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Another Look at the Resolutions
by Lionel Deimel

The anonymous essay “What it will take” that was recently posted to the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) Web site looks at eight arguments advancing the adequacy of the resolutions proposed by the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and it finds them wanting. The task that Christopher Wells and I set out for me here was to review the ACI essay in light of our dialog. I will not dissect the ACI arguments and examine the resolutions with the same detail found in “What Should General Convention 2006 Do?” Alas, this exercise may be less enlightening than we had hoped. I will, however, have more to say in a separate conclusion. The headings like the one below are taken from “What it will take.”

Firstly: The expression of regret is clear and strong and meets what is asked of ECUSA by The Windsor Report (TWR).

The ACI disputes both points with respect to Resolution A160 Expression of Regret. Apparently, it would like something along the lines of “We’re sorry we did it; we know [or, perhaps even better, knew] it was wrong; and we won’t do it again.” The Institute argues that the apology here—essentially the same as was earlier tendered by the House of Bishops—is inadequate. It is one of the frustrations of this whole affair that no one quite seems to know (1) what an adequate apology is supposed to look like, or even (2) who gets to decide whether an apology is adequate. This is the kind of confusion that results when there are no rules in place, but some parties act as if there are. The Windsor Report (§134) recommended that

the Episcopal Church (USA) 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 (USA) to remain within the Communion

Resolution A160 seems to satisfy this request. General Convention is unlikely to admit its actions were wrong because most Episcopalians (those at General Convention, anyway) do not believe they were. One has to question the ethics of demanding contrition when there is no sense of having done anything wrong.

Secondly: ECUSA can do no more than these resolutions because it has a clear and long-standing commitment to LGBT people and it cannot be expected to go back on these commitments at GC 06, indeed it must (as it does in some of the proposed resolutions) clearly restate and reaffirm those commitments.

The ACI suggests that General Convention, if it believes this, “should recognise that their understanding of their commitments to LGBT people is strictly incompatible and irreconcilable with their commitments to the Communion.” However accommodating General Convention might want to be here, it is, in a moral sense, caught between Scylla and Charybdis. It is one thing to agree to jump overboard voluntarily because one has been asked to lighten a sinking ship. It is quite another to agree to throw someone else overboard for the same purpose. The most charitable view here would be that there are plusses and minuses both to “accommodating” the Anglican Communion and “accommodating” LGBT people.

Thirdly: To demand full and clear compliance with TWR is a sign that certain people are just being punitive and sticking to the letter of the law in relation to ECUSA. This is perhaps evidence that conservatives will never be satisfied as, in a quest for a ‘pure church’, they want ECUSA to become something it is not and never shall be.

I have no idea what “sticking to the letter of the law” refers to here. It is not clear to me that there is any relevant law to stick to. Anyway, ACI says that, if the Episcopal Church does not coöperate with the Communion, then it cannot complain if it is judged to have “walked apart,” and it recommends that our church “call their bluff,” referring to people who seem determined not to be satisfied. Again, of course, there is the problem of who has to be satisfied.

Fourthly: Those most insistent that ECUSA comply fully are not applying the same stringency in relation to TWR’s other main recommendations, notably the cross-boundary interventions by some in the Global South.

ACI has a long explanation of why diocesan boundary crossings are not the indignity many think them to be. If communion implies mutual accountability, however, why should the Episcopal Church not insist on a moratorium on any parish within the bounds of an Episcopal diocese coming under the authority of any bishop of another province? The Special Commission should, perhaps, be asked this question.

Fifthly: Even if ECUSA at GC fails to respond fully and unambiguously to TWR, the trajectory of ECUSA’s response to Windsor is clearly strongly in the right direction and so it would be wrong to then penalise them.

