What do we believe is the will of God for the Anglican Communion?
The intensity of expression on both sides of this debate can be contrasted with the large numbers of Anglicans who are bemused and bewildered by the passion of the opposing views, and have felt their voices eclipsed by the enthusiasts.
The Lambeth commission was established at the request of the primates in October 2003 with a mandate to find a way forward to reconciliation and wider communion. The mandate does not call for judgment on sexuality issues.
Dissent is not new in the Anglican Communion, but it has never before been expressed with such force, and through such immediate channels of communication.
To examine and report, in preparation for the ensuing Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council, on the legal and theological implications flowing from the decisions of the Episcopal Church (USA) (henceforward referred to as ECUSA) to appoint a priest in a committed same sex relationship as one of its bishops, and of the Diocese of New Westminster to authorize services for use in connection with same sex unions, and also on ways in which provinces may best relate to and communicate with one another in situations where the ecclesiastical authorities of one province feel unable to maintain the fullness of communion with another part of the Anglican communion.
Further, to make recommendations as to the circumstances under which it would be appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to exercise oversight with regard to the internal affairs of a province other than his own.
The Members (p9)
The 22 commission members including staff are listed. The Chairman was Archbishop Robin Eames, Primate of All Ireland.
The Report (p11)
Section A: The Purposes and Benefits of Communion
The communion we have been given in Christ; biblical foundations
The unity of the Church and the communion of its members with one another are rooted in the Trinitarian life and purposes of God. The communion that we enjoy is the specific fruit of the gospel. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he begins his pastoral and restorative ministry by reminding them of their identity in Christ. At the climax of his letter, after dealing with all the many problems, he returns to the central focus which is that all demanding and all fulfilling agape. As we struggle with different interpretations of holiness, Paul would want to remind us of our common identity in Christ, and its unique purpose.
The practical consequences of a healthy communion
We may look back with satisfaction to the unifying work of the Holy Spirit within Anglicanism, which continues to flourish in a myriad of ways, and was given formal expression at the third Anglican congress of 1963. What is less clear is how this organic body should be sustained. In the past we have never had to clarify the ways in which the headship of Jesus is brought to expression within the local and international leadership of the Communion.
Recent mutual discernment within the communion
In the case of the ordination of women (1968), the Bishop of Hong Kong and Macao sought the advice of the Anglican Consultative Council. Similarly, the decision not to exclude from election to bishop on the ground of gender was first brought to the 1985 Primate’s Meeting in Toronto Canada, and was reported on to Lambeth in 1988 and 1998. Decision-making on both these serious issues was carried out without division.
The illness; the surface symptoms
Such prior consultation did not occur in the issues before this commission. We believe this fact lies at the heart of the problems we now face. The issues that have arisen are (a) whether it is legitimate for the church to bless the committed relationships of same sex couples, and (b) whether it is appropriate to ordain and/or consecrate to the episcopate persons living in a sexual relationship with a partner of the same sex. Experimentation with the blessing of same sex relationships began as early as 1973. Those who have continued to promote such blessings have done so on the premise that they were local events. However, it has become apparent that such matters never stay local; they have an effect on the worldwide communion. The strong worldwide reaction to the recent decisions of ECUSA and New Westminster confirm this.
The history of the homosexual debate includes Lambeth resolutions in 1978 and 1988. In 1998 an extensive study upheld these previous statements advocating a traditional view. The Archbishop of Canterbury initiated a series of International Conversations on human sexuality, which set a high standard for how such matters could be discussed with clarity. The 1998 resolution was re-affirmed in a bishops’ statement of October 16, 2003.
It should be clearly understood that this Commission has not been asked to continue this conversation; it was not part of our mandate.
Nevertheless, the primates singled out synodical actions that have gone against the letter and spirit of the resolutions; namely New Westminster’s request that their bishop provide a rite and authorize blessings of same sex unions, ECUSA’s consecration of the person elected as bishop of New Hampshire, a divorced man openly living in a sexually active and committed relationship, and the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada’s passing a resolution confirming the “integrity and sanctity of committed adult same sex relationships”.
The overwhelming reaction to these developments both inside and outside the Anglican family has been to regard them as departures from genuine Christian faith, contrary to biblical teaching, and unacceptable.
