A Critique of Mark Dyer’s Explanation of the Windsor Report, as recorded at Virginia Seminary

Date of publication

A Critique of Mark Dyer’s Explanation of the Windsor Report, as recorded at Virginia Seminary

by Dr. Andrew Goddard, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (Oct 21, 2004)

Archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20050527082832/http://www.anglicancommunioninstitute.org:80/articles/Dyer_Critique.htm

Anglican Communion Institute

Based on a transcript of Bishop Dyer’s explanation of the Windsor Report at Virginia Seminary, recently posted on the web, it is clear that he summarizes and interprets the Windsor Report in a variety of ways that are seriously misleading.

Here are a few of them:

What is the aim of the Report in relation to sexuality issues?

Dyer claims that although the Report was not about sexuality it was seeking to lay down parameters to re-establish a conversation on the issue of human sexuality and again begin the conversation.

This suggests that a primary aim of the Report is a sort of ground-clearing exercise, a means to the end of the Communion having a conversation on sexuality. This purpose and goal is not given prominence by the Primates, the Mandate of the Commission or the Report itself.

Does the Report have a stance on sexuality?

Dyer implies that the question is open, arguing the Report avoids any kind of judgment on issues of human sexuality, not saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but rather saying nothing.

This is true in that no formal restatement appears but that is because the Report is premised on the teaching that exists. This premise leads it to at least one very clear judgment when it states that proceeding unilaterally with the authorisation of public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions at this time ‘constitutes action in breach of the legitimate application of the Christian faith as the churches of the Anglican Communion have received it’ (§143)

Dyer argues that the Report does not talk about clergy who are homosexual or lesbian and who have had a partner in a monogamous relationship for longstanding time and that the Report does not make a judgment on that.

Again this is true in one sense but the Report is based on Anglican teaching and clearly states this teaching when it asserts that (in contrast to the question of remarriage after divorce among the clergy) the Communion has ‘made its collective position clear on the issue of ordaining those who are involved in same gender unions…’ (§127). It calls for a moratorium on consecrations – its focus given the presenting issue – because it contravenes the collective mind of the Communion at present and the same applies to ordinations.

Dyer also claims at one point that the Report is hoping for a new consensus to emerge on the acceptability of bishops living in a same-sex union.

This is a totally unjustifiable interpretation of the claim that such actions are unacceptable until some new consensus emerges. The Report nowhere favours such a new consensus. In fact, in calling for provinces to engage the Communion as they reconsider their stance on this issue it explicitly states that ‘this call for continuing study does not imply approval of such proposals’ (§145).

What is the status of the proposed covenant?

This is one of the most significant proposals for the future of the Anglican Communion but Dyer claims that it has absolutely no authority, is meant to be an educational document, is not recommended to be approved by any province in the Anglican Communion, and is just sort of a memory piece.

Although the Report speaks of ‘an educative context’ and does state the Covenant “of itself, would have no binding authority” the Report seeks to give it such authority by connecting it to a proposed canon (not discussed by Dyer) and saying this might ‘commit the church to adhere to the terms of the Covenant’.

The Reports states ‘it is imperative for the Communion itself to own and be responsible for the Covenant’ and proposes a process culminating in ‘legal authorisation by each church for signing, and a solemn signing by the primates in a liturgical context’ (§118). It speaks of the ‘case for adoption of an Anglican Covenant’ as ‘overwhelming’ (§119). The draft covenant has a preamble reading ‘We, the churches of the Anglican Communion…solemnly establish this Covenant, entered on our behalf by designated signatories and to which we shall adhere as authorised by laws enacted by each of our churches…’ (App Two, p81). It even goes so far as to suggest that the ACC “could encourage full participation in the Covenant project by each church by constructing an understanding of communion membership which is expressed by the readiness of a province to maintain its bonds with Canterbury, and which includes a reference to the Covenant’ (§120).

Was the vote on I.10 at Lambeth 1988 manipulated?

Dyer says there was manipulation at the final debate and although he does not use this to reject the motion it clearly gives weight to those dismissing or undermining its authority as an expression of Communion teaching.

