Stand and deliver?

Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream responds to the Windsor Report

 

Read the whole thing

Memo to all: Find a quiet room. Switch off the phone and computer. Read the report. It’s good, probably more in principle than expected implementation.

The Windsor Report sets out and commends much that has previously been assumed but never clearly expressed. WR is no fudge. It clearly says what the purpose of Communion is. It is to serve God’s mission to bring to men and women, societies and the whole world signs and foretastes of the healing love which will one day put all things to rights. (3). Unity and communion are meaningless unless they issue in that holiness of life through which the church indicates to the world that a new way of being human, over against corrupt and dehumanising patterns of life, has been launched upon the world (3). The fundamental context of Communion for the purpose of mission, not just for mutual hospitality is clearly stated as the framework for the whole report.

Scripture is central to the bonds that hold the Communion together. (53) It is by reading scripture too little, not by reading it too much, that we have allowed ourselves to drift apart (67). The authority of bishops cannot reside solely or primarily in legal structures but in their ministry of ‘prayer and the word of God’ (58).

WR defines autonomy. Autonomic laws are those created by a body without the community on which has been settled legislative power. It is not the same as sovereignty or independence. It is autonomy in communion. ‘The autonomy of each Anglican province implies that the church lives in relation to, and exercises its autonomy most fully in the context of, the global Communion.’ (76)

Not all differences can be tolerated. We would not say ‘some of us are racists, some of us are not, so let’s celebrate our diversity’ (89). ‘Paul insists that some types of behaviour are incompatible with inheriting God’s coming kingdom and must not therefore be tolerated within the Church’ (89). Even if matters are adiaphora, then if a sufficient number of other Christians find them scandalous and offensive, the biblical guidelines insist that those who have no scruples about the proposed actions should refrain from going ahead. (93).

 

Warm welcome

Conservative and traditional Anglicans with whom I have spoken from all over the world very warmly welcome these foundations in the report. Can the report be implemented in such a way as to bring any sanctions to bear if those who have in its terms broken the bonds of affection, in other words acted against love; who have failed to explain their action or take reasonable consultations, refuse to express the regret that is couched in the context of repentance? Mindful of the hurt and offence that have resulted from recent events and yet also of the imperatives of the communion- the repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation enjoined on us by Christ - ..We recommend that the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to express its regret..’ (134). This concern is because the current behaviour of those who have broken these bonds of affection continues to oppress clergy and congregations who wish to remain faithful to current Anglican faith and practice. The full statement from the Oxford Gathering is printed opposite:

 

Ulster peace?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has set up a Reception Reference Group which is gathering responses to the report and inviting submissions in the same way as it invited submissions to the Lambeth Commission between now and the Primates Meeting in February somewhere in Northern Ireland. The Anglican Mainstream website will have a process of inviting those responses and I understand the Reference Group will establish a website presence for responses.

It is quite possible that responses from conservatives will range across a spectrum. The Report wants to continue the high level of Communion which conservatives will welcome. WR has not watered the Communion down. It has made the terms on which Churches are part of the Communion explicit and clear.

The recommendations of the report for the Communion Covenant, for the Council of Advice to the Archbishop of Canterbury, for the Primates to be the Standing Committee of the Lambeth Conference contain much that will promote the internationalisation of the Communion at its highest levels. This is also welcome for it is clear that in terms of power too much lies in the hands of those with financial clout. These matters need discussion and reflection which will take time. However the crisis is immediate. The report clearly apportions responsibility to the actions of ECUSA and the Diocese of New Westminster. While WR indicates that crossing jurisdictional boundaries is an equal threat to communion ( while not being equally morally reprehensible), it has not asked for those boundary crossings to be reversed. It is clear that in the current situation boundary crossing is the only language that those who have breached the bonds of affection can understand and therefore as long as they are unwilling to express regret, repent and make restitution, then that language will continue and boundary crossing will continue. Some conservative responses will express reservations about the ability of the report to deliver in terms of the reconciliation it seeks which will depend on regret, repentance and restitution. Those responses will be based on the pressing need to address the current injustices that are being visited on orthodox congregations in USA and Canada.

 

Primary intentions

What will conservatives be looking to the Primates Meeting to address?

 

Repentance

Many conservatives believe those who have violated Scripture and Christian Tradition as expressed by Lambeth 1998, including but not limited to Lambeth 1.10, must immediately repent and pledge obedience iii teaching and practice to Lambeth and the other Instruments of Unity, or they should at once be suspended from the Councils of the Communion.

It is therefore very much to be hoped that the primates take action with the bishops in provinces who have broken their ordination vows. It is also to be hoped that there could be an explicit statement that no moral equivalence exists between boundary crossing and same sex blessings..

 

Protection

The crossing of jurisdictional boundaries which has occurred has been a considered response to the emergency created by the defiance by ECUSA and New Westminster of the clearly expressed views of the Communion’s four Instruments of Unity. Crossing boundaries has been a necessary defence against what is perceived as grave injustice.

This of course raises basic questions about Anglican polity. But the primates have already recognised that crossing of jurisdictional boundaries, while not a normal practice, is justifiable and has precedent in ancient practice. The provision of alternative oversight with jurisdiction is a method of addressing pastoral emergencies which holds open the possibility of reconciliation. The report is clear in stating that if those diocesan bishops of ECUSA who have refused to countenance proposals for alternative oversight do not reconsider their own stance, they will be ‘making a profoundly dismissive statement about their adherence to the polity of their own church’ (155).

