jQuery Slider

You are here

A WORD IN SEASON - by Christopher Seitz

A WORD IN SEASON

By Christopher Seitz

The following three sets of remarks for the occasion of a discussion of the Windsor Report in the Diocese of Kentucky, with the Bishop of Kentucky, The Rt Revd T Gulick, at St Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church, Louisville Kentucky, on 9 January 2005.

I was invited by the Rector, The Revd Robin Jennings, to this exchange with his Bishop in the crucial run-up period to the ECUSA House of Bishops Meeting and the February Primates Meeting. We were both given 20 minutes for prepared remarks.

This was followed by a question and answer period, and a time for brief closing comments. Approximately 500 people were in attendance.

I hope that a transcript of the entire proceeding will be made. It was difficult for me to pre-judge the audience and the level of their awareness of the Windsor Report, and for this reason I prepared three different sets of comments. “A Word in Season” formed the basis for my opening remarks. There are areas of overlap with the other two sets of remarks. Because we are living in such a difficult season, and because we are at a real crossroads in our Communion life, it was a challenge to know how to say anything of substance in such a short period of time.

A Word in Season: What Does the Windsor Report Mean for the Diocese of Kentucky?

“In all honesty, I dare to suggest this is one of the Communion’s last opportunities.”
The Most Rev’d Robin Eames

Twenty minutes is not a lot of time for my comments. I want to be sure I answer one question: what do events of recent days mean for the average Episcopalian in the Diocese of Kentucky? By ‘events of recent days’ I mean the release of The Windsor Report (TWR) and the chief event that triggered it: the decision by portions of the American church to proceed with the consecration of a divorced man living in a sexual relationship with another man to the office of Bishop in New Hampshire.

I have made several passes at this assignment, and the difficulty is with bringing the matter to a sufficiently local level. My concern is to bring a word in season, and one which is the most useful for people here (other versions of my remarks for this Diocese can be seen at our web-site).

One could discuss TWR from the standpoint of church history, theology and scripture. What has the Anglican Communion said about itself? How has it understood its identity? Much has been written on this over the past century, and TWR summarizes a range of these statements and organizes them in the light of our difficult season. I do not believe TWR is adventurous at this point. I believe it summarizes fairly what this Communion has said about its identity, and is uncontroversial at this juncture. (Please see our web-site if you wish more information and analysis).

A second perspective is the international one. I am deeply sensitive to this because I am an American Episcopalian who sees ECUSA ‘from the outside in.’ I have served parishes and taught theology more outside the ECUSA than inside it, as an Anglican. I presently see the Episcopal Church from the (British) perspective of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of England. But also, due to my work on the Anglican Communion Institute, I see ECUSA from the perspective of the Global South, and from the perspective of those who worked on the Lambeth Commission and who crafted TWR. I and my colleagues have worked closely with individual members of the Commission, and have also produced numerous documents which influenced aspects of the report. We remain in close contact with several members of the Commission and are sensitive to the way they perceive the reactions of individual Bishops in the ECUSA to TWR and its recommendations.

And finally there is the local perspective. What does it look like on the ground in the ECUSA? This is where I presume most of you all are here in KY. This dimension is also more than clear to me. I have two brothers who are parish clergy and whose families are just like you all here: a mixture of concerned and confused and unsure about the future. My father, two of my uncles, and my grandfather all served parishes in the ECUSA. Email and rapid communication have made all of us, in this generation, more aware of one another.

My life has been built around this church. I believe we are now, however, watching a tide going out, slowly, steadily. Some see it as benign. Some are unaware of it. Some are worried but don’t know what to expect. Some are indifferent to it or contest it. Some see it as a time to collect free fish! But in my judgment, it is a sign that we are facing a fierce incoming tide here in the American church: a Communion tsunami if you will. What worries me most is the degree to which members of the church in this American region dispute that the tide’s recession means anything particularly grave, or that there has been no serious tide recession in point of fact. That is potentially the single most destructive aspect of our season, to my mind: The belief that all will blow over, that everyone will get used to things, that angry conservatives (call them what you will) will in time just walk out, and we can have the church we all believed we always were anyway. Or maybe we can just hunker down, in whatever bunker we can construct, and hope it all goes away. If I say anything tonight, it is that this is not realistic thinking and living.

