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GC2006: The Windsor Response: A Closer Look

General Convention's Windsor Response: A Closer Look

Special Reports/Analyses
By Auburn Faber Traycik
Editor, The Christian Challenge
http://www.challengeonline.org

With Contributions from: David W. Virtue, Hans Zeiger, And Dr. Peter Toon

The late-passed Resolution B033, described in our main report, was the most pivotal (if dubious) part of the Episcopal General Convention's response to the 2004 Windsor Report. But how - since it has been 20 months since the Report issued - did the convention get to the point of having to consider its most crucial resolution in its final hours, and what other resolutions did it adopt in regard to Windsor?

The Windsor Report (TWR), of course, is that document, produced by the Lambeth Commission, which recommended minimal steps the Episcopal Church (TEC) needed to take to help repair the serious "tear" in the Communion caused by its 2003 approval of the consecration of actively gay cleric Gene Robinson and same-sex blessings. (The Anglican Church of Canada, wherein one diocese, New Westminster, has officially implemented same-sex blessings, is slated to respond to these recommendations in 2007.)

Supported by Anglican primates (provincial leaders) and the Anglican Consultative Council, TWR had asked TEC "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." And, it "invited" TEC "to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration [of Robinson] and for the consequences which followed..." (TWR, section 134)

As well, the Report called for a moratorium on public rites of blessing homosexual relationships, inviting North American bishops who have authorized such rites "to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorization." Until that regret is offered, such bishops were encouraged to "withdraw themselves from representative functions" in the Communion (section 144). (Notable among bishops who do not appear to have complied with this request for regret and withdrawal is TEC's new presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who has permitted a few gay blessings in her diocese.)

As a result of months of work by the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion (which incidentally included Jefferts Schori as a member), the Special Committee of the same name had 11 proposed resolutions intended to respond to the Windsor Report as the convention opened June 13. The committee was to decide whether they should be revised and sent forward to the whole convention.

In a surprise move, the Church of England's Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, who served on the Lambeth Commission, issued a paper at the start of the convention that analyzed resolutions proposed by the Special Commission in light of what the Windsor Report "said and meant." He concluded that the legislation as it stood fell well short of TWR requirements for walking together, and worried that the convention would vote on what it chose to make the Windsor recommendations mean. Among other things, he noted that the Special Commission had urged only the exercise of "very considerable caution" in putting forward homosexual prelates.

Wright felt the Special Commission's report had not truly engaged with the clear statements and moral demands of TWR section 134. What the Communion looks for, he said, is not merely regret that a crisis was caused or that many people were upset; but, that in moving ahead with Robinson's consecration TEC knowingly and deliberately acted against the clearly stated advice of Anglicans around the world and against known Anglican norms. If the convention did not take 134 seriously, nor follow by acting to put right its past errors, he indicated, then it would be effectively declaring that it does not wish to be in the Communion on the terms set by the Communion.

Wright's paper seemed to increase calls throughout the convention for the incorporation of Windsor language in relevant resolutions - calls which, however, went largely unmet.

THE BREADTH OF THE CHASM over homosexuality in TEC went on full display June 14, at a Special Committee hearing that filled a 1,500-seat hotel ballroom and overflowed into the hall outside.

During a two-and-a-half hour meeting that heard comments from some 70 bishops, deputies and others - including the Archbishop of York, a guest at the convention - it became painfully clear how hard it would be for the convention to find agreement on legislation that could determine whether TEC remained part of the Communion. The hearing focused on four Windsor-related resolutions, including those addressing the requested moratoria on gay bishops and blessings.

"I think we've reached an impossible moment in holding it together," said Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network. He had risen to join in Bishop Wright's warning that, only if the "crucial resolutions" were amended in line with Windsor paragraph 134 could there be any claim of compliance with TWR.

Bishop Robinson of New Hampshire said: "Are we not in this debate because we have seen the fruits of the Spirit evidenced in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ who happen to be gay?...Our homosexual agenda is Jesus Christ. By the living Christ who has acted in my life I am convinced that I am not an abomination in the eyes of God."

