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Bench backs Windsor report

THE Church of England’s House of Bishops has backed the Windsor report produced under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Robin Eames.

A response from the Bishops’ theological, and faith and order advisory groups states that there is a “prima facie case” for welcoming the Windsor recommendations. It seeks to defend the report against criticisms levelled against it.

This response, signed by the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, and the Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd John Hind, is prefaced by a statement from the whole House of Bishops, signed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. This:

(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;
(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, in the light of the recommendations of the Windsor report; and
(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.

A motion based on these three points will be moved by the Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, who was a member of the Lambeth Commission (which produced the Windsor report), on the Thursday morning of the General Synod’s meeting in London next month.

The Primates’ Meeting is to take place in Belfast the following week.

The House of Bishops says that it recognises that there are “structural issues” to be resolved urgently in relation to the way in which the Anglican Communion expresses its mind. It supports the drawing up of an Anglican Covenant, and commends an “enhanced and properly resourced role” for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In responding to the Windsor report, say Dr Nazir-Ali and Bishop Hind, the Church of England needs to consider two issues: whether the Church accepts the basic principle of autonomy-in-communion that underlies the report; and whether the report applies the principle reasonably.

The Church of England believes that “the exercise of provincial autonomy has to be exercised consistently with the demands of communion,” says the response. “The existence of a visibly united Church . . . will remain for ever impossible if individual Churches are unwilling to limit the exercise of their own freedom for the good of the Church as a whole.”

It is clear that “the actions of ECUSA and the diocese of New Westminster did constitute a repudiation of decisions taken by the representatives of the Communion as a whole,” says the response.

Although the US Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Frank Griswold, had declared that the consecration of Gene Robinson would “tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level”, yet “he went on to preside at the consecration the following month.” If these actions were regarded as acceptable, they would render the principle of autonomy-in-communion meaningless, says the Nazir-Ali/Hind response. “This would mean that in principle any Church, or indeed any group within a Church, was free to take whatever action it saw fit without reference to anyone else.”

Those who had intervened across provincial and diocesan boundaries also knew that successive Lambeth Conferences had resolved against this, and they had therefore also violated the principle of autonomy-in-communion. The Windsor report therefore also had to criticise this, in order to be even-handed, say the Bishops; but they quote Professor Oliver O’Donovan in support of the interpretation that the report does not see a “moral equivalence” between the actions of ECUSA and New Westminster, and the actions of those conservative bishops who “went to the aid of beleaguered parishes and dioceses”.

Under the heading “Who pays the price?”, Dr Nazir-Ali and Bishop Hind argue that “feelings of pain [among gay and lesbian Anglicans and their supporters] need to be taken seriously,” but “Any commonly agreed standard of faith or morals is bound to be difficult and even painful for those who disagree with it, and wish to argue for it to be amended.” The struggles that this may involve should not be minimised, but it is a necessary part of “dying to self and rising to a new life lived within the body of Christ”.

The Windsor report allows people to “pursue their case within the constraints of autonomy-in-communion” by seeking to convince the Communion as a whole that change “would constitute growth in harmony with the apostolic tradition as it has been received”. “Unilateral action” is not the proper way forward.

Acceptance of the Windsor recommendations also implies listening to gay and lesbian people; not demonising them; and continuing to study the issues, they say.

If the Windsor recommendations are rejected, a better approach than that implied in the report might be “restorative discipline”; and this might also require “adequate episcopal oversight” to be agreed by the instruments of unity. “The report’s treatment of this issue has been widely regarded as inadequate and needs strengthening.”

Dr Nazir-Ali and Bishop Hind say that the “necessary steps” to be taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury would be to call for the expressions of regret, and the observance of the moratoriums, and to call on all Churches of the Communion to express penitence, seek reconciliation, strengthen the operations of the instruments of communion, and move towards the acceptance of an Anglican Covenant. But a “brief statement” might be of help in the interim.

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