Unfortunately, reaction has not been limited to statements of disagreement and opposition. Several provinces have declared that a state of either impaired or broken communion now exists, leaving many Anglicans in doubt as to who is still in communion with whom. There are question marks over their ecclesiastical legitimacy, as well as the constitutional authority under which they were issued.
Within ECUSA (USA) and New Westminster dioceses, several moves have been made by dissenting parishes to distance themselves from the dioceses. This has included seeking episcopal oversight by bishops from other dioceses or provinces. Some archbishops from elsewhere in the Anglican communion, both by taking initiatives, and in response to invitations, have responded by entering parts of ECUSA and the diocese of New Westminster and exercised episcopal functions without the consent of the relevant diocesan bishop. This goes against some of the oldest-standing regulations of the early undivided church (Canon 8 of Nicea). In some cases they have set up would-be orthodox structures, eg. The Anglican Mission in America. These activities have contributed to a tit for tat stand-off in which each side accuses the other of atrocities. These are the activities that precipitated the need for the Lambeth commission.
Illness: the deeper symptoms
There are six underlying features:
1. Theological development.
Christians agree on the need for development – including innovation – and that the Holy Spirit participates in the process; witness the great fourth century creeds which go beyond the words of scripture but have been recognized as expressing our faith. However, some developments (eg. apartheid) distort or destroy it. How is the line between faithful inculturation and false accommodation to the world’s ways of thinking to be determined? Neither ECUSA nor New Westminster has made efforts to consult meaningfully with the Communion about this significant development of theology.
2. Such a process would require appropriate ecclesiastical procedures.
The Virginia Report, 1997, spelt out what procedures could be applied in such situations. Both the two bodies ignored existing procedures.
3. Anglicanism has made use of the vital doctrine of adiaphora (“things that do not make a difference”), recognizing a distinction between core doctrines, and those upon which disagreement can be tolerated. Many within the two dissenting bodies appear to hold to the opinion that the questions they were deciding were things on which Christians might have legitimate difference, while large numbers of other Anglicans around the world do not regard them in this way.
4. Associated with this is subsidiarity, the principle that matters should be decided as close to the local level as possible. It seems to have been assumed by the two bodies that they were free to take decisions on such matters.
5. A more general feature which should characterise life within the Communion is a relationship of trust, which generates, and is reinforced by, mutual responsibility. The erosion of trust is a feature of modern society, and the church has not been immune, as different factions make their views forcibly felt. As a Communion we need a common forum; a common table to which we can bring our questions for proper family discussion. A start has been made with the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, established after Lambeth 1998.
6. Authority. The Anglican Communion does not have a Pope, and has always declared its supreme authority is scripture. Scriptural authority demands appropriately sensitive systems of decision-making which allow for the full participation of members and for an eventual way of making difficult decisions which can enhance the unity of our richly diverse family. Fresh thought and action are urgently required.
Section B: Fundamental Principles (P24)
The Communion we share
Our “double bond” communion is mainly with God, but also with one another. This communion enables us to engage in our primary tasks: to forward God’s mission to his needy and much loved world. Communion is a relationship between churches as well as individual Christians. The concepts of “impaired” or “restricted” communion suggest communion “less full than it was”. Such conditions of impairment are sad; there is little consensus on how precisely to define impairment, let alone how it might be remedied. The divine foundation of communion should oblige each church to avoid unilateral action on contentious issues. What touches all should be decided by all.
The authority of scripture
Central among the bonds which hold the Anglican Communion together is the authority of scripture. It was part of the early Anglican reformers’ appeal to ancient undivided Christian faith and life. The reading and singing of scripture has always been at the centre of Anglican worship. However the very phrase “the authority of scripture” can be misleading. When Jesus speaks of authority, he refers to himself as the source; not to the books his followers will write. Thus the phrase “the authority of scripture” should be interpreted as shorthand for the longer and more complex notion of “the authority of the triune God, exercised through scripture”. The question of how “exercised through” works in practice is vital to understanding the kind of authority which scripture possesses. Historically, the phrase “authority of scripture” has emerged in contexts of protest – when one part of the church appeals to scripture against something being done by another part. When we attempt to apply it more widely, to an entire understanding of the church’s mission, it quickly becomes apparent that its implications need to be thought out more fully.