The Rev. Susan Russell, President of the Episcopal gay group, Integrity, contended that pledges to listen to the witness of homosexuals have yet to be fulfilled, and that the convention should "reject the implication that we are at a 'Deal or No Deal' moment" in the Communion.

"We have been asked to place a moratorium" on further actively homosexuals bishops," said the Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon of South Carolina, "yet the language we get is to exercise 'considerable caution' - a fudge. Let's be honest; let's be clear."

Harmon was among a number of speakers on each side of the divide who called for clarity and honesty in the resolutions - one way or the other.

In unexpected remarks near the end of the hearing, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said that Robinson's election and consecration was a crisis for relations in the Anglican Communion (some 22 of 38 provinces have declared impaired or broken communion with TEC). But he questioned whether the resolutions under consideration at the hearing were sufficient, and gave enough "space" to repair those "friendships." He asked the committee to consider if the proposals before them promoted truth and unity, which he said are inseparable.

Following this hearing it was easy to see why the Special Committee had such difficulty in ensuing days in coming up with language for the key Windsor resolutions that it thought would be palatable to all. Quickly evident, as well, was that the convention would be unable to realize hopes that it would complete its response to TWR before the new presiding bishop was elected June 18. Strong polarization around the subject matter was complicated, too, by a pace of legislative business that was unusually sluggish and often got tangled up in parliamentary process.

Yet some Windsor resolutions did start making it through the convention. The convention approved: *Resolution A159, committing the church to an interdependent life within the Communion, "characterized by forbearance, trust, and respect..."; and *A166, which supports the Windsor-recommended process of developing an Anglican covenant that would help ensure unity in faith and doctrine among Anglican provinces. As is noted elsewhere, this proposal poses little immediate risk for TEC, since it is expected to take six to eight years for a covenant to be drafted and approved by most provinces; from the liberals' viewpoint, that may buy time for facts to change or be changed on the ground. However, the convention might have voted differently on A166 had it known that the Archbishop of Canterbury would a week later link the covenant's development with the creation of a two-track system relegating provinces that could not agree to the pact to an "associate" relationship with the Communion. And some of the Windsor-related resolutions okayed by the convention were, after all, pretty easy sells. They included:

*Resolution A165, which commits TEC to the formal process of listening to homosexuals called for in 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, which deems homosexual practice unbiblical. A165 also commends the Windsor Report as important "to the process of living into deeper levels of communion and interdependence across" the Communion - "living into" and "process" having become favorites of the revisionists, since neither demands anything concrete right now. Gays and their supporters claim that a 30-year mandate for listening to homosexuals has not been met, while conservatives like Dr. Michael Howell, a University of Florida professor who served on the Special Committee, say the request for listening, which forms only a small part of 1.10, has become an excuse for pushing an agenda that runs contrary to the spirit of Lambeth '98.

*A163, which backs (as in fact does TWR itself) the Episcopal House of Bishops' DEPO (Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight) plan to provide episcopal visitors for those unable to accept the ministry of their own bishops; the plan has been widely deemed inadequate by conservatives. As well, the resolution reasserts the need to maintain jurisdictional boundaries, a swipe against bishops who have crossed lines to provide pastoral care to the faithful.

*A167, which reaffirms that homosexuals are "by baptism full members of the Body of Christ" and apologizes to them again "for years of rejection and maltreatment by the Church." It also commits TEC to maintain communion among all the baptized despite the diversity of opinion and practice in the church relating to homosexuals.

Some chafing by the convention emerged, though, in the consideration of Resolution A160, which offers an effusive "Expression of Regret," but showed that some of Wright's concerns were not unfounded. Though the resolution employs some of the relevant Windsor language, as approved it takes the rap only for "straining" rather than "breaching" the bonds of affection. And A160 neither states nor was it understood that TEC was repenting of knowingly going against the advice of Anglican leaders in its 2003 decisions.

WHICH BRINGS US TO RESOLUTION A161, which addressed the Windsor-requested moratoria on gay bishops and blessings (originally handled separately in Resolutions A161 and A162).

