Friday, August 8, 2008

Windsor Continuation Group: Let's Indaba!

Everyone has been talking about the Lambeth Reflections, the vapid summation of all the group indaba sessions. The Reflections have received appropriate criticism here, here and here, and I do not propose to add another critique. Instead, I want to take a closer look at what has been obscured in all the cloud of commentary, and that is an entirely different document that came out of Lambeth 2008. You may remember (or you equally well may have forgotten) that the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), headed by the Most Reverend Clive Handford, retired Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, released for discussion midway through the Conference the full text of its "preliminary observations". (Parts 1 and 2 were released and discussed earlier; Part 3 was released and discussed on July 28.) For reasons I shall give below, I believe that the observations of the WCG are a far more important indicator of the current state of the Anglican Communion than are the Reflections. Unlike the latter, which will simply be filed away in the chronicles of Lambeth, and which are already on their way to a well-deserved oblivion, the observations are the first draft of what will eventually become a full-blown report and recommendations to the Primates Meeting, which will gather again in the first months of 2009. They represent the best current thinking on the actual problems that beset the Communion, and on the ways to go forward from where we now find ourselves. And for that very reason, as we shall see, one has to conclude, after making one's way carefully through them, that the Communion is in deep trouble. 

These were only observations, "offered to the Lambeth Conference for conversation and testing," the document says. It then asks: "Are they an accurate description of the current state of our life together?"

Let's consider what they say. In short, staccato fashion, the WCG describes the current crisis:
1. Where we are: the severity of the situation

a. The reality of our current life is complex; presenting issues are not always the issues that we are actually dealing with. Doctrine, theology, ecclesiology, ethics, anthropology, culture, history, political and global realities are all dimensions. There are competing value systems at work and a lack of clarity about a shared value framework.

b. Much has been undertaken in the Communion through and in response to the Windsor Process, but as a Communion, we appear to remain at an impasse. There is inconsistency between what has been agreed, and what has been done. A gap between promise and follow through [citing resolutions by General Convention 2006, TEC's House of Bishops, and by the General Synod and House of Bishops in Canada, and "undertakings and affirmations of the primates"].

The gap is manifested in:
* Inconsistency between the stated intent and the reality – including the use and abuse of language, e.g. moratorium, "initiating interventions".

* The implications of requests and responses are either not fully thought through or they are disregarded. The consequences of actions have not always been adequately addressed.
These generalities are followed by some specifics:
c. Breakdown of Trust

* There are real fears of a wider agenda – over creedal issues (the authority of scripture, the application of doctrine in life and ethics and even Christology and soteriology) and polity (comprehensiveness, autonomy and synodical government); other issues, such as lay presidency and theological statements that go far beyond the doctrinal definitions of the historic creeds, lie just over the horizon. Positions and arguments are becoming more extreme: not moving towards one another, relationships in the Communion continue to deteriorate; there is little sense of mutual accountability and a fear that vital issues are not being addressed in the most timely and effective manner.
This is the first description I have seen that equates the current controversies to arguments over "creedal issues." (In the original, the word is misspelled as "credal".) Upon reflection, however, I think the WCG has it right. We recite the Nicene Creed each Sunday, in which we affirm that Jesus' resurrection was "according to the Scriptures," i.e., in fulfillment of God's holy word. Those who argue that V. Gene Robinson was a proper candidate for episcopal honors have to deny, after all, what the words of scripture plainly say: "A bishop (or "elder") must be blameless, the husband of one wife (mias gynaikos aner---literally, "a man of one woman": Titus 1:6).

