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by Simon J Taylor (other MCU covenant responses)
from Signs of the Times, No. 16 - Jan 2005
The Windsor Report is not a report on the theology and ethics of sexuality. The Report goes out of its way to emphasise this on at least three occasions.
The Report is about what it means to live in communion. 'Communion' is one of those words that Christians use a lot, without always being very clear about what they mean by it. In ecumenical circles, 'communion-ecclesiology', that is an understanding of the church based on the notion of communion, has been very influential. But critics of this approach have said that it doesn't clearly relate to the realities of church life in which there are disagreements and divisions. When Gene Robinson was consecrated bishop of New Hampshire, and the Diocese of New Westminster authorised rites for the blessing of same-sex relationships, some bishops and provinces declared themselves 'out of communion' with the Anglican church in Canada and the United States. The effect of such declarations was unclear. Does it matter that the Archbishop of Nigeria is out of communion with the Diocese of New Hampshire? Should it matter? Given that the Anglican Communion is just that, a communion of churches, an understanding of communion is clearly important for Anglicans. So the Windsor Report is trying to give an account of what it means to live in communion with fellow Christians (in this case Anglican Christians) throughout the world. At stake is the whole understanding of what it means to be part of a church.
The Report begins by linking together three themes: the unity of the church, the communion of members of the church with one another, and the radical holiness to which all God's people are called. These three, the Report argues, are all grounded in the saving purposes of God for the whole of creation and the church's role in those purposes as the 'anticipatory sign of God's healing and restorative future of the world'. From the very beginning of the Report, a vision of the church as an important part in God's purposes has taken hold. Against this background, the Report then outlines the way in which communion functions in the structures of the Anglican Communion and traces the history of the current crisis in the Anglican Communion. It contrasts the way in which this has come about to the way in which the Communion dealt with differences over the ordination of women as priests and bishops.
A - For the structures of the Communion
The Windsor Report does not want an Anglican 'curia'. But the Report does say that the Archbishop of Canterbury's teaching role should be bolstered, enabling him to speak to situations in any member province. It is for the Archbishop of Canterbury to determine who, and under what terms, is invited to Lambeth Conferences and Primates' Meetings. To support the Archbishop in this role, the Report proposes a Council of Advice, a small group of advisors including Primates of the Communion. This would be a new body. The other major structural recommendation of the Report is that each Province of the Communion should commit itself to an Anglican Covenant. This is self-consciously modelled on those covenants used in the ecumenical movement, and seeks to give a public and visible expression to the communion that exists between churches in the Anglican Communion, whilst maintaining their autonomy as different churches. There is, so far as I can see, nothing in the model covenant proposed by the Report that would prevent the consecration of a gay man as a bishop or the authorisation of rites of blessing for same-sex relationships. The role of such a covenant is not to specify limits of independence, but to be a continual reminder that such decisions affect Anglicans across the world, and not just in the province that makes them.
B - On the specific issues of the present crisis
ECUSA are invited to 'express regret' that 'the bonds of affection were breached' in the events surrounding the election and consecration of Gene Robinson. Until they do so, those involved in that consecration should be invited to withdraw from representative functions in the Anglican Communion in order to create space for healing. Bishop Robinson himself should not be invited into the councils of the Communion (presumably including the Lambeth Conference), although the Archbishop of Canterbury and his advisors should keep this under review. ECUSA should also refrain from any further appointments of candidates living in same gender unions until the Anglican Communion has reached a new consensus on this matter. The Report also urges that the listening called for in Lambeth 1998 and study of scripture and tradition needs to be engaged in throughout the Communion. On the authorisation of rites of blessing for same sex partnerships, regret is also invited from those bishops who have authorised their use. Again, until that regret is forthcoming, those bishops should withdraw from representative functions in the Communion. Again, there should be a moratorium on such rites until the mind of the Communion has changed. Again, the Report calls for ongoing study and listening, in line with the resolution of Lambeth 1998. Finally, the Report turns to the way in which bishops, sometimes from other provinces, have seen fit to intervene in other dioceses. Whilst the Report considers that such action has been in good faith, it nevertheless calls for expressions of regret by those who have done so, a moratorium on future actions of a similar kind. Instead, dissenters should be cared for from within a diocese, or with the consent of the diocesan bishop. ECUSA's policy of 'delegated episcopal oversight' is commended.
We should welcome the Report, if for no other reason that its repeated call for study of the issues and listening to gay and lesbian Christians is something to which the Anglican Communion needs to be held. This clearly did not happen after the last Lambeth Conference. It must happen now. The Report has not ducked the difficult issue of how we can live together in communion despite such radical differences. We may not like the fact that many, if not most, Anglicans do not welcome gay and lesbian people into the church. We can't pretend this is not the case. Nor can Anglicans ignore that there are gay and lesbian people living faithful lives as partners and Christians. The Report faces us with a stark question - do we want to live in communion, or would we rather live in little sects of pure heterosexual, or pure liberal, Christians? Living in communion is the harder task. It is a slower and more painful route, but I believe that it is the route we are called to take in following Christ.
What cannot be forgotten, however, is that the cost of this slower route, the cost of the 'space for healing' that the Report calls for, is borne by lesbian and gay Anglicans.
Simon Taylor is an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Bristol.