The Report’s proposals for delegated Episcopal oversight appear to leave loyal Anglicans who wish to remain faithful to the position of the Communion at the mercy of revisionist dioceses who have failed to honour their responsibilities. That will not do. The Primates gave an undertaking at Lambeth in October 2~3 to ensure that adequate Episcopal care and oversight is provided to loyal Anglicans in such a situation - and the test of adequacy is whether it is acceptable to those receiving it

It is to be hoped that the Primates shall at once appoint an alternative authority to provide oversight over all parishes that wish to, or will, accept. It is to be hoped that the primates confirm that a pastoral emergency created by heterodoxy of the diocesan bishop, as in for example. New Hampshire and New Westminster, does in fact exist and justifies the crossing of jurisdictional boundaries. It is essential that a short time frame needs to be implemented in provinces that do not conform. After a period of three months, their jurisdiction and membership in the Anglican Communion would be suspended if they have not embraced and followed Christian belief and practice.

If an international corporation were dealing with a threat to its coherence and continuance due to the actions of two national units, and the board adopted a report to address this, they would address matters in short order. How much more important is the Anglican Communion and its loyalty to the gospel of Jesus than the viability of an industrial conglomerate? We could well ask if the Anglican Communion really needs more than a week to take clear decisions to solve the immediate crisis in line with the foundations and recommendations of the Windsor Report.

 

Marriage

While the Lambeth Commission was not given any remit to address issues of sexuality, the very concrete situation and crisis which has prompted the report and which the Report must address is all about the Church’s teaching and practice with reference to human sexuality.

It is to be hoped therefore that the primates would clearly reaffirm the doctrine of marriage. Christian teaching about marriage is central because

  1. It instructs us about how we are created in God’s image

  2. It shows us the relationship between Christ and the church

Integral to Christian marriage is that it is the life-long, monogamous relationship between one man and one woman and is the exclusive legitimate context for sexual intimacy.

Affirmation of the doctrine of marriage entails obedience to the Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition, which confines sexuality to the bonds of marriage, and this doctrine of marriage has been clear and consistent over time and across the universal church.

It is to be hoped that the primates recommit the Communion to teaching about and strengthening the institution of marriage within our churches and societies. Marriage and the proper use of human sexuality are under serious threat, and even erosion, across our nations and cultures. This is integral to the mission of the church.

 

A Statement from the Oxford Gathering

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are an international group of 42 archbishops, bishops, senior clergy, theologians and lay leaders from Africa, Asia, Canada, the United States, Latin America and England who met October 19—21, 2004 to study, pray and respond to the Windsor Report.

We welcome positive points in the Report, especially the importance of acting together under the ‘supreme authority of Scripture’, (paragraph 53) and that the recent actions of ECUSA and New Westminster have denied and breached the ‘bonds of affection’ as well as the legitimate application of the Christian faith once received (paragraph 143). However, the protection it seeks to provide for those upholding the apostolic faith is not adequate (paragraph 152). In spite of the report’s weaknesses we believe that the recommendations made have the capacity to call for compliance and discipline. We have issued the following ‘Call for Compliance’ below.

We are concerned that the repentance needed for true reconciliation as we believe the Commission intended could be read only as an ‘expression of regret’ from the Episcopal Church USA and New Westminster. In addition, the report could be interpreted as drawing equivalence between crossing jurisdictional boundaries and breaking faith.

We are deeply aware that the February 2005 Primates’ Meeting represents a watershed event in the history of the Anglican Communion. As part of our commitment to the process, we are communicating our concerns in greater detail to the individual Primates. The future of the Communion hinges upon their pivotal decisions. We have pledged our prayers for them, their provinces and the entire Anglican Communion as they work to preserve and restore our church.

 

‘A Call for Compliance’

We the assembled archbishops, bishops, theologians and church leaders representing the global Anglican Communion hereby urgently require that proper legal representative bodies of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada meet in emergency session.

1) To determine whether they are able formally to declare regret, not in vague or even sincere terms, but on the specific terms of the Windsor Report itself (Paragraphs 134, 143—144).

The report makes reference to solemn liturgical declaration of regret and reconciliation (paragraph 156), and we judge this to be an appropriate way to signal regret in compliance with the Windsor Report’s letter and spirit.

2) To determine how it will demonstrate its capacity to continue as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion on the terms stipulated by the Windsor Report (Paragraphs 82—86 and 93—95).

If we are right to anticipate that some individual dioceses and bishops who are members of these representative legal bodies wish more immediately to indicate such compliance, we urge them to be at the forefront of doing faith.

And alternatively those who are not willing to live in compliance with the Windsor Report in regard to Communion membership have the courage forthrightly and solemnly to acknowledge that.

In our gathering here at Oxford with senior leaders of the Communion it is clear that such indications of compliance would clarify the business and agenda of the Primates Meeting in February.

The report is issued from Mrs Cynthia Brust (American Anglican Council), Professor Christopher Seitz (Anglican Communion Institute), Canon Dr Chris Sugden (Anglican Mainstream), Rev David Short (The Essentials Federation and Network, Canada).

 

 Chris Sugden is a member of Anglican Mainstream (UK) Steering Committee.

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