look at actual arguments and relies instead on spin and smear; No to shrill and brittle claims to absolute truth and to the deconstruction which undermines all truth; No to the political correctness which insists on its own way and to the opposite political correctness which insists on its right to resist in its own way; and, behind all these, Yes to a way of being the people of God which is rooted in scripture, Yes to a celebration of our Communion with all the Saints who have gone before us, and whom we meet not least in the tradition they left behind, Yes to the wise and humble use of God-given reason; Yes to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, to speaking the truth in love, to growing up together into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Saying all this is difficult and painful, and it takes prayer and patience. That is what the Windsor Report has tried to do in itself; that is the call it has issued to the Communion, and to all others watching in the wings. That is part of our appropriation of Paul’s promise in Ephesians 3.10, that through the church the many-splendoured wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. Only as the church lives and speaks in this way is it announcing to the powers of the world that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord and that they are not. We cannot put this present moment behind us and move on. We are called to stay at the foot of the cross, to hold on to the pain of the world in the presence of our loving God, and to claim his victory, and only his, in the church and for the world.

Comment on the Windsor Report by Professor Oliver O’Donovan (Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, Christ Church, Oxford) (This article is to be posted on the Fulcrum website but as of October 30th it isn’t there yet)

‘The Only Poker Game in Town’

1. The Lambeth Commission was asked to make a theological and legal discernment of a particular situation, describing that situation in an analytical way that would prepare for a practical decision by the Primates and A.C.C. Their work, we may say, is a service rendered to the episcopê of the Anglican churches, aimed towards an act of judgment that would address the offence they have given one another and make space for them to return to fellowship. It is not a servuce to its didachê, or ministry of the word. It needs hardly to be added that the Commission was asked to accomplish its task under very great time-pressure, while the fellowship of the Anglican Communion was continuing to rupture around it.

Precisely because their task was to provide the organs of episcope with what they needed for a practical judgment, the Commission were bound to present their discernment in as objective and cautious a fashion as it would bear. It is strange to discover that some critics of the Report hoped that it would pro

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