COMMENTS ON THE WINDSOR REPORT - NUMBER TWO
In Part One I looked at the New Testament word ‘adiaphora’ raised in section 87 onwards of the Windsor Report. I suggested that the concept was important, as pointed out in the Windsor Report, but that it was not quite such an open and shut case as might be assumed by some. In fact I suggested that the word might easily be applied to homosexuality itself.
In this article I want to take a more comprehensive look at the possible interpretations of this long Report. It is still early days and these comments must therefore be incomplete. The Report has been described as ‘nuanced’ and I find that new aspects arise at every fresh reading! It is of note too that the study of Canon Law (Section 113) is ongoing but may report soon. This is proposed as a fifth ‘instrument of unity’ and will also affect the situation. I want to try to strip out some of the essential elements of the Report and look at the possible outcome of some of the recommendations. In doing this I lay myself open to the charge of being over-simplistic. Well, maybe so, but perhaps that is better than the alternative and I reserve my right to come back to any aspect with new thoughts!
Let us start by assuming that neither of those on the two sides of the argument will find that they can move their position sufficiently to accommodate the other. Some stand on ‘biblical truth’ (I shall refer to them as the biblical truth group). On the other side there are those who think more liberally and I will therefore call these the liberals, despite the fact that the term ‘liberal‘ has become almost a term of denigration for some people! Neither of the two groups is going to budge one inch! Both hold to their views strongly. Both believe that there is a lot to lose if they yield in any way.
Accepting that this is the case, let us ask a simple question: how is it proposed in the Windsor Report that, henceforth, questions of disagreement shall be decided? This is really the essence of the problem because, clearly, the biblical truth group are unhappy to continue in the same relationship with those sections of the church that accept gay people as normal Christians. I note in passing that, although the liberal group could continue with the present position, it also is not really happy with the way the Church is compromising with what it sees as the Gospel of Christ.
So the question is: how will the matters in dissention be decided for these two groups if the proposals of the Windsor Report are followed? Will one side stay and the other leave? Or will neither or both leave?
So we come back to the question: if these two groups on different sides of the debate can no longer live together, how is it proposed they are going to decide the matter? We must note here that the manner in which the decision is made - the method employed - quite apart from the decision itself, may well decide which group stays in and which departs. Clearly, if the solution to be decided upon by the Primates in February is processed in one way then it may be that the biblical truth group will depart. If the solution decided by the Primates in February is processed in a different way then the Provinces of USA and Canada may decide to leave.
Does it matter which way it goes - which one leaves and which one stays? Either way it adds up to schism. The only alternative is that both stay either because a middle way is found or because nothing at all is finally decided. That is always a possibility - for example, if the decision making process becomes so convoluted that it would take years before there can be any resolution of the matter.
One way in which it may matter which way the decision goes is because there is the always the possibility that a Province that is evicted by the world wide Communion might have more of a problem in any subsequent battle in the Courts in its own country (or elsewhere) in any dispute with opposing congregations or others about the assets of the various churches and dioceses involved.
So what form will the decision process take if the recommendations of the Windsor Report are followed?
The Windsor Report rejects any idea of a centralisation in the form of a Supreme Authority (for example, a Pope or Curia) - Section 42.
Instead it is suggested that the authority and standing of the Archbishop of Canterbury should be enhanced, and further advisory groups formed to help him in his task of being the focus point for the whole Communion (Sections 105-117). In addition it is suggested that all Provinces of the Church worldwide commit themselves to a Covenant (Section 118). That Covenant would then establish what is required to be a member of the world wide Communion. The obvious corollary is that if any Province in the opinion of the other Provinces steps outside the terms of that covenant without repenting, it will be deemed to desire separation from the world wide Communion.
That is obviously essential if you are trying to tighten up the boundaries so that all the Provinces move together and do not go off doing things on their own which upset the other Provinces!
That Covenant would not be a static thing - it would presumably change from time to time as the mind of the Communion moved.
The way that Communion would make its decisions would be by some form of voting or consensus. Presumable the value of the vote of each Province would be weighted according to the number of members of the Province. Thus Provinces such as Nigeria would have a heavy voting power and small Provinces would have correspondingly less voting power.
If the Covenantal body voted that certain Provinces be disciplined, and if those Provinces did not fall into line, then clearly there would be a penalty. Eventually that would result in banishment from the Communion.
If setting up such a Covenant agreeable to all Provinces, required, say, ten years, then the Provinces in the biblical truth group might well decide they cannot wait and depart, setting up their own world wide Communion.
The refusal of either side to move towards reconciliation is seen by the Report as a kind of stalemate - resulting in inevitable schism (Section 157). This would presumably mean the effectual separation of the different parties in the world wide church. As this would be a completely new situation, we are on uncharted ground and there is no saying how the matter would then go forward (Section 157).
In the Report there is no demand for an apology for the appointing of a gay bishop - only for the distress it has caused. There is no demand that same sex blessings be stopped - only that the public rite and new liturgies for same sex unions be suspended. There is no acceptance of the intrusion of African (or any other) Archbishops onto American territory - they are asked to express regret for what they have done. Although the Windsor Report does not seem to lend itself to setting up a process to evict the ‘erring’ Provinces, the effect of a covenantal relationship to which all Provinces are committed would seem to have that effect.
