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COLUMBUS, OH: A last-minute appeal from Prominent English Bishop

A last-minute appeal from England Bishop Tom Wright addresses the General Convention

News Analysis

By Peter Toon
Special to VirtueOnline

COLUMBUS, OH: It is extremely rare for a Bishop of the Church of England to seek to intervene in and influence the proceedings of a General Convention of the autonomous Episcopal Church, but Bishop Tom Wright has done just that.

Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, was an influential member of the international Anglican Commission that produced The Windsor Report, and he passionately believes that its recommendations must be understood by the General Convention before it votes on them. Right now, before the voting takes place, he fears that ECUSA will actually vote on what it chooses to make the recommendations mean in order to satisfy its own constituency.

So he has sent an essay, "The Choice before ECUSA," to members of the Convention with the purpose of persuading them not willfully or carelessly to misunderstand what the Report calls for, but to be wholly clear as to what the Report calls for from this Church, and then to act honestly on the basis of clarity. He writes:

"It is not as though ECUSA has been asked to stand on the stage and make a speech of its own choosing about some issues of general concern; it is, rather, that the rest of the Communion, having discovered in sorrow that one of its members has chosen to act specifically and knowingly against both the letter and the spirit of the instruments of communion [the A. of C., the Primates' Meeting & the Anglican Consultative Council] which are the characteristically Anglican bonds that hold us together, has asked ECUSA to make certain statements which are the least that can be done that will restore the unity that has already been lost."

He refers, of course, to the action of the General Convention in 2003 in voting for the consecration of V. Gene Robinson and then going ahead with that consecration. At any one of many points in this procedure the process could have been halted.

Dr Wright has read carefully the Report of the ECUSA Special Commission, prepared to guide the voting on The Windsor Report at the General Convention. Though he sees some merits in this document, he notes that it avoids engaging with the full facts and the whole background, while giving the impression that it is actually doing so. His judgment is that the ECUSA Report does not truly engage with the clear statements and moral demands of Paragraph 134 of The Windsor Report. In particular, it does not truly take this part of 134 sufficiently seriously:

"The Episcopal Church be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of the Episcopal Church to remain with Communion."

It appears to Bishop Tom that there is deliberate avoidance of the clear meaning and definite demands of this request. What the Communion looks for, he says, is not merely regret that a crisis was caused or that many people were upset; but, that in going ahead with this process the ECUSA at every stage was knowingly and deliberately acting against the clearly stated advice of Anglicans around the world, and, further, going against clearly known and accepted Anglican norms. He asks the General Convention to take Paragraph 134 most seriously, for, if it does not do so and then follows this by taking action to put right its past errors, then it will be effectively declaring to the world that it does not wish to be in the Communion on the terms set by the Communion.

Turning to an examination of the Resolutions crafted by the ECUSA Report for placing before the Convention, Dr Wright once again chides the authors for not taking Paragraph 134 seriously or for changing its content, and then he makes this significant comment:

"The [ECUSA] Commission decided to decline Windsor's request and to do something else instead, using some words and phrases which echo those of Windsor while not affirming the substance that was asked for."

Further, he concludes:

"My basic conclusion is that unless the relevant Resolutions are amended so that they clearly state what Windsor clearly requested, the rest of the Communion is bound to conclude that ECUSA has specifically chosen not to comply with Windsor."

Whether Dr Wright, who is very highly respected in the USA as a Bible scholar and teacher, will be heard and his paper read by Bishops, clergy and laity in the Convention only time will tell. It is a carefully argued and dense (intense) essay that can only be read and appreciated by an alert mind, and this, because of the sheer intensity of the activity at General Convention, may keep some from having time to read it carefully.

Faithful and orthodox members of the ECUSA, who have been much pained by the progressively liberal direction of their Church, are grateful to Dr Wright for taking the time and having the concern to seek to bring ECUSA back to the right path. They pray he will be heard.

---The Revd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil (Oxford) is President of the Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A. He is writing for VirtueOnline at General Convention in Columbus, Ohio. His websites include: www.episcopalian.org/pbs1928; www.anglicanmarketplace.com; www.anglicansatprayer.org.

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