The Windsor report gives Changing Attitude powerful encouragement to go on engaging with the Anglican Communion, presenting the rich experience of lesbian and gay people and our need to be treated as equals. Archbishop Robin Eames reminded the Communion that we have live in relationship with one another across our differences.
The report reprints the texts of resolutions from the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988 and 1998 dealing with homosexuality. The first two refer to the need for ‘deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality’ and encouraged dialogue with those who are homosexual. The 1998 resolution ‘requested the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us’ and ‘to listen to the experience of homosexual persons’. No action has been taken across the Communion since 1976 to put these resolutions into effect. All three Resolutions apply at this time, said Robin Eames – but the debate called for in ‘78, ‘88 and ‘98 still has to happen.
The Windsor report provides powerful encouragement for this process to begin, now. Section 146 reminds ‘all in the Communion that Lambeth resolution 1.10 calls for the ongoing process of listening and discernment, and that Christians of good will need to be prepared to engage honestly and frankly with each other on issues relating to human sexuality’.
Later, the same section ‘recognises that debate on this issue cannot be closed whilst sincerely but radically different positions continue to be held across the Communion‘. It ‘urges Provinces to be pro-active in support of the call of Lambeth Resolution 64 (1988) for them to “reassess, in the light of … study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude towards persons of homosexual orientation”’.
Section 145 urges ‘all provinces that are engaged in processes of discernment regarding the blessing of same sex unions to engage the Communion in continuing study of biblical and theological rationale for and against such unions’.
The way in which the report is received and the action that individual bishops and Provinces choose to take will determine whether the Communion now has the confidence to begin this dialogue.
The report does not demand the expulsion of the Episcopal Church in the United States, as had been widely expected (and desired by conservatives) nor the resignation of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Any recommendation that the church should institute a course of discipline and punishment would have been problematic, said Robin Eames. He said emphatically, that punishment should not be imposed but we should behave as mature Christians. Although the report suggests that ECUSA might issue an expression of regret for actions breaking the bonds of affection, “we should put our common life together first under God“.
The report recommends the creation of a new Council of Advice for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the creation and adoption of an Anglican Covenant. The Covenant would make ‘explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection … between the churches of the Communion’ and deal with matters of common identity, relationships, commitments and the management of Communion affairs. Robin Eames seemed open about the possibility of this or some alternative structure coming into being. It will take a number of years to formulate and agree. Meanwhile, whatever future innovations might be brought before the Covenant for discernment and decision, parts of the Communion are already ordaining women priests and bishops, although this is not yet received even by a majority of Provinces within the Communion. Some Provinces, not only ECUSA and Canada, are already ordaining both lesbian and gay priests and bishops, including some who are partnered. The only difference following Gene Robinson’s ordination is that one Province has now done this openly and through due canonical process.
At the press conference in the crypt of St Paul’s, Archbishop Robin Eames said that the report is not the ultimate answer but points the way ahead. Reconciliation cannot be achieved at the expense of truth. It places responsibility on both sides. Changing Attitude accepts the need to understand the very different practical and pastoral requirements needed for the church in a Province such as Nigeria, where the cultural and social norms are very different from the UK. We will hope that within the positive expectations of the report, Provinces for which lesbian and gay sexuality does not at present seem to be a live issue, will understand that for us, it is. The Church of England needs to continue working towards full inclusion for lesbian and gay people, lay and ordained, including the blessing of our relationships and the ordination of clergy living in committed same-sex relationships.
There was one more powerful emphasis from Robin Eames at the press conference – he stated with great emphasis that there is no room for homophobia within the church. Parts of our Communion need help in understanding how they are being homophobic – prejudiced in their attitudes towards lesbian and gay people – when they think they are expressing fundamental Christian truths.
We now have to wait and see how the church implements the recommendations of the Windsor report. Changing Attitude has been given a powerful new mandate to bring our expertise, wisdom and personal experience to those Provinces opposed to the full inclusion of lesbian and gay people. We have the resources to help facilitate the deep and dispassionate study and dialogue called for at Lambeth 1978. We will do this working with Inclusive Church in the UK, and with our sister organisations in America, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Uganda.