A GUIDE TO THE WINDSOR REPORT
Commissioned by an International Gathering from around the Anglican Communion meeting at Oxford from October 19-21 2004 and offered as a summary and discussion document on the Windsor Report
Authored by Rev Dr`Andrew Goddard, Canon Dr Chris Sugden and Rev Dr Peter Walker.
The Report’s Aims & Limits
The Mandate of the Commission set by the Archbishop of Canterbury is vital and clearly prevented the Commission addressing a number of issues. It was asked to examine and report on:
The legal and theological implications of recent actions were to be examined (not the legal and theological justification or validity of such actions themselves).
The canonical understandings of communion, impaired and broken communion.
Practical recommendations for “maintaining the highest degree of communion that may be possible” in the circumstances resulting from these decisions (taking the decisions as a given and dealing with present reality, not with the ideal).
Emerging patterns of provision for episcopal oversight
The Report therefore does not address the underlying issues in relation to sexuality—either to defend and explain Anglican teaching or to revise it (eg §26, §43).
Rather, in the recent words of Canon Gregory Cameron (the Commission’s Secretary), it was asked, “Given the standard of teaching adopted on human sexuality at the Lambeth Conference 1998, how could the Communion maintain the ‘highest degree of communion possible’ in the face of the consecration of a bishop whose lifestyle challenged that teaching?” (New Directions, Oct 2004, p20).
Its theological and legal/canonical studies were to be supplemented by recommendations to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates. It had no executive power or authority of its own but simply could make recommendations.
The Commission clearly understood this to entail offering recommendations about how to ‘walk together’ given decisions which were incompatible with Communion teaching. It sought to base these on an account of what ‘walking together’ involved.
All the diverse members of the Commission agreed to the Report rather than offering majority and minority reports with different analyses and recommendations. Their recommendations are unanimous (§123).
The Report’s Structure & Central Points
The Report has four sections whose central question and responses are summarised below:
Section A – What does a healthy Communion look like and what is the Communion’s current state of health?
The Report begins with an account of communion’s biblical foundations and the practical consequences of a healthy communion, illustrating how a healthy communion engages in mutual discernment and mission. It interprets the current situation as one of ‘illness’ rather than health and identifies various symptoms of the illness
Section B – What are the principles – especially concerning unity and diversity – we need to uphold to be a healthy Communion?
In the light of its account of “healthy” and “sick” communion, Section B then examines the fundamental principles of a healthy communion with a special focus on the bonds of communion and the character of diversity in communion. This section clearly and explicitly rebuts the main arguments – in relation to ‘autonomy’ and ‘secondary matter’ – used to justify recent actions in North America.
Section C – What changes to our structures would strengthen our Communion and prevent repetition of recent events?
The principles are then brought to bear on the current structures of communion which have failed to prevent our current sickness and proposals offered for the medium to long term structure of our life together: a stronger role for the Archbishop of Canterbury supported by a Council of Advice, a covenant and acceptance of a communion canon.
Section D – What is required of various parties if we are to continue to ‘walk together’ rather than ‘walk apart’?
Finally, in the light of the analysis offered, practical recommendations are made as to how communion may be maintained and reconciliation begun in the light of recent events that have shown the unhealthy current state of communion.