The Special Committee finally managed to squeeze it out, and it was taken up in the House of Deputies (HOD) on the convention's penultimate day, June 20. The "very considerable caution" language was gone; instead, the resolution would have had the convention "urge" that the church "refrain from the nomination, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion"; agree that the convention "not proceed to develop or authorize" rites to bless homosexual unions "at this time"; affirm "the need to maintain a breadth of responses to situations of pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians"; and "apologize to [homosexual] Episcopalians and their supporters hurt by these decisions."
"Hold your nose if you have to, and then vote yes," the Rev. Daniel Martins, a deputy from San Joaquin and a member of the Special Committee, told the HOD.

Clearly, however, while some saw the resolution as a way forward, it drew opposition from both those who saw it as too strong and unjust to homosexuals, and those who viewed it as too weak and evasive a response to TWR.

In a fairly lengthy debate, Rebecca Snow of the Diocese of Alaska, a Special Committee member, said there much in the resolution that is objectionable, but that "our willingness to stand down from our call for justice - for a time - will help create the space in which we will be able to continue our...witness to the wider church."

But the Very Rev. Dr. Peter Cook of the Diocese of Western Louisiana, for example, called A161 a "non-response response" to Windsor. "[T]his resolution in this form will not entitle us to remain members of the worldwide Anglican family."

Voicing an example of the other viewpoint was the Rev. Michael Russell of the Diocese of San Diego, who said that "For this House to flinch an inch away from full inclusion of gay and lesbian people, even for a short period of time, would be an insufferable injustice."

There was an attempt to substitute Windsor language to "effect a moratorium" on the consecration and public blessing of those in same-sex relationships. However, it was ruled out of order by House of Deputies President George Werner, who said that moratoria can only be "effected" through canons (which was not what the Special Commission proposed doing - though it could have, some sources maintained). Challenges to the ruling were unsuccessful. When finally put to a vote, the resolution was resoundingly rejected: 38 lay deputations voted in favor with 73 necessary for approval, and 44 clerical deputations voted in favor with 74 needed for approval. Moves to reconsider A161, or to consider the resolution in its original form, also failed in the HOD.

Panic Sets In

As the House of Deputies was the "House of Initial Action" (HIA) for A161, its defeat therein meant that the House of Bishops (HOB) could not take it up. That meant that the convention could well end without producing any response to the Windsor-requested moratoria - and any reason for primates not to declare TEC to have left the Communion. Panic started to set in for Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.

When the HOB learned that deputies had defeated A161, Bishop Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina, co-chairman of the Special Committee, proposed that the convention resort to a resolution that had been slated for discharge if A161 was adopted, A162 on same-sex blessings (for which the HIA was the House of Bishops); Henderson had amended A162 to address the matter of gay bishops as well. In a point of order, though, Central Florida Bishop John Howe said the new language of A162 was "word for word" that of A161 and that, under HOD rules, could not be presented for consideration again.

In impassioned remarks, Bishop Robinson, expressed his love and commitment to Anglicans around the world, but said he could not "promise to withhold consent from an entire category of people, sight unseen." He suggested that the convention answer all the other issues raised by TWR, but admit that it could not reach agreement about the requested moratoria.

Finally, in a last-ditch effort to save Episcopalian-Anglican relations, Bishop Griswold called a special joint session on the morning of the convention's last day. By then, he had turned to another resolution drafted overnight by Special Committee leaders Bishop Henderson and the Rev. Frank Wade and others; the resolution, B033, dealt only with the matter of gay bishops. It called upon diocesan standing committees and diocesan bishops 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." (The "manner of life" phrase in this resolution and A161 could mean a variety of things, but more importantly, does not deal directly with the "same-gender unions" specified in TWR.)

"What I believe we actually yearn for has not been adequately reflected through the workings of our legislative processes," Griswold maintained during the joint session. "We must now act with generosity and imagination so that our actions are a clearer reflection of the willingness of the majority of us to relinquish something in order to serve a larger purpose."