"Positions and arguments are becoming more extreme"---I don't know how the positions already taken could become more extreme, unless someone who is an avowed polygamist gets nominated for a bishopric. Arguments, however, are certainly becoming more extreme; some now contend that the Church of England would collapse if it did not allow gay priests---and that was by way of a response to the argument that it would collapse if it continued to allow them! The WCG continues its catalog of factors:
* Through modern technology, there has been active fear-mongering, deliberate distortion and demonising. Politicisation has overtaken Christian discernment.
"Modern technology" has simply brought more voices to the debate. The views have always been there, and no one is forced to read a Weblog. As for "politicisation overtaking Christian discernment," I suppose that would be a good phrase to describe the vote at GC 2003 to confirm Bishop Robinson, or the actions of former Presiding Bishop Griswold in going forward with his consecration immediately after joining the other Primates in sounding a warning not to do so.
* Suspicions have been raised about the purpose, timing and outcomes of the Global Anglicanism Future Conference; there is some perplexity about the establishment of the Gafcon Primates' Council and of FOCA which, with withdrawal from participation at the Lambeth Conference, has further damaged trust.
Yes, GAFCON did get everyone's attention---that was the point! And it was the point of the decision to stay away from Lambeth, as well. Are you listening now? If "trust" has been damaged by these actions, what would you say of the injuries that provoked them?
* There are growing patterns of episcopal congregationalism throughout the communion at parochial, diocesan and provincial level. Parishes feel free to choose from whom they will accept episcopal ministry; bishops feel free to make decisions of great controversy without reference to existing collegial structures. Primates make provision for episcopal leadership in territories outside their own Province.
"Parishes feel free to choose??" The parishes that I know of all felt compelled to leave; they were literally driven away by the bishops who made "decisions of great controversy without reference to existing collegial structures. " And as for primates "making provision" for episcopal leadership, it is more properly described as the only response possible to TEC's failure to institute meaningful alternative oversight, and the failure of the Anglican Panel of Reference to deal with the situation. The WCG concludes this section with some truisms ("There is distrust of the Instruments of Communion and uncertainty about their capacity to respond to the situation"), and then points out that the disagreements in TEC threaten to spill over into the wider Communion, and are causing difficulty with its ecumenical partners.

All in all, it is not a bad description of the current miasma, even if its attempts to sound neutral undermine its integrity. People can deal with the truth when it is spoken to them, and they usually appreciate the compliment that candor implies. The WCG met with the assembled bishops three times during the Conference, and hopefully it received the feedback that will enable it to develop a concrete plan from these observations.

In the second part of its document, the WCG addresses the longer-term prospects for the Anglican Communion. It poses three questions necessary to answer:
i. Can we recognise the Church in one another?

ii. What is a Communion of Churches?

iii. What is our shared understanding of the role of a bishop in the communion of the Church?
It goes on to say that these questions can best be answered by developing and agreeing upon a common Covenant, and calls for a definitive timeline for its adoption, "to ensure confidence that the process has credibility." Then it calls for work on the Instruments of Unity "to enable them to sustain communion":

About the Archbishop of Canterbury, the WCG does nothing more than repeat the rather wimpy description of his role in the Windsor Report: he is "'the central focus of unity and mission within the Communion [with authority] to speak directly to any provincial situation on behalf of the Communion where this is deemed to be advisable." (Deemed advisable by whom? is the next question.)

On the Lambeth Conference, the WCG says:
There are questions concerning the authority of a Lambeth Conference and the nature and of the authority of its Resolutions.

While acknowledging that resolutions of one Conference have been reviewed, and directions changed at a later Conference, nonetheless, like the resolutions taken by councils of bishops in primitive Christianity, they are of sufficient weight that the consciences of many bishops require them to follow or at least try to follow such resolutions. They are taken after due debate and after prayer by the ministers who represent the apostles to their churches.
Again, no suggestions are made for "strengthening" the Lambeth Conference. But with regard to the Anglican Consultative Council, the WCG has this to say:
ACC is not to be understood as a synodical body at the Communion wide level. It is 'consultative'. Its Constitution provides for the bringing together of bishops, clergy and laity in order to advise, encourage and inform the Provinces. It is particularly valued by those who emphasise the contribution of the whole people of God in the life, mission and the governance of the Church.

There are questions about whether a body meeting every three years, with a rapidly changing membership not necessarily located within the central structures of their own Provinces, can fulfil adequately the tasks presently given to it.

Not all believe that a representative body is the best way to express the contribution of the whole people of God at a worldwide level. There are many ways in which the voice of the whole body can be heard: diocesan and Provincial synods, networks, dialogues and commissions.
The language here is very indirect. It would seem to be saying that the ACC will not play much of a role in resolving the present crisis. Next, the WCG turns to the Primates' Meeting:
recognising the need and importance for collegial consultation and support for the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is a body that could be called together as occasion requires in between Lambeth Conferences.

Recognising that different models of primacy exist, a great virtue of the Primates' Meeting is that the Primates are in conversation with their own Houses of Bishops and located within their own synodical structures. They are, therefore, able to reflect the breadth and depth of the conversations and opinion in their Provinces.
Notice there is no mention of being in touch with anyone beyond the "Houses of Bishops." (Then again, who was it who authored this document? Oh, yes---bishops.) And once more, this language is descriptive, not prescriptive. The WCG concludes its comments on the four Instruments of Unity with this glorious bit of fluff:
In considering the future development of the Instruments of Communion it is vital to take account of their ecclesiological significance as well as whether they are fit to respond effectively to the demands of global leadership. There needs to be a process of communion wide reflection which leads towards a common understanding.
Exam question for seminarians: What is the ecclesiological significance of the Anglican Consultative Council? Of the Primates' Meeting? Contrast and explain, with citations to the Post-Nicene Fathers.

