In an earlier post today I characterized the reaction of conservative Anglicans (Americans, at any rate) to the sub-group (aka Gang of Four) report on the adequacy of TEC’s response to the Windsor Report as “nervous concern.”
Well, that turns out to be an understatement. It’s more like panicky anger.
Remember when the Windsor Report first came out in 2003? Remember how it was universally panned as toothless, inadequate, over-polite, etc.? Remember the death knells that were sounded for the Anglican Communion because TWR failed to firmly discipline the Episcopal Church? We’re hearing more of that sort of rhetoric today.
Over the course of the last 3+ years, the Windsor Report has been warmly embraced by conservative Anglicans. I believe the same evolution of sentiment can and should take place with respect to the sub-group’s report. (My reflections here arise from a phone conversation I had earlier today with Christopher Wells, and I am grateful for his typically lucid insights.) Here’s why:
- The report reaffirms Lambeth I.10 as the current and foreseeable teaching of the Anglican Communion on human sexual behavior. It is simply accepted as a given. This creates another documentary link in a chain of buttressing affirmations.
- By generously construing B033 as a de facto moratorium on partnered gay bishops, the report effectively “locks in” that understanding as the expectation of the rest of the Communion. There is no wiggle room; the Communion has taken us at our word and believes we have stood down on this. And they will hold us accountable: "The Group feels that the reality of the change of direction that some see in the resolutions of the General Convention can only be tested however by the way in which the Episcopal Church lives out these resolutions."
- The language with respect to the blessing of same-sex relationships is gentle but clear: The response is not satisfactory. To say that General Convention has not authorized such rites begs the question, because the place where such blessings happen is local and specific. So the “Gang” has not been fooled. TEC is not “Windsor-compliant” on that point. Notice that the report is so specific as to close any perceived loophole for the development and use of such rites even at a sub-diocesan level. What does that say about C051 from 2003? It says we’ve exceeded the bounds of the common life of the Communion.
- With respect to “regret” we’ve almost been damned with faint praise. In effect, we’ve been told, “Not quite what we were looking for, but close enough to give you the benefit of the doubt.” With that, we are, once again, locked in.
- By its thoroughness and even-handedness, the report encourages moderate bishops in the Episcopal Church to show their colors and join the
group. I'm talking here about people who would be reluctant to be painted with the “Network” brush, but who share many of the concerns of the Network about the necessity of remaining in communion with Camp Allen . Note in particular this sentence: "It is the duty of the wider Communion to nourish and encourage all those within the Episcopal Church who wish to embrace our common and interdependent life." Commitments like this (should the Primates adopt such language) will make it easier for the eventual realignment to include a much larger slice of TEC than would be inclined to enter any "interim ecclesial body" next week. Canterbury
Taking a medium-term historical view provides an arresting perspective. The center has shifted, and this report is a sign of the shift. A position that once would have been considered explicitly “conservative” in the Anglican universe is, by virtue of the evolved normative authority of the Windsor Report, now seen as middle-of-the-road. Conservatives should be doing back flips over the fact that many liberals in TEC are saying, “Look, told ya so! Two out of three ain’t bad!” when the “two” that we are apparently judged to have gotten right are inherently anathema to the liberal vision. To adapt an expression, “What’s right with this picture?”
So I say to my conservative confreres: Let’s settle down. Things are still breaking our way.