The Report’s Main Strengths: General
An analysis of the situation that makes clear the failures of ECUSA & New Westminster
A vision of communion that emphasises mutual accountability and interdependence under the supreme authority of Scripture
An account of ‘autonomy’ that binds it to ‘communion’ and so clearly rejects the view that provinces are independent
An account of handling contentious issues that shows ECUSA & New Westminster’s disregard for the obligations of communion life
A clear rejection of applying the ‘reception’ model in the current crisis
Proposals to make explicit the unwritten conventions of communion life and strengthen the moral authority of the Instruments of Unity – AbC,Council of Advice, canon, covenant
Strong calls to ECUSA & New Westminster concerning what they must do if they wish to ‘walk together’ with the Communion
The Report’s Main Strengths: Details
It founds our unity and communion in the gospel (§3)
Subordinates unity and communion to holiness - “Unity and communion are meaningless unless they issue in that holiness of life…” (§3)
Helpfully contrasts the current issue (and its handling within the Communion) with that of women’s ordination (§§12-21)
Sees current situation as signs of sickness, analysing well the symptoms of disease (§§22-42)
Gives a strong rejection of Presiding Bishop’s defence that the consecration was simply a local matter by arguing that both ECUSA’s own earlier statements and reaction to the consecration “undercuts any argument that such decisions are purely local” (§24)
Clarifies the strong status of LambethI.10, and is explicit that “the primates unanimously upheld this resolution as the standard of Anglican teaching on the matter in their statement of October 16, 2003” (§25)
Clear that “overwhelming response” to recent actions in North America from Christians – Anglican and others - is that they are “departures from genuine, apostolic Christian faith” (§28)
Stresses need for discernment in relation to theological development because some developments ‘distort or even destroy’ the Christian faith (§32)
Offers the critique that the wider Communion judges that there has been no explanation or consultation offered for recent theological development (§33)
Highlights need to be clearer about ‘authority’ in Anglicanism (§42)
The fundamental principles (Part B) are good and clearly counter the arguments of revisionists seeking to introduce practical innovations unilaterally in relation to sexuality.
The central bond of communion is the “supreme authority” (§53) of Scripture which is to be seen as the focus and means of unity
Highlights the importance of Christian leaders as teachers of Scripture (§58)
Is clear that bishops represent universal church to local and vice versa (§64), so consecration of a bishop is not just a local matter
Argues that discernment in communion with those in different contexts is focussed on “the reading and pondering of scripture” (§67)
Is strong that autonomy does not mean full independence but rather is ‘autonomy in communion’ (§§72-86)
Is clear that in some matters provinces must involve others before making decisions (§79)
The limits to diversity are “defined by truth and charity” (§86)
Is good on the issue of adiaphora (‘things indifferent’), being clear that not all differences are to be tolerated – “we would not say “some of us are racists, some of us are not, so let’s celebrate our diversity”” (§89)
Is clear that even, when a matter is judged ‘indifferent’, then Christians should not act if other Christians would find this scandalous (§§92-93)
States strongly that the express views of the Anglican Instruments of Unity have been ignored or sidelined (§97)
The Archbishop of Canterbury clearly has authority to call whom he wishes to Primates’ Meetings and Lambeth (this endorses the argument of To Mend the Net) (§110)
The proposed Council of Advice (§§111-112) would give Global South a role at the heart of the Communion
The proposed Communion canon and covenant (§§113-120) would prevent such unilateral innovation in future or at least make it clear what consequences followed from such unilateralism.
States that ECUSA and Canada did not “attach sufficient importance to the impact of their decisions on the communion” (§121) and “acted in ways incompatible with the communion principle of interdependence” (§122)
The election of Robinson “has caused deep offence to many faithful Anglican Christians” (§127)
Is clear that many in the Communion neither recognise nor receive his ministry as bishop (§128) and accepts the decision of Archbishop of Canterbury as regards not allowing him to minister as bishop in England (§133)
His consecration raises question of his consecrators’ “commitment to ECUSA’s interdependence as a member of the Anglican Communion to which its own Constitution and Canons makes reference” (§129)
His consecration has had “very prejudicial consequences” (§130) in ecumenical relations
Strongly advises Canterbury not to invite Robinson to Lambeth (§133)
Highlights the imperatives of communion as “repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation” (§134), when framing its specific calls for regret
Calls ECUSA to express regret, not just for consequences, but that “the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached” (§134)
Such expressions of regret would represent “the desire of ECUSA to remain within the Communion” (§134)
Calls his consecrators to examine their consciences and to consider withdrawing from Communion bodies (§134)
Invites moratorium on further such consecrations (§134)
In its appeal for continued listening within Communion, it requests ECUSA to explain its views from within sources of Anglican authority and highlights orthodox Church of England House of Bishops report (§135)
Critiques claim to liturgical freedom (§138)
Clearly states that current moves towards public authorisation of blessings “constitutes a denial of the bonds of Communion” (§141)
States the need to show to others how any development constitutes growth in harmony with apostles’ tradition as received (§141)