I was raised an Episcopalian in neighboring West Virginia, and the Diocese had a companion relationship with the Diocese of Tanganyika, as it was called then. The little pond at the church camp I went to was called Lake Tanganyika. I remember being proud that I belonged to a world-wide church. Episcopalian Christians were Christians with brothers and sisters all over the world, and they came and visited us, and we knew that our local church was always also an international church. In Christ there was no east or west, in Him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.

That dimension has never disappeared entirely, but alongside it has grown up another way to describe ourselves. Episcopalians are an American denomination, whose identity is chiefly to do with not being Baptist, or Methodist, or Roman Catholic, or whatever; with having this or that social identity; with claiming some theological distinctive (a ‘three-legged stool’ of scripture, reason, tradition); and with having a particular kind of worship. Deeply informed, as well, by notions of rights and local autonomy, or as they might say in New Hampshire, ‘Live free or die.’ Other denominations in America have their ways of being Christians, and we have ours, within that same American, denominated context. So this version of being Episcopalian goes.

TWR accepts, rather awkwardly, that American Episcopalians may forget that they belong to a Communion of churches, which has Instruments of Unity, and which has stated frequently, and clearly, in historical documents, what it means to belong to an Anglican Communion. It accepts that ECUSA, preposterous though this might seem, may be unaware of its own claim to be a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. It accepts that one way of viewing what transpired in the ECUSA in 2003 was: ‘they know not what they do.’ Or, if they did know, they were unaware how much their unilateral actions would affect the integrity and viability of this way of being a global Christian, an Anglican Communion Christian. So TWR asks the Kentucky Episcopalian to think beyond the counties of this diocese; beyond the state; beyond the province; beyond the national church; beyond Canterbury; and beyond any single favorite region: To that one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth. TWR implies, as politely as it can, a series of interlocking questions for ECUSA to consider: whether what it does hurts that fellowship; whether it cares what others say it has done, rather than what it claims it has done; and whether, if it insists on acting independently and unilaterally, it ought properly to cease claiming to be an Anglican Communion member at all?

The TWR does another generous thing that should not escape notice. It does not issue marching orders so much as it asks ECUSA to do some serious soul-searching. It describes what the Communion has said it is and it asks ECUSA, does it wish to be a part of this? Some may feel the question is impertinent or that it is irrelevant. Others may believe that the view of the Communion being set forth is wrong.

But there is a problem here that must be faced: TWR is a Communion statement, made by Communion representatives, commissioned by two instruments of unity, and set in motion because of actions made unilaterally by one region of the Communion. In other words, it is a minimal statement meant to keep the Communion, at its widest reach, capable of meeting and being a Communion at all. If it does not work in its present form, no milder alternative can hold things together. It is not a document meant simply to buy time so that things will blow over. It is a document which asks of this church, in America, several specific things. If these are not taken seriously and pursued, at least by a portion of ECUSA, then our recourse to a notion of being an Anglican Communion is false and ought to be discarded. We need to be clear about this. The choice is: an Anglican Communion or a US denomination.

In respect of the unilateral actions of 2003, TWR asks ECUSA:

1) Will it state that it regrets the actions themselves, as having been taken without sufficient consultation?
2) Will it abide by a moratorium on innovations?
3) Will it abide by Lambeth 1.10 as the teaching of the Communion?
4) Will those who participate in affairs of the Instruments of Unity consider as a matter of conscience their future attendance, given the hurt they have caused?

All these requests signal clearly that ECUSA has erred, by commission or omission, and that it has a chance to repair things. But only if it—consciously, formally—so chooses.