Part Two of the WCG "observations" concludes with a description of four processes that are underway in the Communion:
(c) Processes and Commissions:

1. The Listening Process
2. The Hermeneutics Project – The Bible in the Church
3. The Principles of Canon Law Project
4. A Faith & Order Commission

These four initiatives are already in hand, but we see them as vital for strengthening the life of our Communion. The Listening Process and conversation on issues of sexuality needs to continue. We also recommend the continuation of plans for The Bible in the Church. Such projects are urgent and vital if we are to regain a sense of common values and mutual understanding.

The Common Principles of Canon Law Project (Anglican Communion Legal Advisers Network) gives a sense of the integrity of Anglicanism and we commend the suggestion for the setting up of an Anglican Communion Faith and Order Commission that could give guidance on the ecclesiological issues raised by our current 'crisis'.
In case you've forgotten what "The Hermeneutics Project" is, here is how it was described in the communique from Dar es Salaam:
We agreed to proceed with a worldwide study of hermeneutics (the methods of interpreting scripture). The primates have joined the Joint Standing Committee in asking the Anglican Communion Office to develop options for carrying the study forward following the Lambeth Conference in 2008. A report will be presented to the Joint Standing Committee next year.
So what comes of this discussion of the longer-term prospects for the Anglican Communion? It looks like: talk, talk, and then some more talk. Let us turn to Part III of the "observations," in which the WCG makes some suggestions for what must happen while all this talk is going on:
3. How do we get from here to there

The various initiatives set out in Part Two and the Covenant is [sic] a longer term process to reverse the trends described in Part One; to restore the sense of trust, fellowship and communion on which we thrive. In the period leading up to the establishment of a covenant, however, there are urgent issues which need addressing if we are going to be able to get to the point where such a renewal of trust even becomes possible.
The inability to make their verb agree with their subject does not bode well for what follows. Nevertheless, we shall plunge forward, searching for substance amidst all the fog of description. The WCG takes up the controversial issue of the heretofore thrice requested moratoria:
The Windsor Report sets out requests for three moratoria in relation to the public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions, the consecration to the episcopate of those living in partnered gay relationships and the cessation of cross border interventions.

There have been different interpretations of the sense in which "moratorium" was used in the Windsor Report. Our understanding is that moratorium refers to both future actions and is also retrospective: that is that it requires the cessation of activity. This necessarily applies to practices that may have already been authorised as well as proposed for authorisation in the future.
Let us pause a moment and ask just what this language means. How can a moratorium be "retrospective"? The word comes from a Latin participle meaning "delaying", and how can something that has already occurred be "delayed"? No one appears to contend that this language calls for the undoing of V. Gene Robinson's consecration, for example---even if it could be conceived how such a solemn act could be "undone." "It requires the cessation of activity." All right, that seems clear enough: "You have to stop same-sex blessings now, as of this very day, even if they have been authorized." That is fine, but that is not what we lawyers call a "retrospective" moratorium. "From this day forward" is actually prospective in effect. So once again, the WCG's misuse of well-established legal terms does not bode well for the seriousness with which one should take their recommendations. They continue:
The request for moratorium applies in this way to the complete cessation of (a) the celebration of blessings for same-sex unions, (b) consecrations of those living in openly gay relationships, and (c) all cross border interventions and inter-provincial claims of jurisdiction.

The three moratoria have been requested several times: Windsor (2004); Dromantine (2005); Dar es Salaam (2007) and the requests have been less than wholeheartedly embraced on all sides.

The failure to respond presents us with a situation where if the three moratoria are not observed, the Communion is likely to fracture. The patterns of action currently embraced with the continued blessings of same-sex unions and of interventions could lead to irreparable damage.
Many would say that irreparable damage has already occurred. And what can one say to the pronouncements, both before and after Lambeth, that same-sex blessings and consecrations of homosexually active deacons, priests and bishops will continue as before? How does irreparable become even more irreparable? To quote the WCG: "This poses the serious question of what response should be made to those who act contrary to the moratorium during the Covenant process and who should make a response." Well, just listen to their ideas:
New Ways of Responding

We make the following suggestions for situations which might arise in different parts of the Communion:

