Inclusive Communion – summary of member group responses to the Windsor report

Inclusive Communion
Summary of member group responses to the Windsor report

We welcome the recommendation that the process of Communion-wide dialogue on homosexuality (specified in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference) which has not taken place, should be implemented (¶146).

We welcome the report’s statement that “any demonising of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care”(¶146).

The report recommends that “all those involved in the processes of episcopal appointment, at whichever level, should in future in the light of all that has happened pay proper regard to the acceptability of the candidate to other provinces in our Communion” (¶131). This principle is reciprocal—if other provinces are allowed to veto duly elected gay/lesbian bishops in ECUSA, we must be allowed to veto duly elected bishops who support the persecution of gay and lesbian people.

We do not agree with the Report’s recommendation of a moratorium on the election and consecration of gay/lesbian people to the episcopate (¶134).

We note that the report does not call for a moratorium on the ordination of openly gay/lesbian people to other orders.

We do not agree with the report’s recommended moratorium on same-sex blessings and that bishops who authorized rites for same-sex blessings express regret for their actions or withdraw from representative functions in the Anglican Communion (¶143-144).

The Windsor Report is fundamentally flawed and should be rejected because it makes two erroneous assumptions; that the developments in ECUSA and Canada are illegitimate and that the institutionalised homophobia of the majority of the Communion is acceptable and compatible with Christian faith and teaching.

The report places the onus for repentance in the wrong place, making the victims of abuse and their allies the wrong-doers, compounding the suffering of LGBT Anglicans.

The Windsor report and the response of the House of Bishops of the Church of England (GS1570) is evidence of deep seated homophobia and the moral cowardice of those who hold power within the Communion in asking the victims of that homophobia to pay the price for unity.

Historical failure to listen

Dialogue was first promised in Lambeth 1978, reiterated in 1988 and 1998. The Windsor Report fails to analyse how the near total ignoring of those resolutions outside of the United States and Canada has contributed to the present crisis. Although mentioning these resolutions, the Report lays the blame on the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada for not “consulting” the Communion. Yet it is the Communion leadership that has broken the promise to begin a conversation twenty-six years ago. The Communion has been broken because we have broken promises about listening to each other. It should be no surprise that twenty-six years of broken promises have produced broken communion. The only way to heal the brokenness is by holy listening, not by strengthening authority as the Windsor Report suggests.

The ECUSA Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns and other interim bodies have travelled extensively in the Communion and reported what they have heard to the General Convention. We have heard the objections to our actions thoroughly and clearly. Those objecting showed almost no evidence that they had allowed themselves to be exposed to the evidence that had changed our own hearts and led us to reverse our policies, namely the witness of God’s love in the lives of lesbian and gay Christians.

Reception

The Windsor report identifies the Anglican Communion’s decision making process as including reception (para 68). There is no mechanism to establish whether reception has occurred. Lambeth 1998 1:10 has not been received in the wider Anglican Communion in its entirety. In some provinces the recommendations regarding the ordination of LGBT people and the blessing of unions has not been received. In others, the listening and loving part has not been received. The agreement of a majority of bishops or primates is not of itself and indication that Reception has occurred.

Matters relating to the ordination of women and the nature of Christian marriage are issues that the Anglican church has agreed can be decided by provinces, even though they clearly relate to Communion-wide standards, unity and good order. Why should not other issues, such as the consecration of an openly gay bishop, be viewed in the same way?

Centralism versus diversity and interdependence

In historic Anglicanism, provinces have respected the geographical and theological integrity of other provinces who have decided after due deliberation that in all conscience they need to pioneer and embody in their own church life their own deepest convictions.

The bonds that hold us together in the Communion have never been juridical, but rather bonds of affection. The danger of a more centralised church with a clearer set of rules and the power to enforce them is that it might become less free and more coercive. It could achieve uniformity at the expense of conviction and conscience.

We do not understand how Communion can be conceptualised by Christians as something which can be impaired and how there can be degrees of communion.

The experience of the Scottish Episcopal Church is that Covenants can be used, and are used, to exclude and even to persecute. This makes us wary of any attempt to use a Covenant as a means to hold the Anglican Churches together. People in Scotland often resent what they perceive as interference from England. Many are suspicious of any proposals to enhance the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Scottish Episcopal Church does not have archbishops. It has far less of a hierarchical structure than the Church of England. Scots would resist attempts to reassert models of hierarchy which have already been rejected. Within the College of Bishops, autonomy is understood to lie with individual bishops within their own dioceses.

Moral issues to be decided at Provincial level

The importance of local context is essential to decision making. The Communion needs to apply theological methods and biblical reflection from parts of the world church which have emphasised liberation as a key theme in mission. As we would not presume to impose the priorities and practises of one part of the Anglican Communion on any other Province, the attempted imposition of the cultural norms of other parts of the world on us is equally inappropriate.

We are concerned that strengthening the Instruments of Unity will create a mechanism to divide the church and will not necessarily bring them closer together. Creating new Instruments of Unity may simply result in the creation of new opportunities for the same bitter debates which have characterised the Anglican Churches’ dealing with issues of human sexuality.