It also states two clear principles:

1) Conciliarity: matters which touch everyone must be decided by everyone. It is not possible unilaterally to say, ‘this ought not be of concern to you over there’; if it is of concern, then nothing should be done without consultation and agreement or proper arrangements for disagreement, made by all;
2) Theological warrant: for a change in teaching to be considered, theological warrant must be given.

With these two principles in place, TWR makes clear that ECUSA has not given sufficient theological warrant for its actions. It has not sought to provide such warrant nor has it sought to get clear agreement within its own family about it; still less has it proceeded to secure discussion and agreement elsewhere in the Communion, through appropriate channels.

What does all this mean for Episcopalians in Kentucky?

1. They could decide that it is more important to be an American denomination than a member of the wider Communion, along the lines sketched out by TWR;
2. They could say that TWR is flawed and seek to amend it or get rid of it;
3. They could seek to buy more time, and hope that people would forget the disagreements, or that those who insist on some form of discipline, or compliance with the requests and principles of TWR go away;
4. They could seek to provide theological warrant for what they are doing in the area of sexuality, and initiate a plan to secure ECUSA discussion and agreement. The problem here, in part, is that such a theological discussion was initiated and the conclusions reached were that the ECUSA ought not act as it did in fact act. So the role of theological warrant in the ECUSA is clouded to the point of futility.

The real question facing the Diocese of Kentucky is: does it wish to uphold its decision to act as it sees fit, without consultation or conciliar agreement in the Communion, and so to abide by principles now set forth in TWR? Or, does it reject this way forward?

For those who wish either to buy more time or contest what TWR contains, there is a further, grave difficulty. TWR has bought the Communion time. It has allowed the Communion, as a Communion, to motor along under the assumption that issues affecting all would be addressed. Everyone has been in a waiting period. We have never had such a disruption in Communion affairs, affecting every corner of the Communion, caused in this case by actions in this American church (cf Anglican Church of Canada). Annual meetings of the Primates, such as had been held for the past five years, could not have been held in 2004. The work of the ACC has been called into question, at the simple level of meeting between Communion brothers and sisters. The Archbishop of Canterbury is hampered in his chief role, in terms of being an Instrument of Unity, that is, his capacity to gather the Primates, or, if 2008 were this year, the bishops of the Communion for a Lambeth Conference.

When the Primates meet next month, they will be doing so only because TWR bought them time, and the possibility of a way forward. The principles articulated and the requests made of ECUSA are serious. The issue is not whether angry dissidents will walk away, but whether the Diocese of Kentucky will walk together with the Communion, by doing what TWR has asked of it. When the Primates meet, will there be a willingness to sign on to what TWR asks? If the Presiding Bishop from this region cannot signal compliance, or if he wants to defer things until some later date, will he be speaking for all?

I should hope not. Speaking from the context of the larger Communion and its place in God’s work in the world, I want to see an Episcopal Church in this region which remains part of ‘one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth’ – on the terms of that fellowship’s own communion mind. TWR gives us a timely and satisfactory glimpse into that mind. I hope individual ECUSA Bishops will stand up and signal compliance, and in doing so, choose a Communion over a local denominated Christianity. But TWR has made it clear. It is now up for them to decide whether they wish to walk together.

After February’s Primate Meeting, itself preceded by an ECUSA House of Bishops meeting in several days, there will be no time left. By then we will know whether a Communion has been solidified, and pledges made to ensure its future, or whether we will have forfeited this: All in the name of local denominated churches, one of them in America being led by Bishops with a memory of an Anglican Communion, but nothing more than that. TWR offers another way and it is my prayer, consistent with what I believe is Christ’s prayer for us, we choose that way. The choice is now ours.

That is the word in our season.

