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Resolutions for What Sort of Communion?
or Against Craftiness!
by Christopher Wells
6/10/2006

Of course, Deimel may not be interested in this kind of a Communion. One senses, for instance, his relief as he writes of Anglicanism as presently constituted: “Despite what anyone says, it remains, at least for now, a fellowship of autonomous churches, having a ceremonial head with no formal authority, and without a curia empowered to make binding decisions for its members” (p. 5). Does this mean, however, that a teaching Communion of a catholic-visibilist sort is ruled out or otherwise to be avoided? Perhaps because, as Deimel believes, “Anglicanism’s reluctance to codify dogma ultimately freed it from an ancient worldview and left it more susceptible to the leading of the Holy Spirit” (p. 4)? In any case, this is the fundamental choice before us, and all else is detail by comparison: What sort of Communion are American Episcopalians interested in?

With this question in view, Deimel’s reading of the Special Commission’s resolutions (in his piece “What Should General Convention 2006 Do?”) is useful as a goad to greater clarity—a virtue that we agree is indispensable for our moment, for the good of all of us and in the interest of truth. Granted, our divisions, not least inter-denominationally, must cloud somewhat our judgment regarding the will of God for our moment. But this is why, all the more, it is fitting to proceed both honestly and charitably, avoiding what Deimel aptly terms “craftiness,” as well as “wordiness, ambiguity, and cleverness” (p. 2). This is properly a spiritual matter.

I will treat here only the first four resolutions as these form the heart of the Episcopal Church’s response to “the terms” of Windsor, as the primates said in their Communiqué of February 2005.

1. Resolution A159: Interdependence
The Special Commission began here because we saw that a robust affirmation of interdependent life in the Anglican Communion is a non-negotiable basic for moving forward together; and Deimel happily seems more or less happy to concede this resolution as written. That he feels the need to flag, however, his hope “that the Episcopal Church will never be forced to choose between its ability to pursue its understanding of its mission and unity with the wider Communion” (p. 4) looks to be pressing in a different direction, just insofar as an opposition between our own “understanding of mission” and “unity” is imaginable. The Special Commission, by contrast, agreed with the upshot of the Windsor Report: “that the Church’s unity and God’s mission are inextricable” (
§25); and this must extend, albeit uncomfortably, into the realm of “contentious issues” as well, since “the divine foundation of communion should oblige each church to avoid unilateral action ... which may result in broken communion” (§27, quoting Windsor). That is, because mission and unity are wholly intertwined—for a theological reason: recall that “communion” and “fellowship” alike translate St. Paul’s “koinonia”—it follows that broken communion severely hinders “the effectiveness of our common mission” (§27, quoting the primates).

2. Resolution A160: Regret
Deimel’s take on this resolution is again welcome in its sober realism about (at least part of) what is needed from us by the Communion: “The church would be severely criticized were we to weaken the statement made by the bishops, so this resolution or a resolution expressing the same sentiment should, no doubt, be passed” (p. 5). One hopes, of course, that cynicism has not here returned, which is a spiritual vice that would serve no party to our disputes. For weak resignation could lead Convention’s resolutions to evince a grudging tone, that might properly lead our partners and the Archbishop of Canterbury to wonder whether we mean what we have said. But then, will not “craftiness” and “ambiguity” of the wrong sort have returned?

3. Resolution A161: Election of Bishops
This resolution is of course widely understood to be the principal, concrete challenge posed to the Episcopal Church by Windsor and by Windsor-as-received-by-the-Communion (primates, Abp. of Canterbury, ACC). Again, Deimel’s comments are helpful in clarifying the choices to be made, on two counts.

            First, does it make sense to admit that we “caused deep offense,” as the Special Commission resolution says, by consenting to consecrate a bishop living openly in a same-gender union? Windsor does not use the word caused at the crucial §134, but the implication of the first and third bullets is clear enough when read together: that because the Episcopal Church breached “the proper constraints of the bonds of affection” by electing and consecrating Gene Robinson, the proposed moratorium seems requisite. One should note, however, that the Special Commission’s resolution is craftily ambiguous in a phrase not addressed by Deimel: “the extent to which we have ... .” The better part of clarity and charity here, therefore, would counsel some decision, one way or the other; recalling, perhaps, Abp. Rowan’s useful challenge in his Advent Pastoral Letter of 2004, quoted in the Special Commission’s report (at §36): that when

an action by one part of the Communion genuinely causes offence, causes others to stumble, there is need to ask, “How has what we have done got in the way of God making himself heard and seen among us? ... Have we been eager to dismiss others before we have listened?” We owe it to one another to let such questions sink in slowly and prayerfully. But these are the important questions for our spiritual health, rather than arguing only over the terms and wording of apologies.

