Friday, February 16, 2007

TEC nearly OK, says Report: Episcopal Church is short of the mark but not by much

A comment by Dr Peter Toon, February 16, 2007

As the Primates’ Meeting began in Tanzania on February 15, the members were presented with and discussed a very important Report. It was released via the world-wide Web by the Anglican Communion Office on the same day. Its innocuous title hides its tremendous significance—Report of the Communion Sub-Group of the Anglican Communion Joint Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council [RCS-G]. What the Report of 3,700 words does is to evaluate the response of The Episcopal Church [TEC], primarily at its General Convention in June 2006, to the requests made of it by The Windsor Report [TWR]. And to the surprise of many, the content of RCS-G is much more positive than expected, for it finds that TEC is only partially non-compliant with the requests made of it in TWR and by the Primates.

One hardly needs to remark that this appears to pull the rug at least partially from under the case made loudly and widely by Primates of the Global South, and the nine or so Anglican Communion Network dioceses in TEC, that TEC has moved past the point of no-return by its innovations in doctrine and morals. And the presence of the Archbishop of Central Africa, one of the Primates of the Global South, on this sub-group seems to confirm that the rug has indeed been pulled. (The membership comprised The Archbishop of Canterbury; The Archbishop of Central Africa; The Archbishop of Wales; Chancellor Philippa Amable, Province of West Africa; Canon Elizabeth Paver, Church of England; and The Secretary-General.)

But what does RCS-G actually state?

It begins by noting that the Primates gathered at Dromantine in February 2005 adopted three specific requests to TEC from TWR: “First, a request that the Episcopal Church should express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection had been breached in the events surrounding the consecration as a bishop of a person whose lifestyle contradicted the standard of teaching enshrined in the LambethResolution 1.10; second, a moratorium on the election and consent of any candidate for the episcopate living in a same-gender union until some new consensus emerged in the Anglican Communion; and third, a moratorium on public Rites of Blessing of same-sex unions.” And then it examines the response of TEC to these three requests, primarily through its General Convention of 2006.RCS-G noted that Resolution B033 was passed with impressive majorities in both the House of Bishops and subsequently in the House of Deputies. The Resolution states:
"Resolved, That the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report's invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further Resolved, That this Convention therefore calls upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

It is the judgment of RCS-G that this Resolution meets the request of the Primates. Here is what is stated:

“The group noted that while the Windsor Report restricted its recommendation to candidates for the episcopate who were living in a same gender union, the resolution at General Convention widened this stricture to apply to a range of lifestyles which present a wider challenge. The group welcomed this widening of the principle, which was also recommended by The Windsor Report[4], and commend it to the Communion. The group believes therefore that General Convention has complied in this resolution with the request of the Primates.”

So TEC passes the first test.

But TEC does not obviously pass the second test which relates to “The Public Rites of Blessing of Same-Sex Couples.” After recounting the varied history of this practice in TEC where, while there has been no official acceptance by the General Convention, there has been, and is, local diocesan support for it, RCS-G states:

‘It is not at all clear whether, in fact, The Episcopal Church is living with the recommendations of The Windsor Report on this matter. The Primates in their statement of March 2003 did admit that there could be "a breadth of private response to individual pastoral care", but it is clear that the authorization by any one bishop, diocese or Province, of any public Rite of Blessing, or permission to develop or use such a rite, would go against the standard of teaching to which the Communion as a whole has indicated that it is bound. We do not see how bishops who continue to act in a way which diverges from the common life of the Communion can be fully incorporated into its ongoing life. This is therefore a question which needs to be addressed urgently by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.”

This is not a total failure: it is more like “take away your essay and rewrite it” in exams’ language.

Finally, the matter of “expressing regret.” Here is the Resolution of TEC’s General Convention:

“Resolved, That the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, mindful of "the repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation enjoined on us by Christ" (Windsor Report, paragraph 134), express its regret for straining the bonds of affection in the events surrounding the General Convention of 2003 and the consequences which followed; offer its sincerest apology to those within our Anglican Communion who are offended by our failure to accord sufficient importance to the impact of our actions on our church and other parts of the Communion; and ask forgiveness as we seek to live into deeper levels of communion one withanother.”

Members of the group obviously pondered much over this matter and eventually came to what may be described as a charitable conclusion:

“The group was unsure how these words should be understood. On the one hand, there does not seem to be any admission of the fact that theaction of consenting to the particular election at the centre of this dispute was in itself blameworthy. On the other, there is the use ofthe strong language of "apology" and the request for "forgiveness". These words are not lightly offered, and should not be lightly received.Taken with the apparent promise not to repeat the offence (Resolution B033) we believe that the expression of regret is sufficient to meet the request of the Primates.”

So TEC passes this test, but only just.

So out of a possible score of 10, TEC has got about 7.5, and thus TEC has passed this test. Yet it is not the end of the story. Here is what the group also wrote:

“There is considerable diversity of opinion within the Episcopal Church - as indeed there is across the life of the Communion. It is clear that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 is going to continue for the foreseeable future as the standard of teaching by which the Anglican Communion as a whole will live. It is also clear that it is not only those who have expressed their strong disassociation from the decisions of the 74th General Convention in 2003 who have a commitment to the life of the Communion. There are many elements of the Episcopal Church who share that commitment, who wish to abide within the full recommendations of The Windsor Report and still remain committed to the life of the Episcopal Church. It is the duty of the wider Communion to nourish and encourage all those within The Episcopal Church who wish to embrace our common and interdependent life.”

This is clearly a call for TEC to remain in the Anglican Communion of Churches and, in doing so, to be encouraged by other Provinces to follow more clearly the general principles and commitments adopted by the “Instruments of Unity” for the good of the whole Communion. The need for a new Province in the U.S.A.—as suggested by some Primates—
seems to be far away from the basic thinking expressed in RCS-G!

What we do not know as of February 16th (the day of writing of this) is how the Global South Primates are receiving this RCS-G, and it is unlikely we shall know until the end of the Primates’ Meeting, that is not before February 20.

My own judgment, as one who sat through the discussions in Committee and on the floor at the General Convention of 2006, is that RCS-G is very generous indeed, and has placed the most charitable interpretation possible on the intention and language of the Resolutions of the same Convention.

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