The Windsor Report: What is its Communion Purpose
For Diocese of Kentucky Reflection

Anyone plugged into the internet will know that there has been a wide and busy range of response to the Windsor Report (TWR). Our own web-site (anglicancommunioninstitute.org) offers a rich sample. We will be contributing to that range tonight, and I believe we need to ask ourselves what it is we think we are doing. Because in the nature of the thing, this is more than a ‘family chat’ where we air ideas and opinions. What we say tonight involves an act of self-definition. How we view TWR, that is, what role is it meant to have at this moment in our communion? -- is every bit, no, is more important, than what we may say about this or that issue it raises. How we view TWR is an exercise in how we view ourselves: are we situating ourselves within a Communion, or are we defending our actions, and thus our identity, as an Episcopal denomination within the landscape of American religious options.

I am going to focus on this question and offer a thesis. It may be consistent—and I hope it is—with the intentions of those who produced TWR. But I am also attempting to discern the purpose of TWR in terms of the possible future and viability of the Anglican Communion as such. In that sense, I am engaging in an act of interpretation open to further judgment and evaluation.

I have my own grave misgivings about one aspect of the report in particular: the relationship between creeds and doctrinal formulations, and the sentences and paragraphs of Holy Scripture. My research, teaching and writing is dedicated to the premise that creeds and scripture are in an intimate and inextricable relationship. What I sense in this report is, frankly, the hands of Tom Wright and the voice of Mark Dyer, to borrow an Old Testament image. This is part of the inevitable fallout of documents prepared by committee. There is an uneasy coupling of the section on scripture, which is itself weak at points, and some undefined commitment to development, and the two really do not belong together and they resist even a mixed blessing of Father Isaac.

When I, or you, register such comments, we are engaging in critical reflection. What we need to consider is the character of this document and the degree to which any critical reflection actually exposes a weakness so fundamental as to render its larger purpose defective. In the case of scripture and creeds, I think not. I do not believe the conclusions reached on this matter materially affect the conclusions TWR finally registers in the matters most relevant to the future of the Communion. All in all the Windsor Report contains enough in the way of formulation that is consistent with or corrected by other Communion statements, that it is both useable and indeed instrumental for the purpose for which it was conceived.

And here we get to the heart of the matter. Why do we have such a report at all and hence, what kind of a report (‘report’ is probably an insufficiently precise word) is it meant to be? What kind of purpose is it meant to serve?

1) this is a report commissioned by two instruments of unity
2) this is a report on which representatives of the entire communion, unscientifically chosen, sat (complaints about the representation from the liberal can be matched by complaints from the conservative segments of the Communion, I believe effectively canceling one another out)
3) this is a report prepared by those with knowledge of scripture, theology, church history and ecclesiology – that is, it is a report seeking to do theology in the most comprehensive sense of the word, which is what theological reflection should seek to be;
4) this is a document which renders judgments of various kinds; it is not just a set of suggestions.

I will say more about the specifics of these judgments in a moment. But we need to pause longer on the question of what kind of document this is and what purpose is it serving?

TWR exists to fill the space created by a tear in the fabric of the Communion, a tear accomplished in two stages: by the decision to consent to and therefore also to intend to consecrate to the office of Bishop, in as public a manner as global communication will allow, a divorced man living in a sexual relationship with another man. And by the anticipation of such a consecration, should it (to borrow the language used at the emergency meeting in October 2003) tragically so proceed.

We need to be very clear here because we are in the act of self-definition I described at the outset when we characterize this decision to produce a report. The report is not just a position paper on various theological topics, undertaken with better or worse results. That is the way many are treating it and I believe they are wrong to do so, or wrong only to do so.

Let me sharpen the issue and ask you to consider what would have happened in the absence of such a report being commissioned, and such a Commission being assembled?

What was going on in October 2003? This was not the usual time for a meeting of the Primates, assembled by the ABC, a meeting, then of two instruments of unity. This was an emergency meeting, because the General Convention of the church in this country violated what other leaders of other parts of the Communion regarded as communion wide teaching, consistent with scripture; or even solemn trust amongst themselves about that teaching and its Communion centrality and indispensability.