*the swift formation of a 'Pastoral Forum' at Communion level to engage theologically and practically with situations of controversy as they arise or divisive actions that may be taken around the Communion. Such a Forum draws upon proposals for a Council of Advice (Windsor), a Panel of Reference (Dromantine), a Pastoral Council (Dar es Salaam) and the TEC House of Bishops' Statement (Sept 2007) acknowledging a 'useful role for communion wide consultation with respect to the pastoral needs of those seeking alternative oversight'. The existence of such a Forum might be included in the Covenant as a key mechanism to achieve reconciliation.
But the Covenant won't come about for years, so don't look for "swift formation" of the Pastoral Forum through the Covenant process. Just how would such a Pastoral Forum operate?
Part of the role of a Forum might be for some of its members, having considered the theological and ecclesiological issues of any controversy or divisive action, to travel, meet and offer pastoral advice and guidelines in conflicted, confused and fragile situations. There is a precedent in the method of the Eames Commission in the 1980s.
There is nothing to stop bishops from traveling, meeting and offering pastoral advice to each other right now. If they had really wanted such a service to be available, nothing stood in its way of being implemented, since it is entirely voluntary from start to finish. Reduced to its essentials, this is simply a recipe for more talk, talk, talk---or if you will, for more indaba.
The President of such a Forum would be the Archbishop of Canterbury, who would also appoint its episcopal chair, and its members. The membership of the Forum must include members from the Instruments of Communion and be representative of the breadth of the life of the Communion as a whole. Movement forward on this proposal must bear fruit quickly.

We believe that the Pastoral Forum should be empowered to act in the Anglican Communion in a rapid manner to emerging threats to its life, especially through the ministry of its Chair, who should work alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury in the exercise of his ministry.

The Forum would be responsible for addressing those anomalies of pastoral care arising in the Communion against the recommendations of the Windsor Report. It could also offer guidance on what response and any diminishment of standing within the Communion might be appropriate where any of the three moratoria are broken.
"Offer guidance"? This is another masterpiece of Anglican indirection. Let me see, now: the Pastoral Forum is chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who could, if he were so inclined, threaten those breaking the moratoria with being disinvited to Lambeth in ten years' time---yes, that would be a threat with real teeth in it. And what if he were not so inclined? What other kind of "diminishment in standing" would be available as a form of discipline to the Archbishop? It is true that the Church of England has authorized the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York alone to decide with whom it shall be in a Covenant relationship. But since our own Presiding Bishop has already suggested that there was no interest "in producing a Covenant that defined who could be excluded," it seems unlikely that having a Covenant or not could be a source of significant "diminishment in standing."
We are encouraged by the planned setting up of the Communion Partners initiative in the Episcopal Church as a means of sustaining those who feel at odds with developments taking place in their own Province but who wish to be loyal to, and to maintain, their fellowship within TEC and within the Anglican Communion.

The proliferation of ad hoc episcopal and archiepiscopal ministries cannot be maintained within a global Communion. We recommend that the Pastoral Forum develop a scheme in which existing ad hoc jurisdictions could be held "in trust" in preparation for their reconciliation within their proper Provinces. Such a scheme might draw on models derived from religious life (the relationship of religious orders to the wider Church), family life (the way in which the extended family can care for children in dysfunctional nuclear families) or from law (where escrow accounts can be created to hold monies in trust for their rightful owner on completion of certain undertakings. Ways of halting litigation must be explored, and perhaps the escrow concept could even be extended to have some applicability here.
Both the Communion Partners initiative, as well as any mechanism for holding dissenting parishes and dioceses "in trust", depend for their implementation on the voluntary consent of all parties involved. Which means, again, that if they had wanted to do this, they could have done it already. So once again, we have no substance here, but only an encouragement to agree to agree.

In a final section, called a "Coda" (meaning "tail"), the WCG finally asks the question: "Why bother with all this?" And here is what they come up with for an answer:
Much faithful witness continues – converts are baptised; disciples are nurtured; vocations are encouraged; the scriptures are studied; the Gospel is proclaimed.

Anglicanism as a distinctive global expression of Reformed Catholicism: not only in its content, but in its processes – diverse, patient, hospitable and tolerant.

"We believe in this Communion"; a Communion which contributes to the wider life of the Church in the ecumenical community, and gives witness in a world of many faiths.
All true, all true. In the end, however, what the WCG is admitting is that the Anglican Communion will survive as such only if its members voluntarily agree to make that happen. And for such an agreement to occur will require . . . [drum roll] the dreaded "S"-word!
What might mutual accountability under God in life and mission look like at its best in the period between now and the completion of the Covenant process?