For Jesus and the early Christians, “authority” implied the dynamic inbreaking of God’s sovereign rule over all creation. The long-promised, saving rule of God entered the world through Jesus’ death and resurrection, to be then implemented through the work of the Spirit until the final act of grace which will create the promised new heaven and new earth. If the notion of scriptural authority is itself rooted in scripture, then the purpose of scripture is not simply to supply true information, nor act as a court of appeal, but to be part of the dynamic life of the Spirit, through which God the Father is making the victory, which was won by Jesus’ death and resurrection, operative within the world and in and through human beings. Scripture is thus part of the means by which God directs the church for its mission, and energizes it for that task.
How does scripture function in this way? The early Christians believed themselves both beneficiaries and agents of “the kingdom” which had been accomplished in Jesus Christ. The authority of the apostles (2 Corinthians) was their Spirit-driven vocation as witnesses of the resurrection, through whose announcing of the good news God was powerfully at work to call people to salvation, and to foster the church as the foretaste of new creation. The books that became the New Testament were written within this context of apostolic witness, to be vehicles of the Spirit’s work in energizing the church in its mission and shaping it in the holiness of new creation. The writers of the canonical gospels were conscious of telling the story of Jesus in such a way as to demonstrate its foundational character for the mission of the church, which is why the apostolic writings were read during worship.
Scripture and interpretation
For these reasons, church leaders have a responsibility through constant teaching and preaching of the word to enable the church to grow towards maturity, so that when difficult judgments are required, they may be made in full knowledge of the texts. The place of bishops as teachers of scripture can hardly be overemphasized. The teaching of scripture cannot be left to academic researchers. As this task proceeds, questions of interpretation are rightly raised, as a way of ensuring that it really is scripture that is being heard, not just the echo of our own voices. Historical interpretation remains vital. Biblical scholarship needs to be free to explore different meanings, but to be constrained by loyalty to the community of the church. Where a fresh wave of scholarship generates ideas that are perceived as a threat to something the church has always held dear, it is up to the scholars concerned to explain how what is now proposed not only accords with but actually enhances the central core of the Church’s faith. It is up the Church to listen, to test, and to be prepared to change its mind if and when a convincing case is made.
The current crisis is a call to the whole Communion to re-evaluate the ways we have digested scripture. Dropping random texts into arguments, or sweeping away whole sections of the New Testament as irrelevant to today’s world, and imagining that problems are somehow solved – these are totally inadequate responses. Our present difficulties will force us to learn together in new ways. We would expect that the Bible would be a catalyst of unity, but tragically, the bewildering range of interpretation can be divisive.
Within the Anglican world, a bishop is more than simply the local chief pastor - though a bishop’s role as teacher of scripture is essential - and the unifying value of the Archbishop of Canterbury as pastor of all is pivotal. The unity of the Communion is put into effect through the concept of a continuing episcopate, or “line of succession” of bishops’ authority. The principle of Anglican episcopacy was defended in the life of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and is preserved in the life of all 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion. Individual churches have developed ways of confirming the election of bishops, signifying their acceptance to the wider church. Without such attention to general acceptability, the episcopate can become an occasion and focus of disunity. Therefore successive Lambeth conferences have urged the primates to shoulder the burden of enhanced responsibility for unity. Ongoing synods at all levels of the church express by their existence – and hopefully by their actual work – the unity in diversity which characterizes our Communion. At the heart of that Communion is the obligation to walk together in synodality (reflected in Lambeth conferences as early as 1867). By interacting with distant and different voices, the Church discovers what its union and communion really mean.
Discernment in communion, and reception
We come from a rich variety of cultures, and one of the hallmarks of healthy communion is readiness to learn from each other as we read scripture together, an occurrence not characterized by high frequency in recent decades. We should not be surprised that major divisions have opened up. By reading scripture too little, we have allowed ourselves to drift apart.
