ON READING THE PRIMATES’ COMMUNIQUE
Introduction (paras 1-5)
The opening three paragraphs of the communiqué (paras 1-3) set the context of its primary substance (paras 4-19): the response of the Primates to the current crisis and to the Windsor Report they commissioned from the Lambeth Commission last time they met (para 4). The Primates begin with an account of how they received the Report and the responses to it. These “offered a high measure of general support for the recommendations of the Windsor Report, despite some expressions of concern in relation to matters of detail” (para 5). The detail of the presentations – now available online – will merit further study in order to understand the background to the Primates’ own decisions.
Anglicans and Sexuality (para 6)
The Primates own reflections made clear that “Many primates have been deeply alarmed that the standard of Christian teaching on matters of human sexuality expressed in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, which should command respect as the position overwhelmingly adopted by the bishops of the Anglican Communion, has been seriously undermined by the recent developments in North America”. Here it is clear these actions are disrespectful and undermining of Christian teaching on matters of human sexuality.
The Primates appear to grant that the provinces “have proceeded entirely in accordance with their constitutional processes and requirements”. However, some would seriously dispute this given their explicit constitutional commitments to the wider Communion. If, as it subsequently appears, these actions entail voluntary withdrawal from full participation in the life of the Communion there appears to be an incompatibility between the decisions and the provinces’ own constitutional self-definition. In that case it can be argued that even if they followed ‘due process’ in terms of internal procedures, the actions are not ‘entirely in accordance’ with their own provincial standards.
The Primates helpfully distinguish between “our discussion and assessment of the moral appropriateness of specific human behaviours” and “the pastoral support and care of homosexual people”. They go so far as to declare an anathema on those involved in “the victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex”. Positively, they assure “homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship”
The Windsor Report (paras 7-19)
The Primates then “welcome the general thrust of the Windsor Report as offering a way forward for the mutual life of our Communion”, and proceed to commend particular conclusions (para 7).
They firstly embrace (para 8) the vision in TWR’s opening sections as “an authentic description” of both “the life of the Anglican Communion, and the principles by which its life is governed and sustained” and “the way in which we would like to see the life of the Anglican Communion developed, as we respond in faithful discipleship to Christ”. In particular they highlight “the central place Anglicans accord to the authority of scripture, and of “autonomy-in-communion” as the balanced exercise of the inter-dependence between the thirty-eight Provinces and their legitimate provincial autonomy”.
This key paragraph commits the Primates to life in Communion and not a looser federation. Its concluding sentence, though rightly made universal, effectively asks whether certain provinces are sure they wish to sign up to such a vision: “We therefore request all provinces to consider whether they are willing to be committed to the inter-dependent life of the Anglican Communion understood in the terms set out in these sections of the report”. The Primates of the Communion have now taken the vision of TWR as setting the terms of ‘interdependent life’ within the Communion. No longer can people claim they do not know what is entailed by declaring themselves to be a member of the Anglican Communion nor can a view of autonomy as independence be legitimately propounded as Anglican ecclesiology.
Longer-term proposals (paras 9-10)
Turning to the longer term proposals (para 9), the Primates “welcome the proposals in Section C for the future development of the Instruments of Unity” (referencing TWR, paras 105-7). They note however “serious questions about the content of the proposal for an Anglican Covenant and the practicalities of its implementation”. Though “a longer term process” it is commended “as a project that should be given further consideration in the Provinces of the Communion between now and the Lambeth Conference 2008”. It is set in the context of ecumenical covenants and the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral which “has been effectively operating as a form of covenant”. The Archbishop of Canterbury is asked “to explore ways of implementing this”.
In para 10 questions are raised “concerning the development of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and of a Council of Advice” so while welcoming the ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury – which they interestingly define as “one who can speak to us as primus inter pares about the realities we face as a Communion” – the Primates “are cautious of any development which would seem to imply the creation of an international jurisdiction which could override our proper provincial autonomy”. They therefore ask the Archbishop of Canterbury “to explore ways of consulting further on these matters”. It seems here that the Primates are concerned that the covenant proposed by TWR may make interdependence stronger and more juridical and go beyond the vision of ‘autonomy-in-communion’ they found and supported in Sections A & B of the Report.
Implications of life in communion (paras 11-12)
Turning to the immediate crisis, the Primates – without explicitly referring to New Hampshire – “accept the principle articulated in Section D of the Windsor Report concerning the universal nature of the ministry of a bishop within Anglican polity” (para 11). In line with TWR, they “request that Provinces should themselves find an appropriate place for the proper consideration of the principle of inter-dependence in any process of election or confirmation”. Here again there is an implicit rejection of certain ECUSA claims that within Anglican polity and especially the democratic system of ECUSA there is nothing wrong with electing and confirming candidates without consideration for the wider catholic church, The ‘states’ rights’ defence of confirming New Hampshire’s election, along with other false views of ‘autonomy’ and ‘local option’ are here firmly rejected.