However, Dyer fails to note that the resolution from the sub-group on sexuality also clearly stood opposed to blessing those in same-sex unions and ordaining those in such unions. The most serious ‘late addition’ was the amendment stating that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture which was passed by a vote of 2:1. In relation to the actions that are the focus of the Windsor Report the final resolution was the same as that of the statement and resolution from the subsection who worked on the subject for two weeks. The report clearly stated that ‘it appears that a majority of bishops is not prepared to bless same sex unions or to ordain active homosexuals…many believe there should be a moratorium on such practices’. The resolution from the subsection commended to the whole Conference by its Chair (a substitute resolution from the section in place of a weaker one issued the previous day) stated that this conference ‘cannot advise the legitimizing or ordaining of those involved in same gender unions’.

Has the New Hampshire consecration now entered a process of reception?

Dyer has said that, despite the difficulties of getting something to enter the reception process after the mind of the Communion has been expressed, he believes that in spite of that, a way through has been found to submit what has happened in New Hampshire to the process of reception.

This is in clear contradiction to the Report which states that “the doctrine of reception only makes sense if the proposals concern matters on which the Church has not so far made up its mind. It cannot be applied in the case of actions which are explicitly against the current teaching of the Anglican Communion as a whole, and/or of individual provinces. No province, diocese or parish has the right to introduce a novelty which goes against such teaching and excuse it on the grounds that it has simply been put forward for reception. In such a case, if change is desired, it must be sought through the appropriate channels…”(§69). Although Dyer refers to this he then states his belief that the Report ignored its own clear statement.

Does the Report need to be approved by the ACC and the wider church?

Dyer states that the Report has no authority and that after the Primates discuss it in February they must submit it to the ACC in June, the ACC must receive it and then send it out to the wider church.

This is nowhere stated in the Report. In fact, the Report clearly speaks of the danger of walking apart and facing new questions if “after acceptance by the primates, our recommendations are not implemented” (§157). This would suggest a much less drawn-out process. It will be for the Primates to determine whether they are willing to wait – as some seem to wish – until General Convention in 2006 before knowing whether or not ECUSA is willing to signal its desire to remain in the Communion by complying with the Report.

How important and strong is what is said about those intervening in other provinces?

Dyer gives this great prominence, arguing that in relation to the current crisis:

1.      the first thing the Report has to say has to do with the integrity of the Bishop

2.      that before there can be any conversation those intervening must stop, apologise and go home

3.      the first admonition being to clear up this mess and telling AMiA to go home and the Archbishop of Uganda to call his priests out of parishes in Los Angeles.

4.      these are basically schismatic acts

5.      there is equal footing between those intervening and ECUSA and invaders face the same recommendations as ECUSA

6.      the strongest condemnatory language used is to the invaders

These are, without question, the most serious of the many misrepresentations of the Report. At no point does the Report give substance for any of these assertions.

1.      The Report at no point begins with the invaders. In relation to the surface symptoms they are discussed in §29 after the actions of ECUSA and New Westminster. In their recommendations the same order appears. In the study of the deeper problems, ECUSA and New Westminster are named in four of the six deeper problems (§§33, 35, 37, 39) and the ‘invaders’ not at all. The role of the Bishop – as the index shows - is not discussed until after all of these references to ECUSA.

2.      The Report does not present its recommendations as conditions for conversation and it certainly does not make a response from those intervening a necessary condition. They are called upon to stop but at no point are they called upon to apologise for what they have done.

3.      At no point are bishops who have intervened in ECUSA told to go home. They are simply requested to effect a moratorium and ‘seek an accommodation with the bishops of the dioceses whose parishes they have taken into their own care’ (§155). The Report even grants that in relation to the DEPO proposals, ‘we see no difficulty in bishops from other provinces of the Communion becoming involved with the life of particular parishes…’ (§152).

4.      The Report at no point describes these as schismatic acts. It would be hard for it to do so given the Report speaks of ‘fully understanding the principled concerns’ (§149) that have led to them and how those taking them believed they were acting out of ‘a conscientious duty to intervene’ (§155). The language of the Primates about the consecration tearing the fabric of the Communion is the nearest there is to language of schism and that – as in its original context – refers to the consecration of Gene Robinson.

5.      The ‘equal footing’ has some validity in that both sorts of actions are viewed as signs of illness and critiqued for their unilateralism and disregard for Lambeth Resolutions. This makes them all ‘actions incompatible with the Communion principle of interdependence’ (§122). However, it is clear that the interventions are seen as largely in terms of a response and – as noted above – one which is understandable and rooted in a belief that such actions were required given ECUSA’s actions. No such statements are made in defence of ECUSA’s actions. The recommendations are clearly different in that invaders are only asked to regret consequences and not to regret that they broke the bonds of affection. They do not need to signal their desire to remain in the Communion by expressing their regret. They are not asked to consider withdrawing from participation in Communion life.

