Letter from America

Never mind the truth, here’s the Windsor Report

EVERY CULTURE has its myths and America, being a young country, has ones based in the not-so-distant past. This annoys Europeans, who regard it as immature of us to see complex issues in terms of, say, the Wild West. Immature or not, the lure of Frontier mythology can lead to a certain naively in the American psyche.

We like to imagine that the ‘good guys’ always win, even if rescued at the last moment by a charge of the proverbial 7th Cavalry. Conservative Anglicans have been hoping for just this sort of charge for a very long time and more than a few thought to find the tip of the spear in the Windsor Report. They had hoped that finally orthodox Anglicanism would rally to their cause and deal out the kind of discipline required to reverse the revisionist stranglehold on ECUSA. What they got was very different fare indeed.

Far from issuing a call to repentance, the Windsor Report timidly recommends that ECUSA expresses regret for breaching the ‘bonds of affection’, and invites the Robinson consecrators to voluntarily withdraw from representative functions in the communion. Interestingly, they are to seek the advice of the chief consecrator, their primate, for the proper formation of their consciences. This demonstrates the report’s seemingly overwhelming concern to preserve institutional unity at the risk of truth. The latter deals in right and wrong, sin and repentance, the former with compliance.

For the framers of the Windsor Report, it is just this lack of compliance that constitutes wrongdoing and such light malfeasance will never merit much more than an ‘invitation to regret’. Nor does it in the report, with Eames himself stating that the commission’s recommendation is not a ‘judgment’ but a ‘process’. Just so, but it is precisely some kind of judgment that conservatives and the bulk of the communion feel is needed. They haven’t got it; they have got a ‘pilgrimage’ of ‘regret’, but regret for whom? Certainly not for the Robinson consecrators and the bulk of General Convention 2003, who apparently remain largely unchallenged in their position of power. But most certainly for those priests and people who have had the temerity to threaten the institutional unity of ECUSA by inviting traditionalist bishops to function in liberal dioceses.

The report condemns these as strongly as it does those who engendered the crisis in the first place. More than this, it wholly endorses the revisionist-backed DEPO, whose failure has been a significant factor in boundaries being crossed in the first place.

No wonder then that conservatives feel betrayed and let down. ‘The Windsor Report

underwhelms’, says Robert England in The Christian Challenge. Fr Moyer and Fr Ostman of FiFNA are more stringent:

‘There is nothing offered for a world-wide solution to address the schismatic state of the Anglican Communion.’ The Network expresses more of the same; the report ‘fails to discipline’. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that Archbishop Hepworth of the TAC has reacted with ‘anger and deep hurt’. Nor is it remarkable that the leader of 17 million Nigerian Anglicans, Archbishop Akinola, expresses barely concealed anger: ‘Where is the language of rebuke for those who are promoting sexual sins as holy and acceptable behavior?’ Well, it isn’t there, which has no doubt prompted displays of revisionist confidence in the wake of October 18th.

Inclusivechurch speaks for them: ‘We are pleased that the Commission has not recommended the suspension or expulsion of the ECUSA, or called for Robinson to resign. We note that the report does not ask for repentance from the Episcopal Church and we welcome the desire for reconciliation while buttressing the line that bishops should not offer ministry outside their own diocese.’

Griswold is more tactful but no less unrepentant: ‘However, unless we go beyond containment and move to some deeper place of acknowledging and making room for the differences that will doubtless continue to be present in our Communion, we will do disservice to our mission.’ The containment in question being a cessation of activity that puts the communion at risk. Griswold will not repent of this, but neither was he asked to; he was invited to show regret and he does, but not for the consecration over which he presided, only for the hurt caused to others:

‘Therefore, we regret how difficult and painful actions of our church have been in many provinces of our Communion, and the negative repercussions that have been felt by brother and sister Anglicans.’

The report has obviously failed to achieve the ‘change of outlook’ that it recommends for the future wellbeing of the communion. But does it have more force than at first

meets the eye? Some think that it has. In its irenic manner, the commission recommends a moratorium on future Robinson-style consecrations and same sex blessings. Or, to put it another way, it’s telling ECUSA to put the brakes on its agreed agenda or face the consequences. What these might be are hinted at, ‘as an absolute last resort, withdrawal from membership’. History argues against the revisionists applying these brakes, but, whether they do or not, all well and good, the ultimate result being the same. If the report goes some way towards putting the necessary machinery in place for this, it might be possible for a seemingly toothless recommendation to gum ECUSA into submission.

This seems unlikely because the majority of conservatives appear as willing to accept the report as they have the DEPO it recommends. By the same token, men and women with same sex partners will go through the ordination process in ECUSA in 2005. Some of them will have their relationships blessed and orthodox bishops will be invited to confirm and ordain regardless of the local ordinary’s permission. That much has remained unchanged, only now ECUSA heretics have a new item in their armoury, the Windsor Report, and we may be sure that they will not hesitate to use it to discipline those who remain faithful to the Church’s teaching on faith and morals. So, instead of finding themselves rescued by a squadron of mythic cavalry, conservative Anglicans have found themselves ambushed by what can at best be described as ‘friendly fire’. There should be no amazement in this, for a commission that holds up the ordination and consecration of women to holy orders as an acceptable model for future unity in the communion is as likely to succeed as those orders themselves to become unambiguously valid.

That a rescue is needed is beyond doubt, we must question the ability of the communion as it now stands to provide one. Americans could do worse search their own continent more thoroughly for a solution, they must continue to hope against hope for an answer from foreign shores.

 

Michael Heidt is parish priest of St Luke’s, Bladensburg, Washington DC.

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