The fact that all Provinces would have to agree to join in such a Covenant may seem to let the ‘erring’ Provinces off the hook - if they don’t join then surely they cannot be disciplined by the others. However, I think that is too simple an approach. If in due course all the other Provinces agreed the wording of a Covenant and want to join in it, then it would be very hard for the USA and Canada to stand out against it. In effect they would be seen by their action as placing themselves outside the world wide Communion. They might be ostracised as uncooperative and unwilling to join in fellowship and amity with the rest of the world wide church.
Looking at the position overall, and leaving aside the idea of following of the Roman Catholic pattern, it seems to me that there are, broadly, three different groups of solution that are possible if schism is to be avoided. Each group has within itself several possible variations.
1 The first possible group of solutions means that we continue much the same as we are. I call this the federalist approach. It means that the full autonomy/independence of each Province which has operated hitherto would continue. Each Province would go its own way but give more attention to attempting to remain in unity with the other Provinces. All would participate in the various world wide events such as the Lambeth Conferences. I lean towards this approach, though I can see the value of some of the suggestions made in the Windsor Report, such as having advisory groups.
2 The second possible system is to have some mechanism whereby some new body decides what shall be the rules and regulations for the whole world wide Communion and enforces those ultimately under pain of expulsion from the group. I call this the democratic approach. This solution seems to be the one favoured by the Windsor Report - it puts a specimen of the sort of covenant proposed in its Appendix. It has a certain logic, because clearly the decisions of the body could be made ‘democratic’ by paying regard (in the voting powers) to the numbers of members of the various Provinces. This would probably mean that the Province with the highest membership would hold sway in the councils and be able to strongly influence, if not actually force through, the decisions about who and what is acceptable.
3 The third possible system can only be described as the indeterminate approach. In effect this is an attempt to temporise. It might equally be called a ‘muddling along approach’! It would decide not to define boundaries clearly, nor have clear voting rights in the highest councils. Although not a ‘fudge’ (as a fudge would depend on ambiguity or misunderstanding for effect), it would work by delay and compromise. It would be parallel to the way the Church of England has been managed to date. It would attempt to satisfy all parties as much as possible, although it might finish up satisfying none! Although this may seem a very unsatisfactory system it has one great merit. It enables huge problems - such as the one now engaging the Communion - to be pondered, discussed and deliberated about for a long period of time - in fact, as long as the two main groups (which, above, I have labelled the biblical truth and the liberals) are prepared to tolerate the situation. In other words, everyone steps back from the radical move to schism in order to go on exploring the way forward for a compromise.
Having looked at what I see as the essence of the Windsor Report, I now want to offer some purely personal views.
Personally, I deplore the idea that boundaries and rules and regulations should be brought in for the world wide Anglican Communion. I believe that maximum flexibility should always be preserved. Everything will hinge on the Primates Meeting next February and it is to be hoped that they will draw back from taking the legalistic route (the ‘democratic’ route - number two above).
There are two reasons why I think that this route of enforcing ‘orthodoxy’ (of doctrine and practice) is wrong.
The first is that in fact you can never define for all time what is right and wrong. Life changes from generation to generation and from century to century. While the message of the Creation and Salvation are there for all time set out in the bible, our moral and spiritual grasp of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is never final. I believe that there is the danger of ossification for the churches if you try to define limits and make Provinces stick to them. Some activities in life can be controlled by a detailed rule book - in my opinion the world wide Anglican Church is not one of them.
The second reason I think that it is wrong is that, inevitably, it introduces the idea of democracy into the inner councils of the church. Democracy means that we count votes. Probably they will count votes on the basis of the membership in each Province. In the last analysis, therefore, the churches with the most members will carry most sway in the decision making. That is a very dangerous way of going forward. There is a danger of proceeding at the speed of the slowest. It is not the way of the Kingdom. Democracy may be the best way we have yet found for organizing society - I do not believe, however, that it is the best way for managing a church or a Province. We must allow for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That, in my opinion, is the vital difference between the methodology of the Kingdom of God and that of the world.
So there it is. If the world wide Provinces decide to define their orthodoxy in the way proposed, sooner or later there will be the equivalent of a witch hunt. The churches with the majority of members will dominate, irrespective of the depth of their spiritual insight, their maturity as churches, their experience or lack of it. Those not conforming to the rules and regulations laid down by the majority will be excluded and expelled. Of course, those remaining will say that the expelled churches have chosen to go their own way. But that will not be true. They will have been excluded by a majority who have decided to impose their view of what should be believed and done.
I do accept that the idea of a Christian organisation not defining its boundaries clearly for all to see does seem to be problem for certain people. But I believe we need an open, Spirit-led, accepting approach to problems rather than a legalistic, regulated approach. Fundamentalism is much more an attitude of mind and heart, rather than a doctrine. I will have to return to this aspect in a further article.
The world wide Anglican Church is indeed at a turning point. Either it will choose to go down the road of control, regimentation and management, or it will decide to allow free rein provided the Provinces continue to travel broadly together. We neither need nor want international structures to undermine the very essence of Anglicanism.
Certainly lessons have to be learned from recent events. In the present dispute it must be freely admitted that the USA and Canadian Provinces failed to carry their sister Provinces along with them sufficiently before they took the decisive action they did take when they elected Bishop Gene Robinson. They did not need full agreement, but they did need to engage with their fellow Christians before they proceeded. They have, we can be sure, learnt that lesson. There are also valuable suggestions regarding the enhancing the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury and providing him with groups which can help prevent the sort of debacle we have at present. There is much valuable material and many challenging suggestions in the Windsor Report - we all have to continue to study and pray about it as we seek God’s way forward.