Diversity of opinion and practice

Diversity of opinion and practice within Anglicanism must be legitimately allowed on every moral issue. Factions within the Communion must not push it too far in adopting principles or practices that permanently exclude other emphases and integrities.

ECUSA – a response to the Spirit

ECUSA and the Diocese of New Hampshire see their actions as responses to the Spirit – as prophetic signs witnessing to the care Anglicans ought to have for all its members, including gays. American and Canadian Anglicans have a deeply held belief that the Christian tradition has been unjust and discriminatory towards homosexual people.

Integrity stands with the bishops of the Episcopal Church who participated in the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire and who have authorized rites for blessing same-sex relationships for use in their dioceses. We are convinced that these actions are in keeping with the Gospel. We hope that these bishops will also be part of a Communion-wide dialogue on these issues, and given the opportunity to explain the theological reasons for their positions. We stand with Bishop Gene Robinson who was elected, confirmed, and consecrated in accordance with canon law in the Diocese of New Hampshire. We are confident that Bishop Robinson will not be excluded from the councils of the Communion.

Ethics

We long to be able to contribute within our church to the theological work that is currently needed to formulate appropriate ethics for gay people within the church. We do not believe that God expects different ethical standards for laity and clergy or the different orders of ministry.

Integrity supports the Windsor recommendation that provinces considering same-sex blessings should “engage the Communion in continuing study of biblical and theological rationale for and against such unions” (¶145). The Windsor Report criticises the US and Canada for not doing its theological homework. That is not true. We have an extensive body of theological work. The Windsor Report says that the Episcopal Church should provide much more rationale to support its decisions. The Presiding Bishop has appointed a theological Task Force to respond to this request.

Scripture

The Windsor Report relies heavily on Pauline and pseudo-Pauline biblical material. This has led to a particular view of the experience of the early church. We would welcome reflection on the Johannine texts in the New Testament, especially on the concept of ‘abiding in love’ as a model for the life together of the people of God.

We believe that God is a higher authority than scripture.

We believe the Anglican tradition embraces Hooker’s famous three-legged stool illustration emphasising our appeal to scripture, tradition and reason.

We discover as we read the scriptures that hypocrisy is condemned with much greater force than homosexuality by the biblical witnesses.

No place for lesbian and gay people in the church

The logic of those who say that gay behaviour is incompatible with any form of Christian discipleship is that all gays should be debarred from the sacraments, including baptism and confirmation as well as ordination, and leave the Church. Those who are gay and those who believe in justice for gays will either realign themselves with another part of Anglicanism, or leave.

Civil partnerships

Within months in the UK gay couples will be able to register their relationships in new Civil Partnerships, raising questions to which our churches will need to find answers. Will the Scottish Episcopal Church attempt to evade its legal obligations towards pension rights for the partners of members of the laity and members of the clergy who are members of the church pension scheme. Some couples entering such a partnership will look to the church to mark this moment yet the church is unprepared for this mission opportunity.

Mission

We recognise in the person of Jesus Christ someone who practised a radical hospitality, challenging religious and societal norms in his life and mission. The struggle for justice is integral to Christ’s mission and activity on earth. This includes the need to fully affirm and incorporate the experience and witness of God’s gay and lesbian children in both church and society.

Being an inclusive church is fundamental to the mission of the Scottish Episcopal Church. If that inclusivity is challenged or diminished the very fabric of our church would be damaged.

The work of the Spirit and sexual sin

The Spirit may be disturbing and challenging us to re-think our traditional categories of what constitutes sexual sin and Godly sexual behaviour in a way that is deeply uncomfortable and unsettling, but which may lead to a richer understanding of the Gospel and a more humane and compassionate church.

Process of listening and dialogue

We recommend the development of a process that will enable true dialogue on these issues. We hope that such conversation will not only be about homosexuality, but with gay and lesbian Anglicans. The members of Integrity USA will make themselves available to share their faith stories with their sisters and brothers throughout the Communion.

The report calls for a Communion-wide discernment process about the nature of the Gospel and the nature of the Church given the contexts of our varied interpretations of the Scriptures, our differing approaches to Anglican tradition, and the complex realities in which the various provinces of the Communion live. It is essential that this conversation occurs and in such a manner that all the people of God who are members of this Communion can fully participate.

There is a wide variation across the communion of the ability of lesbian and gay Anglicans to participate, from the USA, where LGBT people are visible and generally welcome, through England, where many lesbian and gay Anglicans are reluctant to identify themselves, to Nigeria, where all but a tiny minority of lesbian and gay people are hidden and live in denial of their own sexual identity.

We believe the Communion needs to do two things to enable lesbian and gay Anglicans to contribute to the process of listening and dialogue:

Make resources available

Authorise individuals or groups

How to conduct the conversation

We do not know how to carry on a productive conversation when others refuse to listen to us. This is why gay and lesbian response to the Windsor Report has been relatively muted. No one has been listening and when given the chance, the very people charged with listening have refused to do so. The first step in an honest and potentially productive process of repairing the Communion has to be the honest recognition of where the Communion itself, and, in particular, the “Instruments of Unity” have failed.

We need a period of getting to know one another again, of talking together about the deep things of the gospel, meeting at all levels in the church.

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