Summary of the Windsor Report

What follows is my summary of the Windsor Report. Thanks to T19 for putting this up when I first wrote it. I have now read the report three times and my appreciation for the work of the commission has grown with each reading. It is not the chastisement and punishment for which so many hoped, nor is it the vindication of the autonomy of national churches cherished by innovators. It is not a completely adequate theological analysis of the state of the Anglican Communion. It is a document that draws boundaries, makes challenges and clearly articulates the consequences of choices. It is an exercise in theologically informed church diplomacy. The Windsor Report is offered in such a way that it has the possibility of changing the terms of the discussion from a question of civil and ecclesiastical rights for a persecuted minority to the question of the meaning of communion and the proper theological criteria and ecclesiastical process for settling disputed issues. As I watch the responses to the Report, I believe I am seeing a new coalition emerging which includes many people who are variously minded on the gay agenda but don’t want to see their church further damaged by the controversy. It is at least possible that the necessity of responding to this report could allow new voices and new leadership to emerge in the Episcopal Church which while still sympathetic to the gay agenda would not wish to make same sex blessings a church defining or church dividing issue. This I take it is the position of Rowan Willams.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Advent message has been widely reported for its quite proper rebuke of expressions of hate and contempt toward homosexual persons, but this comment is not I think the central message of his letter which I read as a very strong endorsement of the Windsor Report and an explicit recommendation of the communion wide adoption an Anglican covenant. I have thought that the Windsor Report gave Canterbury a strong platform upon which to stand and that the next telling moment would be whether Rowan Williams would seize the opportunity to take a strong stand in favor of communion. He has. There are now critical choices for the Primates, the Episcopal Church and the Canadian Church and indeed for the whole communion. The Windsor Report, whatever its failings, has already given us a far more hopeful future. It is worthy of careful study and reflection. I hope to publish continuing reflections as I work my way through it yet again in detail.

It is a long document, over 100 pages. It is well worth reading. It has some very careful teaching about the authority of scripture, the nature of the church, the role of bishops, the meaning of autonomy and the nature of the Anglican Communion that is very worthy of study quite apart from our current controversies. (It appears to me that Bishop Tom Wright of Durham, one of the most able theologians in contemporary Anglicanism, is the major theological voice behind the teaching. I think him a very solid and thoughtful scholar. )

I would summarize the commissions report under the motto “what affects all must be decided by all.” I would paraphrase the report this way:

“You (the Episcopal Church, USA and the Anglican Church of Canada) have been acting as though you can do anything you want without consulting the rest of the Anglican family and still consider yourselves part of that family. You cannot. There are rules in the family and an appropriate process for changing the rules when there is a dispute. You have not followed this process. You have not consulted with the rest of family in a responsible way and you have acted unilaterally. You have to decide if you want to continue to be part of the world wide Anglican family. Here is what you need to do.

Acknowledge that you acted unilaterally and have damaged the unity of the church

Apologize for acting unilaterally

Understand that Gene Robinson can not participate in the international meetings of the Anglican bishops

Declare a moratorium on any further ordinations of persons who would not be widely acceptable in the world wide communion

Declare a moratorium on public blessings of same sex relationships

Commit to engaging in a communion wide discussion of topic of the church’s response to homosexuality

Take no further action unless and until there is a communion wide consensus on the issue”

To the bishops from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion who have been taking parishes under their care when those parishes feel they cannot accept the ministry of their bishop or the plan for alternate Episcopal oversight offered by the American House of Bishops, the commission says in effect:

“Back off. You are not helping and are making a chaotic situation more chaotic. The North Americans are wrong to proceed unilaterally and you are wrong to declare unilaterally who is and who is not a member of the communion and you wrong in taking unilateral action to intervene in the North American scene at this time. The communion needs to give the North Americans time to decide if they still want to be part of the family. If not the communion needs to decide together how to respond to that eventuality.”

To the entire Anglican Communion the commission says in effect:

“We need to recommit to the mutual covenant which is necessary to maintain meaningful communion. We do not think this means committing to anything new but it does mean making explicit some expectations that have been implicit. If we are going to be a communion then what affects all must be decided by all and must be decided by a world -wide church sharing in the reading of scripture, theological reflection and the responsible use of its established instruments of unity. We have proposed a covenant for all the primates to sign on behalf of the churches that has the potential of channeling in a constructive way the current controversy and giving us a trustworthy process for dealing with similarly difficult issues in the future. This covenant may need work but something like this is needed. It is up now to the churches to decide if they want to continue to be a family or not.”

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