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The General Synod, the Windsor Report and the Primates Meeting
by Simon Sarmiento
Anglicans Online Europe correspondent
20 February 2005

The General Synod of the Church of England met this week. Among other business, it considered the Windsor Report (WR). In doing this, it ignored the questions posed to provinces by the Primates Standing Committee. Instead it considered a very short report prepared by its own House of Bishops. Attached to the latter was a somewhat longer document, containing both analysis and comment, prepared by the Chairs of two other Church of England bodies: the House's own Theological Group and the Council for Christian Unity's Faith and Order Advisory Group.

What did this short report say?

The text of the report is available here. Among other points, the House agreed the following motion:

With the foregoing in mind, the House therefore:

a Affirms the basis of faith and life that binds Anglicans together as set out in paragraphs 1-11 of the Windsor Report and illustrated by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and accepts the basic principle of autonomy-in-communion exercised within the constraints of truth and charity set out in the Report. [note 2]

b Supports the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates in taking all steps necessary to seek to achieve reconciliation by persuading all within the Anglican Communion to comply with the mind of the Communion as expressed by the Instruments of Unity, [note 3] in the light of the recommendations of the Windsor Report.

c Supports the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates in requesting ECUSA and other parts of the Communion that have taken similar decisions to provide for the rest of the Communion the thought-out theological rationale, based on Scripture and Tradition, for the actions that have been taken that has been requested in the past but which so far has not been forthcoming.

Footnotes in the above motion refer to the Windsor Report:

2. See paras 72-86.
3. For these Instruments of Unity see paras 97-104.

These are the only parts of WR mentioned in the report. Perhaps surprisingly, but certainly significantly, there are no references anywhere in the report to any of the other, detailed and specific recommendations of WR, nor are there such references in the motion below.

The text of the appended analysis included in GS1570 is also available here. This text as originally written had been amended in some respects by the House prior to its publication.

What happened at the synod?

The synod debated a motion, proposed by Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, who was the only Church of England voting member of the Lambeth Commission. The motion was very simply worded:

That this Synod

(a) welcome the report from the House (GS 1570) accepting the principles set out in the Windsor Report;

(b) urge the Primates of the Anglican Communion to take action, in the light of the Windsor Report’s recommendations, to secure unity within the constraints of truth and charity and to seek reconciliation within the Communion; and

(c) assure the Archbishop of Canterbury of its prayerful support at the forthcoming Primates’ Meeting.

Tom Wright's speech introducing the debate sets out the bishops' position concerning the Windsor Report, and the forthcoming Primates Meeting, and explained the reasons for the wording of his motion, can and should be read in full.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke in this debate. This speech is so crucial to understanding what is likely to happen next week that, although the full text of his remarks is as usual published on his website, I reproduce most of it below:

One of the questions that has been raised about Windsor and raised about many attempts to confront the present difficulties is one to do with unity and truth. I've become very much accustomed to being accused by both sides in this debate of setting unity before truth. And my dilemma, a dilemma which I suspect is shared by a good many people here, is that I'm not sure as a Christian that I'm wholly able to separate truth from unity. For a Christian I believe that unity is what enables us to discover truth within the body of Christ, not simply truth according to my own preferences, my own intelligence, my own resources, but in the richness of life an understanding that is shared in the body. And part of the agony of the situation we face at the moment has to do with those two things beginning to pull apart form one another.

But I still think that it is important that we must not give way to the temptation to say 'truth would be clear if only some people would go away'. And, once, again, on both sides of the debate, that is what I hearing. 'truth would be clear if only those Neanderthal bigots would go away'… 'truth would be clear if only those servile followers of contemporary culture would go away'. I'm not sure that's true; in fact I'm pretty sure it isn't.

But to say that truth for a Christian is not discovered without unity is not to provide a simple solution to our dilemma. We all know – and this surely was around in some of our discussion yesterday, as a sort of unspoken marginal thought – we all know that there are some moments when the church, or parts of the church, take risks. They speak for a church that which doesn't yet exist, so they believe, out of a conscience informed by scripture and revelation. At the Reformation, our church and many others took that kind of risk. and we have to be candid, in our decision to ordain women to the priesthood we engage in something of that sort of risk. The trouble is, that risk really is risk. You don't and you can't know yet whether it's justified. The church is capable of error and any local church is capable of error, as the Thirty-Nine Articles remind us forcibly. So if one portion of the church decides that it must take a conscientious risk, then there are inevitable results to that. There are consequences in hurt, misunderstanding, rupture and damage. It does us no good to pretend that the cost is not real. So I don’t think it will quite do [to] say, if anyone does really say this, that a risky act ought to have or can have no consequences.

Of course it does and we are dealing with those consequences now. There is when such a risky act is taken that there is or there will be the church's act or decision. We don't know, and meanwhile the effects are serious and they are hurtful. And part of the cost involved in the repercussions of recent events is, I think, that it has weakened if not destroyed the sense that we are actually talking the same language within the Anglican Communion. Rightly or wrongly, and there will be very different views in this chamber on this subject, that has been what has happened. People are no longer confident that we are speaking the same language, appealing to the same criteria in out theological debates. And the deep lost-ness and confusion that arises from that and the anger that arises from that is something that does not in any sense help the long-term health of the body or our search for truth together in the Body.

