Response to the New Orleans House of Bishops Statement

Date of publication
Anglican Communion Institute Response to the New Orleans House of Bishops Statement With brief reflections on the report of the Joint Standing Committee

Introduction and Context In July 2006, following the response of General Convention to the requests of the Windsor Report, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, "There is no way in which the Anglican Communion can remain unchanged by what is happening at the moment". In February 2007, the Primates at Dar concluded that "the response of The Episcopal Church to the requests made at Dromantine has not persuaded this meeting that we are yet in a position to recognise that The Episcopal Church has mended its broken relationships" and sought a further response with the warning that "if the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion". It is therefore unsurprising that last week, after the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church had met to seek to respond to the Primates, the Secretary General of the Communion wrote that "The Joint Standing Committee is also conscious that the very life of the Communion is standing at a crossroads at present".

The origins of this crisis can be traced back to the fact that, though overwhelmingly supported by the Communion's bishops at the 1998 Lambeth Conference (and subsequently repeatedly reaffirmed by the other Instruments of Communion) , Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality has not been welcomed and indeed is widely ignored by a significant part of The Episcopal Church (USA) and, to a lesser extent, the Anglican Church of Canada. The Communion's rejection of "the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions" and the "ordaining those involved in same gender unions" represented a major call for restraint in TEC given its practice over almost two decades and the convictions of many of its leaders. The failure to heed the Conference's call led to increased tensions and the consecration of bishops for conservative American Anglicans (as part of AMiA) by two Anglican Primates in January 2000 which was strongly criticised by the then Archbishop of Canterbury and by the Primates at their Porto meeting of March 2000. It was, however, the actions of General Convention 2003 - in confirming the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and recognising that "local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions" - that precipitated the current crisis, still far from resolution four years later.

The Primates met in an emergency meeting at Lambeth in October 2003, warned of the consequences of proceeding with the consecration and created the Lambeth Commission on Communion. This produced The Windsor Report a year later and its specific discussions and requests in relation to the American church focused on the past (an expression of regret), the present (provision for those opposed to General Convention's actions) and the future (a moratorium on same-sex blessings and further election and consecration of same-sex partnered bishops). These were received by the Primates at Dromantine in February 2005 (though with concern that more needed to be done to oversee protection of the orthodox minority, some of whom had formed the Anglican Communion Network, some of whom were leaving the American church to come under other Anglican jurisdictions) and by the ACC later that year.

The response of General Convention 2006 was considered by the Primates' Meeting in Tanzania in February 2007 and, though the apology for past actions was accepted, it was concluded that the provision for those faithful to Communion teaching was proving inadequate and a Pastoral Council and Pastoral Scheme was proposed in order to meet this deficiency and to bring greater order through an end to the increasing number of foreign interventions. The Primates were also dis-satisfied with GC's response in relation to the two moratoria and so sought further clarification from the House of Bishops of TEC by the end of September. The Bishops' response has now been published and is being considered by the wider Communion.

The House of Bishops' Response The heart of the response relates to the three areas that have been central since at least the Windsor Report was published three years ago:

·    present and future provision for those unable to continue their current relationship with TEC ·    the request for a moratorium on same-sex blessings ·    the request for a moratorium on same-sex partnered bishops
Taken in this order, and comparing with what has been asked for by the Communion through Windsor, the Primates (Dromantine-Dar) and ACC Nottingham, the most plausible reading is that the response moves from totally inadequate to barely adequate.

Pastoral Scheme and Pastoral Council The bishops have clearly reaffirmed their earlier rejection of the Primates' proposals for an internal solution focussed on the Windsor Bishops and in co-operation with a Council involving representatives of the Primates. In its place they appear to be offering the long-standing DEPO proposal for parishes (which has proved unacceptable to the many who have left TEC since 2003 to come under foreign jurisdictions) and an extension of this for whole dioceses that now wish to distance themselves from the Presiding Bishop and General Convention's actions.

This alternative - unlike the Pastoral Scheme and Council - is in fact unacceptable to those most desirous of relief and, in consequence, has no hope of bringing an orderly end to the departures from and interventions in the province nor of enabling the return of those who have already left for oversight from other provinces to within a TEC recognised structure.

The report of the Joint Standing Committee, just published, identifies more specific dimensions of the proposed plan than have been made public thus far. If wider communion representation; consultation with and approval of the Primates; and other key features can be worked out, then there could be some way to make what has been referred to in vague ways in the New Orleans report come closer to what the Primates designed, after much hard work, at Dar es Salaam.  Only something like this would be workable for the present and longer term. (See below).

Same-sex blessings

The bishops were asked by the Primates to
  make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention
The main reason for this (para 21) was the current confused state on the ground in TEC:

There appears to us to be an inconsistency between the position of General Convention and local pastoral provision. We recognise that the General Convention made no explicit resolution about such Rites and in fact declined to pursue resolutions which, if passed, could have led to the development and authorisation of them. However, we understand that local pastoral provision is made in some places for such blessings. It is the ambiguous stance of The Episcopal Church which causes concern among us.

In response the bishops have pledged

not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action

The key differences here are that the pledge according to its plain sense:

1.    is limited to authorisation and allows bishops to give permission as part of 'local pastoral provision'
2.    is limited to 'public rites'
3.    is able to be overturned by General Convention even without a new Communion consensus
The pledge represents, in fact, simply a renewal of that in the covenant that the bishops made back in March 2005 after the Dromantine Primates' Meeting.