Proceeding unilaterally in relation to same-sex blessings goes against formally expressed opinions of the Instruments of Unity and “constitutes action in breach of the legitimate application of the Christian faith” (§143)
Calls for a moratorium on rites in line with Primates’ Meeting in Brazil (§143)
Calls for those authorising rites to “regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached” (§144) and reconsider their role in Communion life
Recommends provinces endeavour to ensure commitment of their bishops to the common life of the Communion (§144)
Calls for further study without this implying approval of changes (§§145-6)
Rejects demonizing or ill treatment of homosexual persons (§146)
Fully understands ‘principled concerns’ behind those seeking ministry of other bishops (§149)
Is clear that those acting in this way are ‘seeking to be faithful members of the Anglican family’ (§150)
Seeks to ‘rebuild the trust which has been lost’ (§150)
Declares it axiomatic that incumbent bishop would ‘delegate some of his or her functions, rights and responsibilities’ to bishops offering alternative oversight (§152)
States that bishops from abroad should be able to be involved in offering alternative oversight under agreed processes (§152)
Recognises that some bishops ‘believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own’ (§155)
Does not require return of parishes to oversight by the diocesan from whom the parish is alienated but rather ‘an accommodation’ (§155)
Considers refusal of ECUSA bishops to work with DEPO as ‘a profoundly dismissive statement about their adherence to the polity of their own church’ (§155)
Suggests discussions possible about path to reconciliation or Act of Reconciliation (§156)
States that failure to heed call will lead to walking apart including non-invitation and withdrawal (§157).
Critiques of ECUSA & New Westminster
As noted above, there are many clear criticisms of the actions of ECUSA and New Westminster. For example –
Implies a failure by ECUSA to heed its own report stressing the importance of holy living among the ordained and recognising that ordination is not just a local matter but ordination to the whole Church (§§23-4)
Rejects the view that decisions were purely local (§24)
States 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)
Says they “proceeded with the consecration…despite the primates describing that forthcoming consecration as one which might “tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level”” (§27).
Gives four reasons for the current problems that relate to ECUSA & New Westminster (§§33, 35, 37, 39)
Concludes that ECUSA acted “in ways incompatible with the Communion principle of interdependence, and our fellowship together has suffered immensely as a result of these developments” (§122, also §123)
Says “caused deep offence to many faithful Anglican Christians both in its own church and in other parts of the Communion” (§127)
Actions of consecrators “raises the question of their commitment to the Episcopal Church (USA)’s interdependence as a member of the Anglican Communion” (§129)
Invites ECUSA to “express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion” (§134)
Calls on consecrators to consider withdrawing from Communion functions (§134)
Calls for moratorium on such consecrations (§134)
Despite own Report, ECUSA “commended the development of public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions as being within the bounds of the Episcopal Church (USA)’s common life … without formal theological justification or consultation in the Communion” (§140)
States that “actions to move towards the authorization of such rites in the face of opposition from the wider Anglican Communion constitutes a denial of the bonds of Communion” and calls for moratorium and statements of regret (§141)
Strongly critical of ECUSA bishops who refuse to provide alternative oversight (§155)
Main weaknesses in the Report
Some would include here those matters not able to be addressed given its remit (eg an explanation and defence of Anglican teaching on sexuality and its importance and lack of deeper analysis as to why North American churches behaved in this way and possible wider signs of malaise)
In terms of its remit and content the following need to be explored further and probably strengthened:
The language of ‘regret’ is ambiguous; it needs to be clearer as to what constitutes an adequate expression of regret – Who should give it? How? By when? And for what? (see §134, §144)
The decision to focus individual responsibility on consecrators rather than General Convention consenters (§§128-9) limits the number of people directly asked to consider their position. All bishops in ECUSA will have to decide whether ECUSA should express regret and they need to be challenged as to whether they will follow this request. The appeal to their conscience (rather than a recommendation of non-invitation or ‘observer status’) helpfully places the ball in their court. But it leaves the Communion with no obvious response if revisionist bishops assert their wish to attend Communion events.
The grouping together of violations over sexuality and violations over geographical boundaries (eg §29, §§122-3) and the unqualified call for a moratorium on interventions (§155) without a clear distinction being drawn between the two is a weakness.
This has caused some confusion as it has been understood as implying ‘moral equivalence’. Strictly, however, they do not need to be viewed as ‘morally equivalent’ except in this respect: that all the actions which the Commission sees as regrettable share the common feature of being actions taken unilaterally by provinces or Primates against the common counsel of the Communion and that have impacted detrimentally the wider life of the Communion. They took place ‘without consultation with their fellow primates’ (§122) and primates have ‘taken it upon themselves’ (§123) to intervene. Such actions do not fit within the vision of communion the Commission has offered earlier.