That applies also our ecumenical discussions and I hope we can bear in mind today the ecumenical dimension of what we say and what we do. Once again the sense of having or not having a common language, a common frame of reference has been one of the casualties of recent events in the communion and there is every indication that that is not going to get better in a hurry.

And it's in the light of all that that I feel I have no choice but to stand by the Windsor Report and a great deal of what it recommends; to stand by the Windsor Report to the extent that it identifies certain actions as having made our common language, our common discourse almost impossibly difficult, and therefore as having made precisely that honest discussion which so many have spoken so movingly already this morning, harder and more remote. An action that appears to foreclose the outcome of a debate or discussion doesn't actually breed confidence in a common language in a common frame of reference. That is my perception and part of, to be candid, the burden that I bear at the moment.

But there are no cost-free decisions, it seems, in the Body of Christ. And our attention has rightly been drawn this morning, and on many other occasions, to another kind of cost. If the acceptance of the recommendations of the of the Windsor report or something similar to them were to be simply a mask, a stalking horse, for prejudice or bigotry, for collusion in violence, then I think the report would have failed, and worse than failed it would have made us less than the body of Christ. These things are flagged in successive Lambeth resolutions and in the report itself. We are not talking about an attempt to repress debate or constrain conscience. We are attempting, I think, to identify what sort of actions appear to pre-empt such discussion and by so doing to destroy the sense of a common language.

It's been said that the Windsor Report is the only game in town. I think that's probably right. I think that there are very difficult decisions ahead of us next week, and I speak as I do this morning simply to underline the fact that there will be no cost-free outcome from this and that bearing that cost together with others in the Anglican Communion is part of what of what we are being called to today and what we ought to be thinking and praying through during this debate. To put it as bluntly as I can, there are no clean breaks in the Body of Christ.

But the final question which I think has to say with us is something like this. What is it for the Church to be a truly counter-cultural community? It may be for the Church to take a firm stand against the erosion of objective morality and biblical truth, indeed I believe that this is part of it. It may be for the Church to act courageously on behalf of those who are oppressed or marginalised – again I believe that is so. But isn't the ultimate distinctive counter-cultural fact about the church our capacity to live sacrificially for the sake of each other? How we do that, Windsor doesn't tell us; only the Holy Spirit does.

After an extensive debate, which was televised in full on the BBC Parliament channel and on the internet, the motion was passed unamended, on a show of hands with very few dissenting. (A request to have the synod vote separately on the three sections of the motion was declined by the chair.) Only one of several proposed amendments drew substantial support, and that was one which sought to add a rather long paragraph seeking to:

…urge the Primates to take practical steps to create a climate of safety within the Churches of the Communion in which lesbian and gay people can speak of their experience and theology without fear of reprisal within those Churches and that will allow voices to be heard across national and provincial boundaries in the Communion, especially in countries where homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment;

The vote on this amendment required a count: AYES 140 NOES 209. It was clear from the debate that many of those voting against it were in fact in support of what it called for, and were simply accepting Tom Wright's plea not to disturb the careful balance of the original wording.

The Church of England's General Synod is now widely regarded as having voted in favour of all the specific recommendations of the Windsor Report, although they have in fact done something quite different: they voted in favour of giving Rowan Williams their unstinting support in whatever course of action he is able to persuade the primates to agree to. This may or may not turn out to be exactly the same as the WR recommendations. The specific WR recommendations hardly figured at all in the course of the debate.

So what happens next?

The 38 primates meet in Northern Ireland for their regular meeting (now annual though none was held in 2004, while the Lambeth Commission worked). At the end of the week, At the end of the meeting, it is expected that the Primates will issue a communiqué, and that a press briefing will be scheduled. The meeting will consider other issues as well as WR but there is only one topic of public interest.

As Rowan Williams said "There will be no cost-free outcome from this... to put it as bluntly as I can, there are no clean breaks in the body of Christ." The question is whether all the primates are prepared to compromise to reach an agreement. Kendall Harmon has recently written (my emphasis added):

“There are… limits to diversity,” says the Windsor Report, and the Anglican Communion has reached them in the current crisis. “These limits are defined by truth and charity” (TWR 86) which together with courageous leadership can enable the honest facing of the depth of the problem with the awesome sacrifice needed by all to enable a solution. The future of the third largest Christian family in the world is at stake.

It remains to be seen whether all the primates will accept this challenge. It is clear, from the English debate and elsewhere, that many moderates believe that participation in serious dialogue on human sexuality by all provinces of the communion, as recommended by the Windsor Report, but also by three successive Lambeth Conferences, is now an imperative. Conservatives are clear that they wish for more specific sanctions on ECUSA and New Westminster in addition to those listed in WR. Many conservative primates have already rejected in strong terms the WR recommendations relating to provincial boundary violations which they have themselves committed.

Within ECUSA itself, the initial responses to WR from ECUSA's House of Bishops and Executive Council do indicate some potential willingness to compromise their conscientiously-held positions. The main concern of conservatives about the WR recommendations is their perception that the Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight provisions offered by ECUSA, which WR strongly endorsed as adequate, are insufficient to protect their consciences. It also appears that liberals in conservative dioceses are equally concerned about what is perceived as intolerance of the full range of Anglican opinions.

But far more compromise from all sides will be needed.

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