As regards the Primates’ own assessment of the reality of the current situation, in probably the most important paragraph (para 12) concerning this, they (using the now regular code-phrase to signify not all individual Primates would agree - “as a body”) state that they are committed to continuing “to address the situations which have arisen in North America” and that they view them “with the utmost seriousness”. The reason for this is starkly put – “whilst there remains a very real question about whether the North American churches are willing to accept the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion, the underlying reality of our communion in God the Holy Trinity is obscured, and the effectiveness of our common mission severely hindered”.
Here we see why these matters are not matters indifferent (adiaphora) where the Communion can simply embrace diversity. Refusal clearly to accept common teaching on sexual morality is to obscure the underlying reality of our communion in God the Holy Trinity (the foundational level of “communion” which some have wished to assert continues despite these differences and so there is no need to worry overly about the disagreements) and severely to hinder the effectiveness of our common mission. That is why these issues are so important.
Taking time: voluntary withdrawal to decide whether to walk together or to walk apart (paras 13-14)
Despite the seriousness of refusing to accept common teaching, the Primates show restraint in their response. They state (para 13) that they have been persuaded that “in order for the recommendations of the Windsor Report to be properly addressed, time needs to be given to the Episcopal Church (USA) and to the Anglican Church of Canada for consideration of these recommendations according to their constitutional processes”. Here it is clear that the provinces concerned have not yet complied with TWR but they have won the concession that they cannot be forced to give an instant response. Rather, they must be allowed to follow their own due processes (ECUSA has made much of General Convention being decisive and not meeting until 2006) in considering the recommendations of the Report.
Nevertheless, while it is clear that they are granted this time by the Communion, it is also clear that during this period it cannot be ‘business as usual’. Therefore, (para 14), the Primates “within the ambit of the issues discussed in the Windsor Report and in order to recognise the integrity of all parties” make a request of the two provinces to “voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council for the period leading up to the next Lambeth Conference”. This effectively means they would not attend in 2005 and presumably will not be able to attend meetings of the Standing Committee or participate in other aspects of the work of the ACC.
This request represents a significant revision of TWR. The Report simply called on certain individuals “to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion” and urged “all members of the Communion to accord appropriate respect to such conscientious decisions” (para 134, also para 144). There was even some dispute as to whether this meant non-participation in bodies such as the ACC (reportedly denied by Bp Mark Dyer) or simply representing the Communion on ecumenical bodies. It appears now that the Primates were unwilling to accept this way forward. Instead, they are treating these provinces as accountable and calling on them to act to distance themselves by withdrawing their representatives – whether or not they have personally been implicated in the departure from Communion teaching - from Communion councils.
The expression in terms of ‘request’ reflects the fact that the ACC has its own constitution and membership schedule. This cannot be altered by the Primates on their own. The fact that they request provinces to withdraw from another instrument of unity is itself a sign of the enhanced authority being taken by the Primates’ Meeting in this communiqué and also of the level of damage done to the life of the Communion by the actions of these provinces. It would appear that they concluded the next ACC meeting was simply not viable unless these provinces either withdrew or complied with TWR.
During this period (ie the three years up to Lambeth 2008), the Primates request that “both churches respond through their relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report”. This is presumably a reference to the requests for statements of regret and a commitment to moratoria. It is clear that in this period of voluntary withdrawal from this Communion council in order to consider TWR the provinces are effectively considering “their place within the Anglican Communion”. Here the Primates refer back to paragraph 8 and the statement that all provinces must consider “whether they are willing to be committed to the inter-dependent life of the Anglican Communion understood in the terms set out in” the first two sections of the report.
In short, the two provinces are being asked to stand apart until the next Lambeth Conference and seriously consider if they wish to be part of the Anglican Communion as it is defined in TWR and accepted by the Primates. Participation would seem to entail compliance with TWR’s recommendations and the acceptance of Communion teaching on sexual morality in their own provincial decision-making. If they are not – through their due constitutional processes – able to make such commitments it is unclear what will happen but the implication is that the Lambeth Conference may perhaps have to resolve the situation.
Oversight during theological dispute (para 15)
The next paragraph (para 15) represents a further strengthening of TWR. The Commission had spoken favourably of the provision of what it called ‘care of dissenting groups’ (TWR, para 152). The Primates have clearly not been as convinced. Therefore, “in order to protect the integrity and legitimate needs of groups in serious theological dispute with their diocesan bishop, or dioceses in dispute with their Provinces” (the latter presumably a reference to Recife but potentially could include Network dioceses within ECUSA), the Primates “recommend that the Archbishop of Canterbury appoint, as a matter of urgency, a panel of reference to supervise the adequacy of pastoral provisions made by any churches for such members in line with the recommendation in the Primates’ Statement of October 2003”. Here in a footnote they recall their October 2003 statement that the provinces must “make adequate provision for Episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities within their own area of pastoral care in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of the Primates”.