The Lambeth Commission was so commissioned in October because, lacking some instrument to keep the space filled while the Communion watched what would happen in New Hampshire, it would be obvious that the usual instruments of unity were effectively paralysed. Insofar as these instruments are indispensable for the self-identity and workableness of the Communion, then the fact of their paralysis could be taken as fatal. Desmund Tutu has been quoted as saying the Communion is nothing more than ‘we meet.’ Well in one limited sense he is right. And what the actions of General Convention and then New Hampshire cemented was, a firm resistance to meeting. Had the Archbishop of Canterbury sought to call for a meeting of the Primates, in 2004, as had become the custom for annual gatherings, Tutu would have seen his simple statement turn into prophecy. The Communion would have witnessed a ‘non-meeting.’ The Primates of the Global South, and of other regions, would not have come. This would have been a display for all the world to see: one instrument of unity failing to gather the others.

This is not vain speculation on my part and those who follow the affairs of the Communion will know this to be a fact. Events in Minneapolis and New Hampshire tore the fabric of what had been perceived as communion teaching and trust, and into that breach was inserted a possible, temporary, emergency ‘instrument of unity.’ For this reason, it was always misleading to refer to the Commission meeting in 2004 as an Eames Commission, for the commission by that name was not charged with filling the space created by a tearing of the fabric of Communion, which had rendered the annual business—even the simple meeting—of the instruments of unity of the Anglican Communion impossible or fraught with problems.

I labour under no illusion, tragically, that the extent of the effect of ECUSA actions is underplayed or scarcely acknowledged inside portions of the church in this country. TWR kindly refers to this is simple ignorance on the part of leaders in the ECUSA, but it also sees this as culpable ignorance. And it knows as well that not everyone who consented did so without awareness of the consequences, and that those who proceeded to consecrate did this in the face of warnings about the effect of this at Lambeth, in October, just prior to the consecration itself.

Given the way the emergency meeting straddled the consent to proceed and the consecration proper, the Lambeth Commission would emerge as a triage effort to keep the Communion ticking over as the majority of the Communion would seek to adjust to the shock effects of what would transpire in New Hampshire.

So we are beginning to answer the question about what TWR is. It is an effort to build a bridge in time which will straddle an emergency meeting and the possibility of further meetings of the instruments of unity. In this, it has apparently succeeded. The Archbishop of Canterbury has exercised his authority to gather the Primates, and it appears that they will not be boycotting the meeting, now back on annual track, in February, in Belfast. We have also heard announcements of plans for a Lambeth Conference in 2008.

What TWR was required to do was give sufficient assurance that a process of disciplining the ECUSA was not to be ruled out. That was its minimal charge and only useful purpose. This might take the form of ECUSA deciding to walk away, or it might take the form of voluntary statements by ECUSA, in part or whole, of regret for actions taken in 2003; agreements for moratoria acceptable in form for the Communion members at large.

TWR is clear at two points in judgments it reaches. No theological warrant for proceeding as it did has been satisfactorily provided by ECUSA. Any such warrant would need to stand up to the principle of conciliarity: what touches all must be agreed by all.

Now these two judgments may prove too onerous for ECUSA. That is yet to be determined. Some may change their minds about actions taken in New Hampshire, given the arguments lodged in TWR, and issue statements of regret and compliance. Others may say, this is not a Communion whose identity as set forth in TWR we wish to live it. We contest it.

But now we return full circle to where I began. TWR’s purpose was to find a way for the Primates and the ABC to meet again, whatever else it was. It appears to have succeeded in that. But only because it has set out these twin judgments. Going into this new year, some may wish to contest these judgments, and others, like myself, will have wished for better theological warrants for discipline and the shoring up of other sections in this or that way.