Second, shall we “effect a moratorium” (as Windsor said) on the election, etc., of same-sex-partnered bishops? Deimel says no, because Windsor effectively has asked us to try “to buy peace in the Communion by weakening [our] commitment to our gay sisters and brothers” (p. 6). By contrast, I would suggest that Windsor should not be understood as an attempt to “buy peace,” nor need it mean a weakening of our commitment to our gay sisters and brothers, though there are some in our church and Communion who wish this were true. Rather, Windsor’s path should be understood as our best chance to protect peace in the interest of a patient forbearance-in-unity—given that the majority of our fellow Anglicans and fellow Christians remain unconvinced by the various arguments by some American Episcopalians and others in favor of matrimony and holy orders for gays and lesbians; and given that same-sex blessings and ordination for non-celibate gays and lesbians have never been typical practices in the Church, and so are genuinely “new” things that are now coming before us. In this light, many of us who are not otherwise illiberal find that the better part of wisdom is to wait and pray; and we believe, as the Special Commission’s report put it, that the tool of moratoria may be a useful “means of opening a space in which the development of a community of repentance might be reestablished, or perhaps initiated for the first time” (§38). And again, in the words of Abp. Eames to the primates in Feb. 2005: “if true reconciliation is to be produced in our current situation a moratorium is an important part of that process. Healing of wounds takes time. A moratorium is to be viewed as much in relation to reconciliation as to reflection.”1 In this way, the Windsor moratoria may provide some much-needed cover for our common discernment; common work that, if we are serious about it, will stretch us all to grow more nearly into the full stature of Christ.

At the same time, it should be clear to readers of the Windsor Report that it presumes the longstanding commitment of our Communion (confirmed by successive Lambeth conferences, and by the ACC, primates, and Archbishops of Canterbury) to pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians in our churches, who are members in full standing, entirely a part of our common life and worship, and deserving of the utmost respect and charity. For this reason irrational hatred or persecution of them is anathema to the gospel of Jesus, a point made in the Special Commission’s resolution A168 via a quotation of Windsor: that “any demonizing of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care.”

In all events, Deimel is right again to note that the Special Commission resolution proposes a compromise—“very considerable caution”—that amounts to “no, but” to Windsor’s request; a compromise, however, that Deimel appears to be willing (grudgingly?) to live with. I think, however, that such a reply brooks—again—craftiness and ambiguity of an unwelcome and unprincipled sort, effectively answering the Communion’s invitation to play ball by saying that “we very probably should like to play and may well do, all other things being equal, which of course remains to be seen.” Our Communion partners deserve more, if we wish to be both accountable to and lovingly direct—clear and charitable—with them.

4. Resolution A162: Public Rites of Blessing for Same-Sex Unions
Again, Deimel’s candor is useful here in response to the second resolve: “If we must wait for ‘some broader consensus’ among the provinces, we may have to wait a very long time indeed. In the meantime, we will be arguing about how broad the consensus needs to be ... . Partnered gay Episcopalians may rightly feel like pawns in a Communion-wide power struggle” (pp. 7-8); and likewise in response to the third resolve: what is meant by “public diocesan rites
” vis-à-vis the claim in the Commission’s report that “the Episcopal Church has authorized no ... rites” for “celebrating and blessing same-sex unions” (§53)? “There is some confusion here that should be clarified,” suggests Deimel (p. 8).

What, however, of the proposed moratorium itself? Deimel does not say directly that we should turn it down, nor does he comment on the Special Commission’s remarkable, flat statement in its explanation that “the second resolve concurs with the Windsor Report’s call for a moratorium on authorizing public Rites of Blessings.” He does suggest, however, that “greater clarity from the 75th General Convention would be welcome” to ease the “cognitive dissonance” of having accepted (in resolution C051 in 2003) “experimental use of liturgies for blessing same-sex unions in the absence of a clear teaching on matters relating to homosexuality” (p. 8). I agree. And I hope, thereby, that the Convention will avoid, once more, a culpable craftiness if it decides also to “concur with Windsor’s call for a moratorium.”


1 Conveniently quoted in the Anglican Communion Institute’s document, “What It will take,” under point #7.

 

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