One way in which unity has been maintained is by subjecting fresh developments to a test of reception. The consensus fidelium (‘common mind of the believers’) has been used in recent times as a way of testing whether a controversial development, not yet approved by a universal Council of the Church, might over time become accepted as an authentic development of faith. There is a threefold sequence: theological debate and discussion; formal action; increased consultation to see whether the formal action settles down and makes itself at home. This process is the opposite of confrontation. 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.
The bonds of unity described above are different in kind from those which operate in the Roman Catholic Church, in which the Pontiff enjoys “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power” which he can always freely exercise. The Anglican way is diffused among different aspects of the life of the communion precisely in such a way as to give supreme authority to scripture as the locus and means of God’s word, energizing the Church for its mission and sustaining it in its unity.
Within the Communion we have developed theological and practical ways of dealing with the tension and division that can arise from the rich diversity of local cultures and traditions, and distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable diversity.
Diversity is enshrined in the autonomy of individual provinces, but this is a much misunderstood concept. Originally used in terms of freedom from political control (though the Church of England remains subject to royal supremacy), autonomy is now understood to express the right of each church to exercise extensive powers over the determination of local issues, including faith, order and discipline. This inevitably raises the questions of how much diversification is to be allowed, on what matters, and under what conditions. Autonomy is not the same thing as sovereignty or independence; it is a far more limited form of independent government than is popularly understood by many Anglicans today. In the secular world, autonomic laws are those created by a body or persons within the community on which has been conferred subordinate and restricted legislative power. The autonomy of each Anglican province therefore implies that the church lives in relation to, and exercises its autonomy most fully in the context of, the global Communion. Each church, in the exercising of its autonomy, should avoid jeopardizing its communion with fellow churches, by bringing potentially contentious initiatives, prior to implementation, to the rest of the communion in dialogue, consultation, discernment and agreement.
Some affairs treated by a Church may have a dual character: they may be of internal (domestic) and external (common) concern. A church may make decisions in those of its affairs that touch on the wider community, but not if those internal decisions are even partially incompatible with the interests, standards, unity and good order of the wider community of which it forms a part. Even if those decisions are perfectly legal, they will impose strains not only upon that church’s wider relationship with other churches, but also on that church’s inner self-understanding among its own members.
Autonomy gives full scope for the development of authentic local living through inculturation. Each church finds fresh ways to proclaim the gospel. The combination of faithfulness to the gospel and inculturation into different societies will produce a proper and welcome diversity into the life of the church, and this diversity from different culture sources is essential to the growth of the whole Church. It is right and proper that the one faith and discipline of the Church should be ‘incarnate’ in varied cultural forms; the Gospel of Jesus does not come to people in the abstract, but to specific men and women.
There are, however, limits to autonomy, defined by truth and charity. Lambeth 1920 put it this way: “the Churches represented (in the Communion) are indeed independent, but independent with the Christian freedom which recognizes the constraints of truth and love. They are not free to deny the truth.” This means that any development needs to be explored for its resonance with the truth, and with the utmost charity on the part of all – charity that grants that a new thing can be offered humbly and with integrity, and charity that would hold back from an action which might harm a sister or brother.
While the principle of adiaphora (things which do not make a difference) has been invoked in many disputes involving matters which are very important to some – eg. transubstantiation – not all things in dispute can be placed in this category. For example, we don’t celebrate our diversity in matters such as racism. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul is quite clear that in certain matters no compromise is allowed (an example being incest), and must not be tolerated.
How can one tell, and who can decide, which matters can be treated as adiaphora? For Paul, the categories are not arbitrary. That which expresses renewed humanity in Christ is always mandatory for Christians. That which embodies the dehumanising turning-away-from-God which Paul characterizes with such terms as ‘sin’, ‘flesh’ and so on is always forbidden. Paul never supposes that human culture in the abstract is simply ‘neutral’, so that all habits within a particular culture can be regarded as inessential. In Paul’s world, many cultures prided themselves on such things as anger and violence on the one hand, and sexual profligacy on the other. Paul insists that both of these are ruled out for those in Christ. Even in matters of adiaphora, biblical principles suggest that where a significant number of Christians will be upset that their beliefs would be considered not to make a difference, the opposing group should refrain from going ahead.