But we need to be clear. Any relaxing of these judgments will defeat the threshold requirement, that is, the capacity to insure that the Primates will agree to be gathered, whatever they or other instruments of unity might then do to adapt the Report. Indeed, the very notion of a covenant appears to intend to open on to a place in time where the Report has succeeded—with its minimal statements of (1) necessity for theological warrant, and (2) conciliar approval of the same—in keeping the vast majority of the Communion together, such that they might then subsequently bring greater definition to what it means to be a Communion: one holy, catholic and apostolic church. Such a covenant might minimally be nothing more than a general endorsement of the Windsor Report, leaving it at that.

But it can be no less. That is why it may be a purely academic exercise to tug at this or that section of TWR, and ask for change here or there, in the world of cyber evaluation, or at Diocesan events like this. All this is important and it has its place in what we mean by reasoned Christian witness. But we ought not fool ourselves about the purpose of TWR, in the nearest temporal sense. TWR has created the space in time that allows the ABC to invite the Primates to gather, and hope for, even expect, their acceptance of that invitation.

We should be living under no illusions. Only if the main principles of TWR are adopted, and there is compliance to them in formal ways by parts or all of ECUSA, TWR will have succeeded in buying only a season in time. TWR asks for regret, moratoria, theological warrant, and conciliar approval. If ECUSA does not accept these as essential to Communion, it will prove to have voted with its feet. It could take as much time as it wished to come up with its own theological warrant, seek conciliar approval for this, and join in the Communion of its own desiring. But the burden is not on anyone but itself to accomplish this.

TWR has put forward a workable set of principles, whatever its flaws, and it has succeeded in its most important purpose: buying a space in time which kept open the possibility that the instruments of unity might find a reason to meet. Academic discussion of its flaws and weak points will proceed apace. But that kind of discourse is not asked in this season to bear the kind of burden this report is bearing, whether it wanted this responsibility or not.

We stand at a crossroads. Will ECUSA walk with the Communion? Will it postpone a decision and draw things out? Will it engage in opinion registering and ongoing discussions? As Robin Eames has himself said, “In all honesty, I dare to suggest this is one of the Communion’s last opportunities.” If ECUSA does not cease it, it may find that it has walked merely by standing still, becoming an American denomination but no longer a Communion church.

The Diocese of Kentucky: Communion Anglicans or Something Else?

A. The Windsor Report (TWR)

For clarity’s sake, we can just focus for our purposes on the ECUSA (not Canada) ramifications of TWR.

Can we agree about this much? Four things:

1. TWR describes ECUSA as having acted unilaterally
2. either knowingly or unknowingly
3. about matters which can be declared local or inessential (adiaphora) only if the wider Communion is consulted and concurs;
4. and ECUSA has not given proper theological justification and grounding for what it has done (the ‘Rees objection’)

This is a description of the state of affairs in ECUSA as TWR sees it. We can return to this in a moment. But I think this summary is both accurate and uncontroversial as to the contents of the Report (that is, whether one agrees or not with TWR).

For this state of affairs, TWR makes suggestions about how ECUSA ought to respond. Again, for simplicity’s sake, four things can be noted. ECUSA responds:

1. by saying it regrets what it has done;
2. by agreeing to abide by Communion teaching;
3. by having those agents who attend Communion events examine their consciences and determine if they should attend (because they should/shouldn’t; because they cannot be ordered not to attend; because if they do attend, others won’t, etc);
4. by providing theological justification for its actions of such detail and public formulation that others in the Communion might assess its probity, in formal session, etc.

These suggestions serve to underscore the description of ECUSA as having erred and strayed and acted without proper consultation.

Objections have been made to both description and suggestions of TWR.