The Primates here appear to leave provision in the hands of member churches but also to recognise there is an urgent need for supervision of such provision. This perhaps recognises the inconsistency that would arise if the Primates asked provinces to withdraw from the ACC but left them unaccountable in their treatment of those committed to Communion teaching. The structure and powers of such an unprecedented Communion panel of reference will be of great significance.
This paragraph also addresses the other area of contention – that of intervention across provincial boundaries. Some had claimed TWR saw a ‘moral equivalence’ between this and the actions in North America or even that the greatest threat to communion was to be seen in such disregard for established jurisdictions. Their very limited discussion of it makes clear that the Primates do not hold either of these views. They make no reference to the recommendation of TWR concerning this (para 155) thought they state, “Equally, during this period we commit ourselves neither to encourage nor to initiate cross-boundary interventions”.
This part of the communiqué perhaps signals at least a partial compliance with TWR on the part of those who in the recent past have crossed diocesan and provincial boundaries and a recognition by them that such unilateral actions are also corrosive of life in communion. This presumably is because there is hope the Archbishop’s panel will – with urgency - ensure adequate episcopal oversight. It is perhaps significant, however, that there is no reaffirmation of the frequently stated respect for boundaries in the last two Primates’ letters (from Brazil and Lambeth) and that the commitment is neither to encourage nor initiate interventions but not necessarily to refrain totally from them if they are requested.
Proposals for ACC – a hearing and a new Communion process (paras 16-17)
Turning in para 16 to the forthcoming ACC, the Primates (“notwithstanding the request of paragraph 14) encourage the organisation of “a hearing at its meeting in Nottingham, England, in June 2005 at which representatives of the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, invited for that specific purpose, may have an opportunity to set out the thinking behind the recent actions of their Provinces, in accordance with paragraph 141 of the Windsor Report”. The Primates here clearly are seeing these churches as invited guests at the ACC. Although the status and nature of this meeting is unclear, the language of a ‘hearing’ (rather than ‘consultation’ or ‘discussion’) could imply a more juridical context with the ACC being called upon to weigh the response and reach some judgment as to how the Communion (or at least the ACC) should proceed after June. Again, as with para 15, the details of how this might be implemented will be of great importance.
The relevant paragraph of TWR (para 141) states that “actions to move towards the authorisation of such [same-sex blessing] rites in the face of opposition from the wider Anglican Communion constitutes a denial of the bonds of Communion”. The proper acknowledgment of such bonds requires “as a beginning” that those proposing such actions “demonstrate to the rest of the Communion why their proposal meets the criteria of scripture, tradition and reason” and “in order to be received as a legitimate development of that tradition, it must be possible to demonstrate how public Rites of blessing for same sex unions would constitute growth in harmony with the apostolic tradition as it has been received”. Given that neither ECUSA nor the Anglican Church of Canada has in fact formally ever agreed such a case within their own province – ECUSA’s most recent report just before General Convention recommended not proceeding with such rites and the General Synod in Canada recent sent it to a Doctrine Commission – it will be interesting to see how, given their concerns for constitutional processes, any such request is met by the two churches, particularly in such a short time-frame. It is important that the ACC is also able to hear a theological response critiquing any such attempted demonstration by these provinces.
The Primates (para 17) again reaffirm “the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 as the present position of the Anglican Communion” and recognise the importance of “that resolution in its entirety”. They therefore also request the ACC “to take positive steps to initiate the listening and study process which has been the subject of resolutions not only at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, but in earlier Conferences as well”.
There here is an implicit confession that this work has not been done despite such resolutions (a major element of the response to TWR from groups linked to Inclusive Communion) and that prior to Lambeth 2008 further work is needed in this area, in addition to the proposed hearing concerning public same-sex rites of blessing. Again, the form and structure of such ‘positive steps’, will be of great importance and, in particular, what role (if any) ECUSA and Canada could have in it if they have withdrawn from the ACC.
The appeal to Primates to work for their province’s compliance (para 18)
It is clear, however, that any such process of listening and study must take place (para 18) within the constraints of the current teaching of the Communion. Therefore, in line with TWR, the Primates “ask our fellow primates to use their best influence to persuade their brothers and sisters to exercise a moratorium on public Rites of Blessing for Same-sex unions and on the consecration of any bishop living in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage”. The communiqué here appears to be one in which the Primates of ECUSA and Canada are addressed by the other Primates. This raises the question of on whose behalf the communiqué (in whole or part) is issued. This paragraph clearly is a challenge to both Bishop Griswold and Archbishop Hutchison to demonstrate the extent of their collegiality with their fellow Primates and willingness to ‘use their best influence to persuade’ others within their provinces’ constitutional bodies to comply with TWR.