Furthermore, rather than addressing their 'ambiguous stance', the bishops confirm this is the reality - "the majority (emphasis added) of bishops do not make allowance for the blessing of same-sex unions" - and appear, thereby, to justify exceptions on the grounds of the permitted "breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care".

Bishops in a same-sex union

Here the bishops have made the most significant clarification in acknowledging that the wording of the GC resolution (B033) included "non-celibate gay and lesbian persons" in its description of those whose "manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion".
There remains, however, a major weakness. They have simply stated that GC has called on them as bishops with jurisdiction to "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate". The Primates asked them (emphasis added) to

confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent

Analysis of the various wordings considered by the bishops reveals they were aware of this distinction and had before them various wordings that would have given such a firm commitment. Their decision not to do so will not engender confidence that they have properly responded to the Primates in this area.


Leaving aside the areas where the bishops are silent (e.g., recourse to law in property disputes and the importance of affirming "the Windsor Report as the standard of teaching commanding respect across the Communion (most recently expressed in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference)"), the response, though showing some signs of progress, in our view falls short of what the Primates were seeking and for which many have hoped and prayed in recent months. It would appear that this most recent meeting of the House of Bishops had its most serious engagement yet with the reality of TEC's actions on the wider Communion and the gulf both within itself and between TEC and the mind of the Communion expressed through its Instruments.  The bishops clearly made a valiant effort to find a form of words that would be acceptable to the overwhelming majority of its own members and also to the wider Communion. We commend the efforts of those at New Orleans to stop the drift of TEC away from the larger communion.  
However, the flaws in its final response signal that when faced with a clear choice, the local audience was ultimately still more determinative than the global one and the demands of being an American denomination triumphed over the disciplines of belonging to the Church Catholic. Either a majority of bishops did not wish to do as they were clearly requested to by the Communion in order to repair the tear in the fabric of the Communion (the Windsor Bishops presented motions that would have enabled this) or, if they did, they did not wish to do so in a manner that would lead to dissent from those many bishops, clergy and laity in TEC who are conscientiously convinced that the demands of the gospel prevent acceptance of any moratorium on same-sex blessings or the ordination and consecration of those in such unions.

We completed this analysis and assessment before the appearance of that made by the Joint Standing Committee.  Their assessment is far more generous than ours, and it certainly is more generous than that of the dissenting member of the Joint Standing Committee, Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis (see Ruth Gledhill, Times on Line, October 03, 2007).  There are aspects of the assessment of the Joint Standing Committee that give cause for hope if in fact they are accurate accounts of the meaning of the response of the House of Bishops of TEC; indeed, in its  more generous account of TEC's intentions it might serve to remind TEC of what the JSC (including the Presiding Bishop of TEC) identified as the standard accepted by the Bishops, when in future that standard is questioned, more clearly diminished, or ignored .  The Joint Standing Committee report appears to hold, for example, that "exercise restraint" in approving persons for Episcopal Orders who are involved in a non-celibate relation with a person of the same sex means the same thing as a moratorium on such actions.  They also believe, it seems, that the pledge not to approve public rites of blessing for same gender couples implies that blessings are not part of an appropriate pastoral response to gay and lesbian people.  If such is the meaning of the House of Bishops of TEC then one must say that a great step forward has been taken.  We will not know if indeed the response of the House of Bishops of TEC is as the Joint Standing Committee claims until there has been time to examine the report carefully and we see evidence that these positions are in fact those the bishops hold, and that they are being prosecuted in the various dioceses of TEC.

We also believe that there is some promise in the suggestions of the Joint Standing Committee about the provision of oversight for parishes and dioceses that feel a strong need to differentiate themselves from the actions and positions taken by the agents of governance of TEC and many of its Bishops, Priests, and Dioceses.  The Archbishop of Canterbury; bishops from intervening dioceses; bishops in whose dioceses interventions have taken place; and Camp Allen Bishops all need to pursue the development of a pastoral scheme that meets the needs of those who feel a need for differentiation holds promise if the project is pursued diligently and with all possible speed.  The issue that must be addressed is that significant numbers of Episcopalians feel a need for differentiation, and many of these do not want to leave TEC.  We regard provision of an adequate pastoral scheme to be a matter of utmost importance and extreme urgency.

Having pointed to certain aspects of the report of the Joint Standing Committee that might provide a way to move ahead, we must close by saying that the more likely reading of the response of the House of Bishops of TEC suggests that, even if there are some steps in the right direction, a great distance remains between them and the wider Communion.  The actions of TEC over several years now have created and confirmed that distance although, in God's providence, after each decision, the Communion has re-gathered at yet another crossroads to discern whether and how it can walk together. That task of discernment is now urgently required once more with the Lambeth Conference less than a year away and the covenant process (through which, all acknowledge, decisive decisions will have to be taken) still some way from fruition.
Unless those entrusted with oversight in the Communion are somehow enabled to discern the mind of Christ together, preferably through a gathering of the Primates with the Joint Standing Committee, there is now an even greater danger than before that this particular crossroads may lead to a large number of quite different paths being taken by provinces, dioceses and parishes.  The tragic consequence of such a development would be that it may be many years before another crossroads is provided at which all those who have traditionally gathered together as constituent members of the Anglican Communion are able to meet in order to nurture their common mission, strengthen the bonds of affection and seek to find a common mind for our common life together as Anglican Christians.

The Anglican Communion Institute
Archbishop Drexel Wellington Gomez, Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop N.T. Wright, Bishop Edward L. Salmon, Bishop John W. Howe, Bishop James Stanton, Christopher Seitz, Philip Turner, Ephraim Radner, Andrew Goddard