The Windsor Report of 2004 is not Holy Scripture and it is not the Declaration of an Ecumenical Council, but its recommendations are being treated as if they had dropped directly from heaven. In reality, it is only the hurried work of an Anglican Commission/Working Party; but, it has been given unique status by being received and commended by three of the so-called “Instruments of Unity” of the Anglican family of provinces – Canterbury, ACC & Primates’ Meeting. Its approach to unity within the Anglican family of provinces seems to be that of unity for unity’s sake and unity for old-time sake – for it is unlikely that unity for truth’s sake (unity based on revealed truth) is possible now or in the near future.
For the Episcopal Church of the USA what the Report recommends that it does has become what the Anglican Communion of Churches/Provinces is now expecting it will do – and if it does not, then this will be seen as a sign that the ECUSA is intent on walking alone, bearing the Anglican name but walking on its own self-created path.
It is in section D of the Report that what is required of the ECUSA is presented. It is noted that “the Episcopal Church has caused deep offence to many faithful Anglican Christians both in its own church and in other parts of the Communion” (section 127) by consecrating Gene Robinson. And it is stated, “Mindful of the hurt and offence that have resulted from recent events (in ECUSA), and yet also mindful of the imperatives of Communion – the repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation enjoined on us by Christ - ….we recommend:
the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited 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 that followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church (USA) to remain within the Communion.
Pending such expression of regret, those who took part as consecrators of Gene Robinson should be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should with draw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion…..
The Episcopal Church (USA) 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 gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges. [section 134]
(Already in statements from the House of Bishops and within official papers produced for the upcoming General Convention, “regret” has been expressed, and it is highly likely that – if only in a carefully crafted political form – regret will be expressed by the General Convention for the “harm and trouble” it caused by its hasty move to agree to the consecration of Gene Robinson. Further, in the recent elections in California, the electing of a “gay” man to be consecrated bishop was avoided. Thus it would appear most likely that the ECUSA will be seen – at least by the provinces of the North or West - as a full member of the Anglican Communion after the June 06 General Convention. )
With respect to the matter of blessing same-sex partnerships the Report states: “Because of the serious repercussions in the Communion, we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites and recommend that bishops who have authorized such rites in the United States and Canada be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorization” (section 144) It is to be noted that there are reports from various dioceses that such Rites have continued and are being done in a semi-public manner.
However, the Episcopal Church took up the request made in the Report (section 135) to explain, from within the sources of authority – scripture, apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection – how it justified a person living in a same-sex union as eligible for leading the flock of Christ. It published To Set Our Hope on Christ. A Response to the Invitation of the Windsor Report, #135 and presented it to the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in England in mid 2005. If this truly represents the mind of the leadership of the ECUSA, then it believes that there has been a major development of doctrine in the church in recent decades. It is this -- that there can be holiness displayed in same-sex unions and that persons in them within that holiness can be – indeed should be – pastors of the flock of Christ. This novel doctrine sets the ECUSA apart from all orthodox Christian Churches.
With respect to caring for dissenting groups within dioceses the Report states: “In only those situations where there has been an extreme breach of trust, and as a last resort, we commend a conditional and temporary provision of delegated pastoral oversight for those who are dissenting. This oversight must be sufficient to provide a credible degree of security on the part of the alienated community, so that they do not feel at the mercy of a potentially hostile leadership….” (section 151) Apparently this is being done reasonably satisfactorily in some places and not at all in others. Thus the exodus of 75 or more congregations or parts thereof in recent months from the ECUSA to exile and care from an overseas bishop.
Since the Report does not make demands based upon the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ but on the basis of “bonds of affection” and unity amongst old-time friends and partners, it is relatively easy for the ECUSA to fulfill them. It can do so either in a sincere secular spirit of regret for causing major problems (after all this kind of regret is expressed daily in the world); or it can use its political skills to dress up its apparent regret in sentimental words and biblical citations (a skill it has developed in recent times).
What seems to be abundantly clear is that there remains in the leadership of the ECUSA a vocal and determined group who see a prophetic duty to their Deity (the God of process theology or of panentheism?) to advance his/her/its cause by responding to the revelation which he/she/it has provided through contemporary Experience. This group is ready and willing to slow down, to take a detour, even to halt for a while, in order to maintain its position in the Anglican Communion, where, after all, its missionary work is to be done. It has a vocation from its Deity to share his/her/its message of liberation with as many as possible, and in the growing context of human rights propaganda, the fields are possibly ready for harvesting.
To express Regret is relatively easy. Slowing down and taking a rest are also relatively easy.
Repentance before God, the Holy Trinity, and faithful submission to his statutes, laws and ordinances, as he is worshipped in spirit and in truth, are difficult – very much so – and perhaps too difficult for the ECUSA at this time in its history. But the Lord our God is the Almighty LORD and we must not seek to restrict what he can and may do.
So – tentatively I write - expect a majority vote in terms of expressing regret and conforming to the requirements of the Report. Only God will know, however, how sincere and deep, is the regret. And then the Anglican Communion will continue to pursue – certainly in the North & West – unity for old times sake or for unity’s sake itself. And this latter may be that which leads to no unity, to schism within this Family.
The Revd Dr Peter Toon do visit www.anglicansatprayer.org