These have taken several forms. Four taken with no order:

1. ECUSA has a unique polity (due to its history and particular American way) in an ‘Anglican Federation’ and so must be allowed to act as it does; if the price to be paid for this is no Communion, so be it; the rest need to see and follow ;
2. ECUSA does ‘regret,’ at the level of realizing that others have been upset, and ECUSA is sorry about that state of affairs; whether this means that ECUSA accepts the description of TWR as true and in need of remedy by ECUSA is unclear, or must be put off to a later date for assessment and address;
3. Pursuant to this: ECUSA cannot respond properly because this must happen in some formal, plenary gathering, often stated to be Gen Convention 2006; so all is vague until then, beyond knowing of course that things are a mess;
4. ECUSA does not accept the description of Communion, Bishops as teachers in TWR (see published comments by R Hughes); or the historical analogy with women in orders (see objections by E Wondra). Such resistance to TWR may be termed ‘academic’ (in the neutral or pejorative senses of that term) unless a substitute for TWR is being contemplated. Or, it may mean: we do not accept the report because it is wrong about x or y; or because such reports are irrelevant given our unique polity and our need to formulate things independently. On such an account TWR is wrong or attenuated in both substance and in actual existence as a Communion wide document (‘we don’t accept such things as probative, we have creeds, Holy Spirit as truth-seeking, etc, and that is enough’).

On this last point, it is true that TWR must be ‘enacted’ for it to have any usefulness in the Communion and in ECUSA specifically, and for that we are waiting until various Instruments of Unity respond, direct, and enable its ‘perlocutionary force.’ Or, don’t.

So discussions like these in Kentucky are ‘for instances’ of local Communion talk, held hostage necessarily to larger forces. Indeed, that is what is at stake: Kentucky as part of the Anglican Communion, or Kentucky as an American expression of what has historically been called Anglican Christianity.

Will The Diocese of Kentucky accept enough of the description, the suggestions, and the enabling process of TWR so as to identify itself as a Communion member? Or, will it decide TWR is not, cannot, or should not be such a determining force in the affairs of American Episcopalians?

I believe these are the terms of our discussion at this juncture in the life of the Anglican Communion. To say otherwise, or to seek to buy more time, or alter the terms of the discussion, or the choices facing us, is avoiding the heart of the issue.

B. So What’s Next?

TWR is requesting that Communion members act as a family of accountability, and the terms of its address only make sense on the basis of that understanding. Not surprisingly, then, to question aspects of the document is to engage in a process of self-identification, as US Anglicans, either on the (rough) terms suggested by TWR or on other terms: by appeal to history (‘we in the US are not like TWR says’); appeal to the present (‘we did not act as TWR wanted and we are not now going to, either’; ‘the Holy Spirit led us and continues to lead us’); appeal to an alternative description (‘the Communion is wrongly described by TWR because human sexuality is adiaphora, because we say so and that is sufficient grounds for our acting and so believing, etc’).

But in all of these cases, ECUSA Anglicans should be clear that they are deciding to walk apart. The only thing that would warrant such appeals would be an eventual decision to set TWR aside and proceed as if it had never happened. So the most any ECUSA Anglican can be hoping for, who believes that the consent to Gene Robinson is right, is that the march of time will show TWR to have been a vain exercise. And if this happens, it will not simply be that ECUSA will have been able to proceed as it wishes, but also that the Communion will have evaporated.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is not living in a context larger than ECUSA. And therein lies the problem in a great many cases, though many are on a steep if reluctant learning curve.

To illustrate this, consider for the moment one Instrument of Unity. The Primates Meeting. And because the Primates Meeting is chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is the meeting of two Instruments of Unity, in about as full a form as either of them can exist.

For the past several years, for a host reasons which culminated in the unilateral actions of ECUSA in 2003, the Primates Meeting has occurred annually. The exception was 2004. Because of events in Minneapolis, an emergency meeting of the Primates was called in October of 2003, asking for ECUSA not to proceed ahead with the consecration of VGR. That request was rejected.

It must be stressed that one reason there was no Primates Meeting in 2004 is that it could not have happened without exposing the dissolution—serious if not fatal—of one or more of the Instruments of Unity. Arguably, The Archbishop of Canterbury, who has the sole authority to gather the Primates, could not have been successful in bringing a sufficiently high percentage of them together, because of what ECUSA did in 2003, and the result of this failure would have been for all the world to see.

