Has Robin Eames done it again?
The Eames Commission that reported to the 1998 Lambeth Conference provided a thoughtful way of addressing the issue of the ordination of women that did not fracture the Anglican Communion. Now, in the Windsor Report, the Lambeth Commission on Communion, also chaired by the Archbishop of Armagh, deals thoughtfully with the current crisis and makes recommendations that, if adopted, would change substantially the way the Anglican Communion functions.
A 93-page report that took a year to prepare will require study and prayerful thought, so these are preliminary responses.
Its criticism of the Episcopal Church in the United States is clear and pointed. It makes a cogent case that ECUSA did not make a serious attempt to consult meaningfully with the Communion as a whole about the significant development of theology which alone could justify what we did in electing as bishop a priest in a same-gender relationship. The Report criticizes on similar grounds the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada for authorizing public rites of blessing.
Some of the most helpful reflections in the Windsor Report have to do with the nature of communion, and in particular what autonomy means in the setting of the Anglican Communion. The Report distinguishes between autonomy and sovereignty and stresses that autonomy has to do with freedom in relation to others, not with the sovereign right to make one’s own decisions regardless of others. The Report recommends development of an Anglican Covenant to be adopted by all Communion churches and suggests a model for such a covenant.
The Report strongly implies that Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire will not be invited to the next Lambeth Conference. “The Archbishop has the right to call or not to call to (the Lambeth Conference and Primates Meeting) whomsoever he believes is appropriate, in order to safe-guard and take counsel for the well-being of the Anglican Communion…” (He may) “invite participants to the Lambeth Conference on restricted terms at his sole discretion…” And the Report urges the Archbishop, in relation to Bishop Robinson, "to exercise considerable caution in inviting or admitting him to the councils of the Communion.”
The Report recommends that the Episcopal Church be invited to express its regret that “the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached” in the consecration of Robinson and for the consequences which followed. The Report says that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of ECUSA to remain in the Communion.
The Report also invites ECUSA to effect a moratorium on consecrating any candidate to the episcopate “who is living in a same-gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.” The Report also asks those bishops who have intervened without invitation to minister to dissenting congregations in dioceses not their own to express regret for doing so, to affirm their desire to remain in communion, and to effect a moratorium on any future interventions.
While the American House of Bishops may well express its regret for the consequences of its consent to Robinson’s consecration, it will take the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which meets in 2006, to make an authoritative expression of regret that would meet the standards set by the Windsor Report. (The Windsor Report is inaccurate in describing the action of the General Convention of 2003 in relation to the blessing of same-sex unions. The Convention simply recognized that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating the blessing of same-sex unions. There was no authorization for the development of public rites. The word “public” did not appear in the language of the resolution.) Nonetheless, it is clear that public rites of blessing are considered out of bounds for most Anglicans around the world and the Report calls on Americans and Canadians for a moratorium on such public rites. The Report’s call to communion is heart-felt and thoughtful and deserves serious attention. It also does not close the door on future developments in terms of gay and lesbian people exercising leadership in the Church. In the American Church, this report will be considered by bishops in their regional gatherings in the next few weeks, by a special meeting of the House of Bishops in January, and by all of the dioceses between now and the General Convention of 2006.
When one considers the alternatives that could have been presented, i.e. withdrawing of recognition of the Episcopal Church by the Archbishop of Canterbury, or expulsion of the Episcopal Church from the Communion, the Report offers a way forward that could strengthen the Communion.
Whether Americans, who are so accustomed to going our own way in our foreign policy as well as in our ecclesial life, can live with these recommendations remains to be seen. I think they offer hope.
The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee,
Bishop of Virginia