Having described the general nature of the problems that confront us, and the theological framework on which they should be addressed, let us now seek to discern the direction God is calling us as we seek to fulfill our mission against the backdrop of the current controversy.
Section C: Our future lives together (p41)
The Instruments of Unity
We have been forcefully struck by the way that the Instruments of Unity have been ignored by sections of the communion in the current debate, and we have been led to revise the question of the authority of the Instruments of Unity – see recommendations later in this report.
The Instruments of Unity are, in historical order:
The Archbishop of Canterbury
The Lambeth Conference
The Anglican Consultative Council
The Primates’ Meeting
The Archbishop of Canterbury has always been the pivotal instrument and focus of unity. It was successive Archbishops of Canterbury who consecrated bishops worldwide.
The Lambeth Conference.
It was a natural development that the Archbishop of Canterbury should be the person to call the bishops of the Anglican Communion together to take counsel. From its inception, the Lambeth Conference has proved to be a powerful vehicle for the expression of a concept central to Anglican ecclesiology, the collegiality of the bishops.
The Anglican Consultative Council
Since 1968 the Anglican Consultative Council has been the voice of laity who by then were fully participating in the governance of provinces.
The Primates’ Meeting
In 1978 the Lambeth Conference called upon the Archbishop of Canterbury to work with all the Primates of the Anglican Communion so that the Anglican Communion may best serve God within the context of one holy, catholic and apostolic church. The Primates’ Meeting (and they now do so about once a year) does not acknowledge anything more than a consultative and advisory role.
Recommendations on the Instruments of Unity
There needs to be a clearer understanding of the expectations placed on provinces in responding to the decisions of these Instruments. There are several ways in which the nature of their moral authority could be more clearly articulated. We recommend that the Archbishop of Canterbury be regarded as the focus of unity, and that the three other instruments (with possibly more added) should be regarded more appropriately as ‘instruments of communion’. The terms of reference of these bodies, their duties, inter-relationships, frequency of meeting, all need tighter definition. We have offered detailed thoughts on these matters in Appendix 1 (not part of this précis.)
The Archbishop of Canterbury
The role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, in relation to the other Instruments, is pivotal. The historic position of the Archbishopric of Canterbury must not be regarded as a figurehead. This office has a very significant teaching role. The Communion expects the office of the Archbishop to articulate the mind of the Communion, especially in areas of controversy. The Communion should be able to look to the holder of this office to speak directly to any provincial situation on behalf of the Communion. Such action should not be viewed as outside interference in the exercise of autonomy by any province.
The Archbishop of Canterbury convenes the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ Meeting. We recommend that this dependence on the See of Canterbury remain, and indeed, that it be enhanced. At present there is some lack of clarity about the level of discretion that the Archbishop has with respect to the invitations to the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ Meeting. In safeguarding the wellbeing of the Anglican Communion the Archbishop should invite participants to these meetings on restricted terms at his sole discretion.
A Council of Advice
A “council of advice” should be set up for the Archbishop, to enhance the foundation of any authority on which he might feel truly enabled to act. This council would be composed of people possessing knowledge of the life of the Communion, and of the theological, ecclesiological and canonical considerations which might apply to any given situation.
Canon Law and covenant
Canon law is becoming more important. The Anglican Communion Legal Advisers’ Consultation in Canterbury reported in March 2002 on the established principles of canon law common to the churches within the Anglican Communion. These principles have a strong persuasive authority. They have a living force and contain in themselves the potential for further development. Such principles of canon law could be considered to constitute a fifth Instrument of Unity. The Primates at Kanuga in 2001 also concluded that the existing principles of communion, autonomy, discernment and inter-Anglican relations enunciated by the Instruments of Unity have persuasive moral authority, but they do not have enforceable judicial authority unless incorporated in their legal systems. The canon law of each church should reflect and promote global communion. This commission recommends consideration as to how to make the principles of inter-Anglican relations more effective at the local ecclesial level. This problem has contributed directly to the current crisis, and could be remedied by the adoption by each church of its own simple and short ‘communion law’, to enable and implement the covenant proposal below. A brief law would be more feasible than incorporation by each church of an elaborate and all-embracing canon.
