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Thoughts on Concerns and Questions about the Windsor Report - by Tom Wright

Thoughts on Concerns and Questions about the Windsor Report

by Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham and member of the Lambeth Commission

The main reason the Lambeth Commission was asked to talk about communion life and structures rather than about sex was because there would have been no point in doing the latter. The Lambeth Conference 1998 had already reaffirmed the church's stance on the subject, by a very substantial majority; and this had in turn been underlined by the ACC. The Primates had then made it very clear that to break this line in the case of Gene Robinson would have enormous and damaging implications for the Communion, and the Archbishop of Canterbury had reinforced this. Thus all four 'instruments of unity' had already spoken; what more could the Commission have said? If they do not hear Lambeth and the Primates, neither will they be convinced even if Robin Eames were to rise up and repeat it all.

We were thus in the position of Paul, not in 1 Corinthians, addressing ethical issues head on, but in 2 Corinthians, addressing the second-order issue of what happens when a church has resisted such authority structures as it has. Just as Paul has to go back to first base and explain the nature of his apostolic authority, so the Commission had to go back to first base and explain why the Lambeth Conference and the other three Instruments of Unity are what they are, how they have come to function, and more especially how they enable the church to carry forward God's mission to the world. The charge against ECUSA and New Westminster at this level was precisely not that they had acted in certain ways in relation to same-sex relationships; that was presupposed. As in 2 Corinthians, the charge this time is that by acting the way they did they were ignoring such structures of authority as we possess, which being Anglicans we prefer to articulate not in terms of a top-down Curial structure but in terms of the well-known and long-established 'bonds of affection'.

They have been asked to express regret for doing so, and to promise not to do so again. I leave it to semantic pedants whether this means 'repentance' or not, but I have to say that when I tell God and my neighbour that I regret breaking the high call of love and promise not to do so again that looks and feels pretty much like repentance to me. And that, of course, is precisely what the expressions of regret currently coming from Griswold and Robinson are not doing; they regret that some people were upset, much in the same way that when I'm driving lawfully down the road I regret that someone' s pet mouse ran out in front of me and was killed; that is, I regret the hurt but am not guilty, and will continue to drive at the same speed down the same road. My sense from this point is that by explicitly not expressing the 'regret' they have been asked to express they are setting a tone, which I hope ECUSA and NW will not adopt but fear they may, which will simply result in us reaching the questions of paragraph 157 sooner rather than later. From that point of view, all that the 'orthodox' will have to do is to hang on and wait and see whether those charged will draw the logical conclusions of their actions (as I said in my article in the Guardian today), i.e. that having ignored the Instruments of Unity they should now withdraw from participating in them.

Because the issue of the Report is about structures of authority, it was and remains important that we also said something about those who have invaded other dioceses. As Josiah Fearon has made clear in an interview, there were plenty of people on the Commission who did not see this as an 'equal' or 'even-handed' question; Josiah's image about someone breaking into a neighbour's house to rescue their children from a fire was used, and though the Commission as a whole didn't sign up to that there was a lot of sympathy for it. However, we must recognize - as I know from first-hand experience - that there are some Anglicans who have for some time been looking for a chance to set up independent networks and structures, and have engaged in aggressive planting which cannot be justified by this or other particular emergencies. I know this is not what (for instance) Bob Duncan and many others in the US were doing, but the Commission was aware of a wide spectrum of cross-boundary activity and wasn't about to engage in detailed analysis of different movements and actions. The point is this: since ECUSA and NW had forced us to look at structures of authority, bonds of affection, and so on, we could not ignore the fact that Lambeth and the Primates had also urged members of the Communion not to invade one another's territory, and that some had nevertheless gone ahead and done so. If we are to live with the instruments of unity we currently possess - and I know there are some who would like us to invent new and more solid structures, but we have to start where we are, not where we aren't - then it is vital, precisely if we want those instruments to work in terms of the rebuke now issued to ECUSA and NW, that we all sign up ourselves to living within them and making them function to the glory of God and the work of the gospel. In fact, if you look carefully at paragraphs 134 and 144, and then at pargraph 155, you will see that we are precisely not asking for an 'equal and opposite' statement. In fact, paragraph 155 simply asks the invading bishops for an expression of regret for the consequences of their actions, i.e. the anger and frustration of those who were genuinely trying to make DEPO work, etc., not for regret that they did them. (I know, by the way, that there are several different viewpoints about DEPO. The Commission was assured by the one of our members who was in the best position to know, and who we trusted deeply, that though there were a few places where difficulties were being experienced, one in particular, every effort was now being made to put it into practice and that in general this was working well.)

I fully appreciate - as those who know my writings on other subjects will realize - that there are massive theological cleavages within American Christianity and that these are not going to go away. I am also horribly aware that this comes at a time when American society is polarized as seldom before in the run-up to an election, and that many in America see all ethical issues in a straightforward way in terms of their own particularly cultural and political packages. This puts many of us in an impossible position when, for instance, we remain implacably opposed both to American's actions in Iraq and to same-sex blessings. It is vital, for the health of Christianity worldwide, that the rest of the Communion refuses to be drawn into this false and trivializing presentation and polarization, and gets on with the tasks the Commission urges upon it, i.e. the work of the gospel and the serious reading of scripture. We need to take courage; not to lose our nerve; to hold on and see the new work that God will do.

Rt Revd Dr N Thomas Wright
Bishop of Durham, member of the Lambeth Commission
Saturday 23 October 2004

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