He said that, "unless there is a clear perception on the part of our Anglican brothers and sisters that they have been taken seriously in their concerns, it will be impossible to have any genuine conversation."

"Humility is not an easy virtue, but it is very much required in this season," he told the more than 800 deputies and over 100 bishops in the hall. "Humility requires at times...what may appear to be a step backward...in order to go forward."

"As your presiding bishop and chief pastor, I now ask both houses to consider the following resolution (B033)," Griswold said, though he acknowledged that consideration in the House of Deputies may require "special action."

After Griswold's speech, the HOB held a heated session in which the P.B. became insistent from the chair on the need to quickly pass B033. When bishops attempted to amend the resolution to loosen language in favor of homosexuals, Griswold reacted sharply: "We are trying to deal with something that does not fit easily into a legislative process. I hope we can find a way in which to maneuver through this that doesn't make us victims of the legislative process...If we aren't clear by lunchtime then we might as well forget the whole thing." And, finally revealing a key motivation behind the strong-arming tactic, Griswold said: "If we don't have something substantial, it will be very difficult for the Archbishop of Canterbury to invite [Episcopal bishops] to the Lambeth Conference" of Anglican bishops in 2008. Vermont Bishop Ely called Griswold's rebuff of the attempt to amend a "spiteful spirit that cannot be allowed to continue in this House."

Additional pressure on the HOB came from Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts Schori, who compared the relationship between TEC and the Communion to that of conjoined twins, who dare not be separated until there is more certainty that they can live apart in good health.

She indicated that compromise was critical, saying: "My sense is the original resolution is the best we're going to do today." However, she said she supported it only if it is understood as leaving "the door open for further conversation and consideration in the very near future."

Following that, a majority of the bishops passed the resolution and sent it to the House of Deputies.

Emotional debate on that HOD's floor ensued within the half-hour time limit.

Integrity founder, Dr. Louie Crew of the Diocese of Newark, said the resolution attempts to "cut the tongue out of the Holy Spirit," which he believed had led TEC to its present pro-gay stand.

Crew's view was echoed by Jerry Kabell of the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, who added that there are parts of the Communion willing to work with TEC without it having to compromise its autonomy.

But then the presiding bishop-elect appeared, and, having been granted permission to speak, rallied the troops as she had in the House of Bishops. She assured that she is "committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian members in this church" but thought that "this is the best we are going to manage at this point in our church's history."

Her remarks won over a key liberal deputy, Sally Johnson of Minnesota, chair of the convention's Canons Committee. "This resolution tears me apart," she said, as she choked back tears. But she added: "As a gift to the presiding bishop-elect I think we should adopt it without amendment."

The Rev. Philip C. Linder of the Diocese of Upper North Carolina said, "Let us rise to the call of reconciliation and sacrificial leadership."

But as the debate continued, it became clear that the irreconcilable differences evident on Tuesday persisted. All that had changed was a reduction of the proposal and an increase of pressure from the top.

The Rev. Canon Paul Lambert of the Diocese of Dallas opposed the resolution from the right. "It's less than what we can do...And it's sending a message that will continue to fracture our relationship with the Anglican Communion," he said.

And the Very Rev. John Spencer of the Diocese of Quincy said, "This resolution is not even in the parking lot of [the Windsor Report] ballpark...It does not address the very specific manner of life which the 74th General Convention acted on."

When a deputy proposed to amend B033 to limit the moratorium on gay bishops to three years, when the next General Convention is held, the chair only recognized opponents of the amendment until the time limit was nearly expired.

In the final moments, Dr. E. Bevan Stanley of the Diocese of Newark was allowed to speak for the amendment. He repeated assertions that the Holy Spirit had for some 30 years "been guiding this church into the understanding of a new truth that culminated in the actions in 2003."

In the end, though, the convention voted strongly in each order against the "Holy Spirit" in order to preserve a hope of staying in the Anglican Communion.

---Auburn Faber Traycik is editor of The Christian Challenge. She is based in Washington, DC. Her website can be accessed at www.challengeonline.org

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