The goal: Repairing the tear and restoring trust (para 19)
Finally, in line with TWR, the Primates (para 19) make clear that the goal of these unprecedented and radical measures is that of reconciliation – “These strategies are intended to restore the full trust of our bonds of affection across the Communion”.
The practical ministry and importance of the Communion (paras 20-22)
The final paragraphs summarise “issues of practical ministry” discussed including (para 20) “the ministry of African churches in particular amongst people living with HIV/AIDS; the dying, the bereaved, and orphaned children”. The Primates accepted “that our concerns must be broadened to include those suffering from TB and malaria” and called for reduction and eradication of absolute poverty and hunger in line with the Millennium Development Goals.
The Priamtes also devoted (para 21) two sessions to “the important work of the discernment of theological truth and the development and improvement of theological education through the sharing of resources across the Communion”. Here it is stated that “The Archbishop of Canterbury has identified this as a priority concern during the period of his leadership”. A particular concern is that “some theological education across the Communion needs to take more account of Anglican history, formularies or spirituality” although the substance of this concern is not fully explained. The plan is “to hold a Consultation for theological educators later this year in Canterbury, and it is anticipated that this work will be a significant item of consideration at the Lambeth Conference in 2008”.
The communiqué concludes (para 22) by reaffirming the importance of the Anglican Communion. They note how “common commitment to the pursuit of projects such as these” and “recent very positive experience of close practical co-operation in response to the tsunami disaster” “convince us of the enormous importance of our shared work together as Provinces of the Anglican Communion”. In the face of apparent disunity the Primates “have become even more mindful of the indissoluble link between Christian unity and Christian mission, as this is expressed in Jesus’ own prayer that his disciples should be one that the world may believe (John 17.21)”. Therefore, they write, “we pray for the continuing blessing of God’s unity and peace as we recommit ourselves to the mission of the Anglican Communion, which we share with the whole people of God, in the transformation of our troubled world”. The communiqué ends with citation of Rom 12.2 and 2 Cor 5.18
The important final paragraph of TWR (para 157) reads “There remains a very real danger that we will not choose to walk together. Should the call to halt and find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, then we shall have to begin to learn to walk apart. We would much rather not speculate on actions that might need to be taken if, after acceptance by the primates, our recommendations are not implemented. However, we note that there are, in any human dispute, courses that may be followed: processes of mediation and arbitration; non-invitation to relevant representative bodies and meetings; invitation, but to observer status only; and, as an absolute last resort, withdrawal from membership. We earnestly hope that none of these will prove necessary. Our aim throughout has been to work not for division but for healing and restoration”
It is now clear that the recommendations have been accepted by the primates and in some cases strengthened. It is also clear that the primates have seen no sign that ECUSA and the Anglican Church in Canada are ready to halt and walk together. That refusal appears this week to have taken the Communion to the very edge of the precipice. In drawing back from it, the Primates have, in relation to the ACC – the next council of the Communion – got as close as they can to carry out some of the measures that TWR says would have to follow non-implementation: ‘non-invitation to relevant representative bodies and meetings’ and ‘invitation, but to observer status only’. Indeed, regarding that instrument of unity, the two provinces have effectively been asked to effect a temporary and voluntary ‘withdrawal from membership’ (para 14).
In an interesting omission there is no reference in the communiqué to attendance at future Primates’ Meetings. This is at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury (TWR, para 110). It appears inconceivable without compliance with TWR that either the Primate of Canada or ECUSA’s Presiding Bishop could be invited if the Archbishop of Canterbury wishes to ‘safeguard, and take counsel for, the well-being of the Anglican Communion”. Rather, without compliance with TWR, invitation would have to be on “restricted terms at his sole discretion” because we are clearly now – given the wording of this communiqué and its request in relation to the ACC – in circumstances “where full voting membership of the Conference is perceived to be an undesirable status, or would militate against the greater unity of the Communion”.
In short, the Primates have asked these two provinces to step aside from the next significant meeting in Communion life and to consider whether they really do wish to ‘walk together’. They have made clear that to “walk together” those provinces need to walk the path of reconciliation laid down in TWR and to embrace the Report’s vision of life in communion.
The ball is now firmly in the court of the constitutional authorities of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada. We wait to see if they wish to play according to the now clearly defined rules of the game or whether they wish to leave and to play another game elsewhere.