This Commission therefore urges the Primates to consider the adoption by the churches of the Communion of a common Anglican covenant which would make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern inter-provincial relationships. The covenant could deal with the acknowledgement of common identity, the relationships and commitments of communion, autonomy, and the management of communion affairs, including disputes. A draft covenant is offered in Appendix 2 (not included in this précis).
This Commission believes that the case for adoption of an Anglican covenant is overwhelming for the following reasons:
We cannot afford the crippling effects of another dispute of the magnitude of the current one, and there will be other disputes;
The concept of such a covenant is not new, though in the past they have been employed in regard to ecumenical relationships - and these offer a good model.
Adoption of a covenant is a theological challenge and may require complex debate. If so, so be it; it would be beneficial.
The solemn act of entering a covenant carries the weight of international obligation so that, should a church change its mind about its commitments, that church could not proceed unilaterally.
While the paramount model of the Anglican Communion is a voluntary association of churches, it may be that the Anglican Consultative Council could encourage full participation in the covenant by each church constructing an understanding of communion membership expressed by the readiness of a province to maintain its bonds with Canterbury, and which includes a reference to the covenant.
Section D: The Maintenance of Communion (p 50)
The question that has been raised in relation to ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada is that in relation to matters of acknowledged importance to them, they have not attached sufficient importance to the impact of their decisions on other parts of the Communion. This in turn has prompted reactions from other provinces and individual primates which offend our understanding of communion in significant ways.
The commission has given careful consideration to submissions made to it about ECUSA, the Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, and about various primates who (without consultation with their fellow primates) have accommodated clergy who are at odds with their own bishops. All have acted in ways incompatible with the principle of interdependence, and our fellowship has consequently suffered immensely. Furthermore, we deeply regret that appeals for a period of calm to allow the commission to complete its report have been ignored, with a number of primates and provinces declaring themselves in impaired or broken communion with ECUSA or the Diocese of New Westminster.
The Commission regrets that Bishops went ahead with
- Gene Robinson’s consecration
- ECUSA’s declaration 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”
- The Diocese of New Westminster’s approval of the use of public Rites for the Blessing of same sex unions
- The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada’s statement affirming the integrity the integrity and sanctity of same sex unions
- Primates’ and bishops’ intervention in the affairs of other provinces of the Communion.
On Elections to the Episcopate
Bishops are more than chief pastors to local churches. Their acceptability to the wider church is signified through “confirmation of election” undertaken by the metropolitan bishop.
There are some areas where the issue of acceptability is unclear; eg. a bishop who had divorce and remarried. In some areas this is regarded as a secondary issue. It would therefore not seem per se to be a crucial criterion.
There are some matters where the Communion has expressed its mind; eg. on female bishops. After lengthy deliberation, the Instruments of Unity concluded that that represented a degree of impairment which the Communion could bear.
The Communion has made its collective position clear at Lambeth 1998, in forbidding the ordination of those involved in same sex unions. By electing and consecrating a practising homosexual bishop, ECUSA went beyond even the flexible boundaries and caused deep offence to many faithful Anglicans in both its own church and other parts of the Communion.
We do not believe that all those involved in Gene Robinson’s election are entirely blameworthy for their lack of awareness of the views expressed through the Instruments of Unity. However, the bishops of ECUSA, subsequent to the Primates’ Meeting October 2003 will have known what they were doing, which raises the question of their commitment to ECUSA’s interdependence as a member of the Anglican Communion.
Therefore, all those involved in Episcopal appointment should in future pay proper regard to the acceptability of the candidate in other provinces. Would the individual be ‘translatable’? The question of acceptability goes far beyond the question of homosexuality. Furthermore, we urge the proposed “council of advice” to keep the specific matter of Gene Robinson’s acceptability under close review, and we urge the Archbishop exercise great caution before considering inviting him to any Communion events.
Mindful of the hurt and offence that have resulted from recent events, we recommend that:
ECUSA should be urged to express its regrets that the proper constraints were breached, and that such an expression of regret would be interpreted as a desire to remain within the Worldwide Communion.
Finally, we would seek greater common understanding of the issue of same gender relationships. We would ask ECUSA to indicate how a person in a same gender relationship may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ. This would be an important contribution to the ongoing discussion.
