The Primates of the Anglican Communion have tossed the ball back into our court. The Communique reflects the hard work of many devout and theologically wise people who are trying to find a way to preserve the Anglican Communion, defend the Apostolic doctrine of the Church and find a way to bring the Communion to a deeper and more coherent form of unity. Not an easy task, but the Communique hits the mark on several key points.
The most important of these points, in my humble opinion, is the call for ECUSA to clarify its response to the Windsor Report. Contrary to the report of the “gang of four”, the Primates rightly understand that the product of General Convention ’06 was not an adequate reply to Windsor.
While they[the Primates] appreciate the actions of the 75th General Convention which offer some affirmation of the Windsor Report and its recommendations, they deeply regret a lack of clarity about certain of those responses.
The Primates have requested that the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church of the United States:
1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any
Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General
Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and
2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention
means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not
receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134);
unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR,
These are reasonable requests that could be answered by the House of Bishops, if they chose to do so.
I believe that there are four possible paths that the House of Bishops could take in the next few weeks:
1) The House of Bishops can agree that they will not authorize any Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses. This only requires an act of will by the Bishops to abide by the intent of the Windsor Report. It is significant that the request of the Primates does not ask the Bishops to stop any such Rites that may be being used within their respective dioceses. As to the consent to an episcopal election, again all they would need to do is agree to withhold consent. It would be a “gentlemen’s agreement”.
I don’t give this option a high probability of success; but it is not impossible, and it is the best option. If the Bishops do accept the responsibility and agree to these requests from the Primates, then ECUSA will apparently continue to stay in good enough graces with the Anglican Communion so that ECUSA bishops will not be excluded from Lambeth ’08. I gather this to be the case since a failure to answer the request in the affirmative would result in, “…consequences for the full participation of the Church [ECUSA] in the life of the Communion.”
A great deal of time and ink has been invested in proving the independent and unique “polity” of ECUSA as compared with the rest of the Anglican Communion. It is hard to perceive a strong will in the House of Bishops to take the lead on this issue and thereby potentially alienate the House of Deputies or their Diocesan Standing Committees. Further, I believe that there are enough Bishops who disagree with the intent of the request on “theological” or political grounds to impede a timely response. Therefore, I don’t discount the possibility, but I find it to be unlikely at this time.
2) The House of Bishops could acknowledge that they have the authority to answer the requests of the Primates, and then answer in the negative. This does not seem to be a likely possibility because it would require a decisive statement on the part of the House of Bishops that would result, almost certainly, in the complete alienation of ECUSA from the Anglican Communion (read schism). The recent history of this ongoing struggle over doctrine and authority leads one to believe that such a forthright and definitive stand would not be readily forthcoming. It would certainly bring an end to the debate and the speculation about how long this process will play out before there is some resolution.
The final chapter may be written at Lambeth ’08 with the adoption of the Anglican Covenant, depending on the final wording of the document. Certainly the Bishops want to have a say in the final drafting and adoption of the Covenant. Unless of course, the revisionists within ECUSA are indeed ready to cast off the pretense and set about creating the new Progressive Episcopal Worldwide Communion. But, I don’t see that happening yet.
3) The House of Bishops declares that, while it does “technically” have the authority to respond to the request, it would not be prudent nor appropriate for it to do so because of ECUSA’s polity and due to the seriousness of the issue and the consequences arising from the answer. In this scenario, the House of Bishops exercises it’s right under Title I, Canon 1, Section 3(a) of the Constitution and Canons and calls for a special meeting of the General Convention which would have to meet prior to the deadline of September 30, 2007. If this occurs, the House of Bishops would be looking to the House of Deputies to confirm its answers to the Primates, whatever those answers might be.
The Special General Convention would meet and would, presumably, hammer out a resolution that would affirm the Bishop’s answer, or would override it, thereby beginning the formal split of which I spoke in point 2. There is a better than even chance that this is the option that will be proposed. From a political standpoint, it offers the best cover for everyone concerned and gives ECUSA the most opportunity to vent its collective spleen to the rest of the world.
4) The House of Bishops declares that while it does “technically” have the authority to respond to the request, it would not be prudent nor appropriate for it to do so, and, because of the short notice, expense and repercussions to people on both sides of the theological argument, the Primates will have to wait until the next regular General Convention which is scheduled for Anaheim in 2009. This would be a bold and gutsy play for the House of Bishops, as it would put the ball squarely back into the +++ABC’s court. He would then have to either respect the will of the Primates and take action based upon the Tanzania Communique, or he would have to convince the Primates that they should respect ECUSA’s polity and give them the time they need. In the meantime, of course, ECUSA would attend Lambeth ’08, have a say in writing the final form of the Anglican Covenant and the Anglican Communion would limp along until, I guess, Lambeth ’18. This would be consistent with the revisionist strategy of grab and hold a position until everyone else is tired and gives up and goes home.
I doubt that the Primates of the Global South would go along with this, but if they pressed the +++ABC, and he insisted on giving ECUSA the time, then the Global South would separate from the Communion and ECUSA would basically get the Progressive Episcopal Communion many of the revisionists want. In addition, they would have Canterbury, which would be firmly within their sphere of influence. This would be the worst of the options, but, it will certainly be considered as a way for ECUSA to continue to have a seat at the table while at the same time asserting its absolute independence from any kind of external authority.
All this has been written from a purely politically perspective (pardon the alliteration). In my life prior to accepting Christ and discerning a call to Holy Orders, I lived, ate and breathed politics. It was my career. I will be the first one to admit that I wasn’t all that good at it, but then maybe that’s because God was humoring me for a few years before He set me on the right path. Or maybe it was so I could learn about people and about myself in the process. I fervently pray that everyone who sits in a position of authority in God’s Church will continue to look to Him, and to Him alone, for guidance and strength.
Seeing through the eyes of a believer, I see pain, frustration and fear. I also see a Church that is struggling to rediscover its identity as the “Bride of Christ” as Paul describes Her. We have a responsibility to reach out to the disaffected and the poor and the hurting. In doing so, we introduce them to Christ, who leads them, just as He led me, out of that place in which they are and into that place He would have them be. He transforms lives. He heals. The Church, His Church, must be healed, but that healing cannot be the end to itself. Unity for the sake of unity will not do. Agreeing to disagree over matters of fundamental theology and belief is no longer an option.
I pray that the House of Bishops will assent to the requested clarification to ECUSA’s answer to Windsor. I pray that all sides will allow the recommendations of the Primates to work so that healing within the Church can occur. I pray for the whole state of God’s Church, and that we can all remember that this is not a struggle of us versus them. This is about the Kingdom versus the world, and we have been distracted from that mission for too long.
To God be the Glory.
Michael W. Millard
Nashotah House '08