However, beyond this it can be argued that there is no equivalence in the Report. The Commission clearly states that that the interventions are ‘reactions’ which have been ‘prompted by’ the prior actions of ECUSA and New Westminster. It acknowledges that when actions have been taken (that, as already agreed, ‘tear the fabric of the Communion at the deepest level’), then these responses may be both necessary and proportionate in an emergency situation. Although not explicit (because of its remit), the Report does base itself on the Lambeth resolution which includes strong statements in relation to homosexuality as ‘contrary to Scripture’ and clearly this cannot be said in relation to ‘intervention’.
It should be noted that there are also clear differences in what the Commission says about orthodox bishops and Primates compared to its earlier recommendations about the consecrators of Gene Robinson. On this issue the Commission instead…
speaks of their ‘principled concerns’ and ‘conscientious duty’;
asks for regret, not for the actions themselves, but only for the consequences;
does not categorise the actions as breaching the proper constraints of the ‘bonds of affection’;
does not ask those who intervened to consider withdrawing from Communion life;
does not see expression of regret as the means by which a desire to remain in the Communion will be signalled;
does not require those intervening to return parishes to their diocesan bishop.
All these important distinctions need to be carefully assessed by those who sense the Report at this point is criticising them.
The Report does not provide the Adequate Episcopal Oversight within ECUSA called for by Primates (and its advocacy of DEPO, §152, is particularly disheartening to many orthodox). It makes delegated oversight dependent on the good will of bishops—the very bishops whom the Report asks to consider whether they can continue to participate in Communion institutions given their recent conduct! The Report therefore effectively questions and undercuts the authority of these bishops at one point whilst at another criticising parishes on the ground who themselves have questioned that authority.
Rather than disciplining bishops or provinces (eg by recommending non-invitation), the Report sees such acts of discipline, not as the necessary works of love within communion when faced with breaches of communion (as argued in the ACI submission Communion and Discipline), but rather as signs of already ‘walking apart’ (§157). By not availing themselves of the biblical language of internal discipline within the Church (whether it was beyond their remit or for fears of its legal implications), they have thus paradoxically brought forward the possible end of Communion. Between the options of Communion and ‘walking apart’, no middle-ground has been opened up of ‘membership under discipline’. The options are therefore stark, with few mechanisms in place to enact what is decided.
Given the (predictable) instant rejection of its appeals by many revisionist bishops, the lack of a timetable for reconciliation or for proposals as to what should be done if the appeals fail means that the Report fails to offer concrete proposals for such a scenario at the Primates’ Meeting in February. The lack of timetable may also encourage endless delaying tactics, avoiding the necessary time for decision and action.
Overall Evaluation & Response
There is much excellent material – especially the vision of Communion life in Parts A&B – which can be built on both to strengthen the Communion and challenge the revisionist actions.
In order to see its relationship to the Communion’s teaching on sexuality thee Report must be set clearly within the wider context of the Primates’ Statement, Lambeth Resolution etc.
The weaknesses in Part D could in part be overcome and strengthened by drawing out some of the stronger statements and analysis in earlier parts of the Report which are not fully followed through in some of the concrete proposals for the short-term.
The longer-term proposals in Part C can be welcomed and weighed (with some caution perhaps over the precise details of proposed covenant) as strengthening the Communion
The Report, despite itslimitations, is a strong basis on which to strengthen the orthodox case . It can be useful for clarifying people’s positions.
It is vital therefore that the revisionist actions and not the Report itself remains the focus of orthodox concerns and opposition.
There are potentially ‘teeth’ in the Report but the Report leaves unclear the mechanisms by which its proposals can be enacted if those it appeals to are determined to ignore its recommendations.
The Report provides material for the Primates meeting in February to take the actions necessary to repair the tear in the Communion, if they are willing to do so. This is an urgent need which cannot be put off much longer. The consultation process on the Report must therefore not be too prolonged. If there is to be any hope of continuing to walk together the oppression of loyal Anglican Communion dioceses and parishes in the Americas must cease forthwith.