What personal sacrifices might it involve for each of us?
The introduction of the S-word, note, did not come from Archbishop Rowan, but from the WCG. And as I have detailed in another post, it gave the gay rights activists a foothold to claim that they were being asked to give up that which they do not in fact possess---a "right" to ordination, or to have "their" unions blessed. With this single misstep, the WCG's "observations" managed to undo any positive effects they had previously had on those at Lambeth. The dialogue immediately degenerated into a litany of complaint about rights denied, even though, as Archbishop Rowan had carefully taught before the Conference proper began, no one can claim any kind of "rights" before God.

(Can you just see the activist on Judgment Day? "God, I demand a fair trial!")

The WCG's observations conclude with the by now mandatory recommendation that "all our people . . . minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex."

So, what do these "observations" accomplish? After starting out with a strong, clear vision of what is wrong with the Anglican Communion, they end, as T. S. Eliot has it, "not with a bang, but a whimper." They identify the current fractures and brokenness of the Communion, describe what has brought us to that pass, and then---they punt the ball down the field, relying on wholly voluntary decisions to bring the opposite sides into---further indaba! This is not a recipe for taming the forces that divide us, but for talking each other to death while nothing changes, or rather, while each side continues in its chosen course.

All the post-Lambeth stories about each side persevering in its chosen path serve only to highlight that the time has just about run out for the Windsor Continuation Group to have any effect whatsoever on the future of the Anglican Communion. By the time the WCG meets again, it will be too late for any revision in these "observations" to have an impact. Instead, the only result of all the wailing and gnashing of teeth at Lambeth will be to leave matters exactly as they stood before Lambeth: with all the hopes for the future pinned on the creation of a voluntary Covenant, which will be ten or more years in  the making, if events do not overtake it. That is a very slim thread on which to hang the Communion's destiny.


  1. Thank you for this. Interesting to be reminded of the origin of the "sacrifices" language and the ABC's stance on "rights".

    "(Can you just see the activist on Judgment Day? "God, I demand a fair trial!")"
    This reminded me of Till We Have Faces

  2. Dear Anglican Curmudgeon,

    This is an excellent analysis, with almost all of which I would fully agree. The reservation is with your comment that "People can deal with the truth when it is spoken to them, and they usually appreciate the compliment that candor implies."

    I would agree that this is true, with one proviso, namely, that this assertion is only accurate if the people to whom the truth is addressed are not in denial. Unfortunately, there are enough recent examples of statements, a majority of which seem to come from those who pretend to speak for the progressive wing of TEC, which clearly indicate that the speakers do not meet that test. This is not to imply that no one on the other side of the divide is in denial, but rather that there seem to be more from the former side than from the latter, and that the hallmarks of denial are more prominently displayed by more of those who are progressive than their opponents.

    I recognize that some may not agree with my analysis, but I would challenge any such to make their case.

    Blessings and regards

  3. That's a perceptive link, Perpetua---thank you. C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite Christian writers.

    Martial Artist, your proviso is accepted. In writing as I did, I was speaking of those who, like us, despair of all the cant and double-speak we hear from the liberals and activists, and addressed myself to the WCG: "Just speak the truth to us---we can handle it." As for speaking truth myself, I never allow the potential audience to influence what I say (a trait that I have observed in your comments over at StandFirm as well, by the way). If they can handle it, well and good; and if they can't, it's their problem, not mine. Someday, perhaps, the latter will come to appreciate that at least some people were paying them the compliment of being honest with them.

  4. A. S. Haley,

    Thank you for your very kind remarks concerning my posts on Stand Firm. And please know that I share your beliefs about, and—to the best of my abilities—the speaking of the truth.

    In exploring your blog, particularly the instruction concerning complaints, I suspect that you are, or were, a redleg. If such is the case, we have a bit more in common than you may have detected (cf., my signature block, below). If it does not, then this may all seem an enigmatic comment.

    I have added your blog to my list of favorites, and will likely be lurking here for a time, the duration of which is in His hands.

    Blessings and regards,
    Keith H. Toepfer
    LCDR, USN [ret.]

    P.S. There is no need to actually post this comment, although you are most welcome to do so. It is intended simply to explore whether you also may have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

  5. Martial Artist, I am grateful for your choice of this blog to read. No, I was never a Redleg; I chose the Ft. Sill complaint procedures memo from among several others that were similar. My father was in the Army Corps of Engineers, and I honor him, you, and all of our military for the service given to our country.