The whole premise of the ACI essay begins to seem silly by this point. The essay is countering arguments “that have been advanced in various circles,” although no details or citations are offered. The ACI argument is of the “on one hand ... on the other hand” variety. Most notably, however, the essay points to the scolding of the House of Bishops by the Bishop of Exeter regarding the inadequacy of the “exercise very considerable caution” language of Resolution A161 Election of Bishops. (Episcopal bishops are said to have been alarmed, rather than incensed by this.) Is it really proper to treat our church like a wayward child? General Convention should do what it is going to do and take the consequences, whatever they may be. Our constitutional slowness in responding to rapidly changing situations is rightly pointed out by the ACI. We probably have the best polity we can afford. In the short run, in any case, it is what it is. Perhaps General Convention should give advice to the House of Bishops and Executive Council, suggesting what they should do in various circumstances that might arise. This would, I suspect, make a very interesting topic of discussion in Columbus.

Sixthly: This call ‘to exercise very considerable caution’ is the best that can be gained from GC because the structure of ECUSA’s polity means GC lacks authority in relation to the process of ‘the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops’.

The ACI spends a whole page on this one. I do no think the argument the ACI is trying to refute actually holds much water. Apparently, the Special Commission considered an outright moratorium and rejected the idea, not, apparently, because it considered such a move unlawful or ineffective.

Seventhly: As ‘actions speak louder than words’ and in practice 'extreme caution' means that it won't happen again this level of commitment should be acceptable to the wider Communion for as long as such caution is shown.

(Does any native American speaker use the word “seventhly”?) I wonder if the ACI is not fighting a straw man here (should I have said “straw person”?). Nevertheless, Resolution A161 is surely going to be one of the most controversial resolutions, and it is difficult to defend against the charge that the proposal from the Special Commission is disingenuous. More straightforward would be for us to say that we will not implement a moratorium but that we will urge Episcopalians not to elect gay bishops simply to make a point. What veto power do we get in return over, say Nigerian bishops? Can we demand a moratorium on bishops in other provinces who think women should not be ordained? If communion is to mean anything, should we not speak plainly to one another and dispense with the winks and nods. The Anglican tendency to hid the truth behind weasel words should be subjected to serious theological scrutiny. I suspect that one could make a case for minimizing it in Christian dialog.

Eighthly: The proposed resolution on pastoral care and DEPO should be sufficient for those who remain unhappy with ECUSA’s actions or who wish for stronger commitment to TWR’s proposals.

The ACI seems not especially fond of DEPO: “Many parishes committed to the Communion and TWR who find their bishop is not willing to accept TWR in full will find it difficult to receive his or her pastoral care or even, in some cases, recognise his or her jurisdiction.” I am perplexed that willingness to accept a complex and controversial report “in full” can be considered adequate justification for having nothing to do with one’s local bishop. Am I missing something here? The Episcopal Church is being asked to submit to the “authority” of the Anglican primates who, in fact, have no authority over our church, yet Episcopalians are expected to reject the legitimate authority of their bishop simply because he or she does not hold a committee report in reverence?

The ACI concludes its piece with speculation on what will happen if the response from the Episcopal Church “falls short.” (It will, in the eyes of some, of course.) Because this section is largely speculative, I will not say much about it. The last paragraph, however, is chilling:

Alongside this ways could perhaps also be found of assisting more orderly differentiation within ECUSA. Recognising the centrality of the diocese within Anglican structures, diocesan conventions and bishops could be encouraged to take on board the full requirements of TWR and walk the painful path of reconciliation. If this were to happen then it would allow the Communion greater clarity in distinguishing within ECUSA between those committed to TWR and those who are satisfied simply with an inadequate response from GC and who, in many cases, are committed to follow what they believe is a prophetic path in disregard for Communion teaching and the disciplines of interdependent life in communion.

This is nothing short of a threat to divide and conquer the Episcopal Church, arguably the result desired by the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes. The willingness of elements of the Anglican Communion to resort to such unprecedented and extra-legal tactics hardly encourages the move toward a more thoroughgoing “autonomy-in-communion.”


Previous: “Communion,” Once More with Feeling by Christopher Wells
Resolutions for What Sort of Communion? or Against Craftiness! by Christopher Wells

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