The Lambeth Commission (Eames Commission) was set up by the Primates at that emergency meeting in 2003 to respond to a crisis that had happened in ECUSA and New Westminister, and which was likely to worsen (this made good on in New Hampshire in a matter of weeks).

On this understanding of matters on the ground, the Windsor Report is not only a description, suggestions, and an enabling process, as I have described it above. It is holding the place, but just in this season of judgment and breakdown, and only informally, of the Instruments of Unity of a Communion in turmoil and under grave threat. It is providing space in time. It will succeed only insofar as the Instruments of Unity are able to function again, on the other side of a great ‘tearing of the fabric of our Communion’ as the emergency meeting of the Primates described it.

The next meeting of an Instrument of Unity is the Primates Meeting, in Belfast, in February of 2005.

Why should this matter to the Diocese of Kentucky? Not one bit, if the Diocese of Kentucky does not feel the need to identify itself with the Anglican Communion through its Instruments of Unity.

What the Diocese of Kentucky may not be sufficiently aware of is that, should TWR not provide a way forward for the vast bulk of the Communion, then the Communion will break apart. On the conditions of TWR certain specific things are asked of ECUSA. These are in fact quite minimal requests, given the sense of outrage and broken trust felt in the majority of the Communion. So if they fail, these requests of ECUSA, the Communion will face certain implosion. The Primates of the Global South, and a majority of the Primates of the Communion, will not be willing to be gathered, and thus whatever holding action the TWR accomplished will have proven vain.

How can this be avoided?

1. By compliance to TWR.

2. Or by a decision to walk apart, in the name of several appeals mentioned above (unique American polity; Holy Spirit, etc).

To think that there are other options is to ignore the specific season we are in as a worldwide Communion; or it is to engage in academic debate about the nature of fire when one is raging in the Living Room; or it is to try to buy time when there is none, any longer, for sale.

C. To conclude

My chief point has been to say:

1. It is past time when we can bring academic debate to a Report which in any way presumes to replace that Report, substantively, or formally, because we simply do not have the luxury of buying more time, given the extreme state of rupture;

2. The Report is a satisfactory account of how ECUSA has erred (see e.g. pp 30-31) and how it might rectify that, and that is surely one thing it was meant to be. Academic debate about points in the Report could well be accommodated in time, should they prove cogent and necessary. But to ignore the role of the Report as holding a proverbial ‘finger in the dyke’ would be a fatal mistake. If this Report does not keep the Communion forward, no substitute Report could do so;

3. ECUSA can dispute this or that aspect of the Report, or seek to circumvent its ‘perlocutionary force’ by rhetoric or spin or reductionism; but to the degree to which it does this, it will have destroyed any meaningful sense of the term ‘Communion’ and will not only have gone its own way in 2003, but will have seen to the dissolution of whatever was left of a common Communion identity and mission;

4. For this reason there are only two choices: compliance or choosing to walk apart. Putting things off for later meetings is of course attractive, and there is no reason this could not happen. But the cost is to have walked away, for a season anyway. The door could always stay open for compliance to Communion teaching, repentance, and walking together. In Christ, that door can never be closed.

What is unacceptable is declaring that the vast majority of the Communion, living at present in terms of compliance to TWR, are in a category of ‘leaving.’ They are in fact the ones holding the door open and pleading with ECUSA to comply with Communion teaching. If ECUSA wishes to go its own way, it needs, within the US context, to realize that is what the Windsor Report sees happening, unless it turns back and accepts the joys and the obligations of our Communion life as Anglicans.

C R SEITZ
Anglican Communion Institute

Subscribe
Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Prayer Book Alliance

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee

Drink Coffee

Do Good

Sustainable Ministry

Coffee, Community, Social Justice

DrinkCoffeeDoGood.com

Go To Top