6.      Although interveners are told their actions go against ‘some of the longest-standing regulations of the early undivided church’ (§29) this is the only strong statement directed against them. In contrast there are over a dozen statements of disapproval relating to ECUSA & New Westminster (see this Guide to Windsor Report). These include that their actions have “gone against both the letter and the spirit of the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference, reiterated, as they are, by the Primates’ Meeting” (§27), that ‘the overwhelming response from other Christians both inside and outside the Anglican family has been to regard these developments as departures from genuine apostolic Christian faith’ (§28) and that they have “caused deep offence to many faithful Anglican Christians both in its own church and in other parts of the Communion” (§127). Most serious of all is the claim that the authorisation of public rites of blessing is a “breach of the legitimate application of the Christian faith as the churches of the Anglican Communion have received it” (§143)

Related to this is Dyer recounting the argument that “if the house is on fire, and someone in America asks us to come and put the fire out, Christian charity would demand that” and citing the response that “if someone’s house is burning, you’ve got to help them put the fire out, but for goodness sakes, you don’t live there after that”.

This response is clearly correct but assumes that the fire has been put out, that no more are likely to be lit, that if they are lit then there are firemen closer to hand to put them out, or that, to use Tom Wright’s analogy (in Christianity Today interview), the house is properly fire-proofed. At the moment none of that is the case. Were ECUSA to implement the Report fully – express regret (a form of putting out the fire), effect a moratorium (no more fires to be lit), ensure within their province that Lambeth was upheld (§144 – firemen close at hand), and commit themselves to the pattern of Communion in the Report rather than claiming autonomy for prophetic fire-lighting (fire-proofing the house) then indeed it would be wrong for interveners to stay in place. Unless and until all this is accomplished, there a strong case to be made – on the basis of Catholic order and Nicea’s concern not just for jurisdictional integrity but episcopal respect for church teaching – that those who helped put out fires can legitimately stay living on the site.

How does the Report view those bishops who voted at the General Conference in favor of Gene Robinson?

Dyer claims that the Report grants absolution to these bishops.

This is intriguing language given that absolution implies sin and penitence. It is important to realise that the Report is clear that they should not have voted as they did and the only reason that they do not take action against them is that they think they were not necessarily ‘fully acquainted with the contents of the resolutions we have quoted’ (§128). This graciously assumes a remarkable level of ignorance on the part of American bishops voting for Gene Robinson given the prominence of Lambeth I.10 and other statements by the Instruments of Unity in the run-up to General Convention.

What is the view of the Report towards Gene Robinson?

Dyer says that the Report respects him as a bishop of the Anglican Communion.

This is nowhere stated in the Report. In fact the Report is clear in its opposition to the act of consecration that sought to make him a bishop. It also states that “very many people in the Anglican Communion could neither recognise nor receive the ministry as a bishop in the Church of God of a person in an openly acknowledged same gender union” (§129) while stressing that ‘without…attention to general acceptability, the episcopate, instead of being in its very existence one of the bonds of unity in the Communion, quickly becomes an occasion and focus of disunity’ (§64). It accepts and respects the position of the Archbishop of Canterbury that he should not minister as a bishop in England, speaks of the ‘widespread unacceptability of his ministry in other provinces of the Communion’ and urges ‘very considerable caution in inviting or admitting him to the councils of the Communion’ (§133). This is a strange form of respect for him as a bishop. It is true that the Report rejects the argument that his consecration was invalid but Dyer himself confirms that they did not properly consider the argument (which is still supported by a number of leading theologians including Professor Oliver O’Donovan), as is evident from the fact that the Report dismisses it prior to a paragraph in which the Report accepts its fundamental premise (§§128, 129).

Are people asked to regret what they did?

Dyer claims that the Report asks people to regret they broke of the bonds of communion, not to regret they did what they did.

This is a meaningless distinction. How did they break the bonds of communion? They did it precisely “in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire” (§134) and in “actions to move towards the authorisation of such rites [of blessing of same sex unions]” (§141, also §143). It would require casuistry of the worse sort to claim that one regretted breaking the bonds of communion but did not regret the actions by which those bonds were broken. Though better than the attempt to reduce the Report’s requests to regret for consequences (something asked only of the ‘invaders’), this attempt to deny ECUSA is being asked to regret its actions in consecrating Gene Robinson is just as much a distortion of the Report’s line of argument.