Pending such an expression of regret, those who took part as consecrators should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion.
ECUSA should be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same sex union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.
On public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions
The Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster approved a resolution in 1998 to develop a public rite for the blessing of same sex unions. The diocesan bishop withheld consent. In 1999 the bishop commissioned theological and canonical evaluations of the proposal, and though these reports were all available on the diocesan website, there is no record of any formal attempt to consult the wider province or Communion on the theological issues. The conclusion of the report was that this was not matter of theology, but of pastoral care. After withholding consent to the synodical resolution again in 2001, the bishop did give consent when it was proved for the third time in 2002. The first such rite was held in 2003.
There is not unqualified freedom for bishops or dioceses to authorise liturgical changes if they are likely to be inconsistent with the norms of the Book of Common Prayer.
In the Canadian church a process of discernment is underway to determine to what extent the blessing of same sex unions is a doctrinal matter, thus requiring decisions at the national level. The Canadian Primate’s theological commission will report on this at the 2007 Synod. The 2004 Synod agreed (in an amendment to a larger resolution) that it confirmed the integrity and sanctity of committed same sex relationships; this statement has been viewed by some as a change of teaching on the part of the Anglican Church of Canada.
In the USA as recently as March 2003 the blessing of same sex unions had been effectively vetoed by the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops. However, in August 2003 the 74th General Convention commended the development of public rites of blessing for such unions, without formal theological justification or consultation in the Communion.
The clear and repeated statements of the Instruments of Unity have been against this. Both ECUSA and New Westminster must accept that the authorization of such rites constitutes a denial of the bonds of communion. For the church to follow such leads it is incumbent on both of these groups to prove that their actions would constitute growth in harmony with the apostolic tradition. Such developments are seen by many – the majority - as surrendering to the spirit of the age rather than an authentic development of the gospel. Therefore all bishops are asked not to authorize further blessings at this time.
We call for all those bishops in USA and Canada who have authorized same sex blessings to express regret that the proper constraints on the bonds of affection were breached by such authorization, and pending such regrets should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican communion. We call for continuing study for biblical and theological rationale for and against such unions. This call for study does not imply approval for such proposals. Further, Christians of goodwill need to be prepared to engage honestly and frankly with each other, and any demonizing of homosexual persons is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care.
On care of dissenting groups
The commission appreciates the hurt felt by communicants when faced with the current stresses, made far worse when their spiritual leadership is in conflict. In some cases this has led to the provision of spiritual care by bishops from outside provinces. We understand the principled concerns that have led to this but believe the situation should have been handled differently.
In extreme situations only, we feel it would be appropriate that an incumbent bishop delegate certain responsibilities to an “incoming” bishop and we commend the guidelines established for such authority-sharing by the House of Bishops of ECUSA in 2004. We see no reason why such oversight should not be provided by retired bishops from the provinces in question. In principle we also would accept the need in some cases for oversight to be provided from outside the province, but in accordance with the guidelines. The Anglican Church of Canada is considering adoption of a broadly similar scheme. We discourage the establishment of parallel jurisdictions within a province, and therefore call upon those bishops who have intervened in provinces other than their own without local sanction to express regret, confirm their desire to remain in the communion, and effect a moratorium on further interventions, and to seek an accommodation with the bishops of the dioceses they have taken into their own care.
Should reconciliation not take place there remains a very real danger we will not choose to walk together. Should this call to find ways of continuing in our present communion not be heeded, than we shall have to learn to walk apart. In this document we cannot comment on how such division could proceed. In any dispute there are courses that may be followed, and in the last resort, withdrawal from membership. The real challenge of the gospel is whether we live deeply enough in the love of Christ that “we will make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). As the primates stated in 2000, “To turn from one another would be to turn from the Cross”, and indeed from serving the world which God loves and for which Jesus Christ died.
APPENDICES to the Windsor Report.
These appendices can be found in the Windsor Report, but are not included in this précis.
Appendix 1: Reflections of the Instruments of Unity
Appendix 2: Proposal for the Anglican Covenant
Appendix 3: Supporting documentation
Download the (complete) Windsor Report