After Lambeth 1998 a complex procedure of consultation, reference and reconciliation was created under the broad heading of the “Windsor process”. Despite original intentions, it has been given a quasi-legal status, with the Primates taking upon themselves the role of judge and arbiter in developments in the Anglican Communion.
As part of the process, the Joint Standing Committee (JSC) was created, to consider responses by national churches which came into the Windsor ambit. The Joint Standing Committee has found that the Episcopal Church (TEC) has fully met the requests made of it by the Windsor Report and subsequently.
We are unable to understand how the conservative groups who are objecting both to the TEC statement and the JSC can justify their position.
These groups led the field in turning the Windsor report into a quasi-legal document. They consistently demanded that TEC follow the structures created after Lambeth 1998. TEC has done so. The Instruments of Unity have been brought into play. A response has been produced which is both generous and sacrificial. The TEC Bishops have been careful to follow the procedure laid out, despite the fact that it was imposed without their consent.
The eruption of complaint and objection can be ascribed to only one thing: the conclusions reached are not those the conservatives would have wished. They therefore wish either to change the structures, by demanding an extra Primates’ meeting; or to sabotage the Instruments of Unity by refusing their invitations to Lambeth.
It’s important to be clear. Many of those who are objecting to the JSC’s report want nothing less than the destruction of traditional, classical, broad Anglicanism. They will be satisfied only with the expulsion of TEC from the Communion, and the re-creation of the Church of England as a quasi-Calvinist, narrow sect. The intention behind the imposition of the Windsor process was, for them, to enable this to happen; as it hasn’t, they make further demands.
The sense behind calling another Primates’ meeting completely escapes us. A majority of Primates support the direction the Communion is taking at the moment - towards listening and mutual comprehension and away from narrow exclusion. For two reasons – either because they are committed to an inclusive church, or because they have much more important things on their mind – poverty, starvation and war, for instance. The last meeting of the Primates was, because of the behaviour of the Archbishop of Nigeria, nearly a fiasco. A vocal minority would not, this time, be allowed to dictate terms to the Communion.
Similarly regarding the Covenant. The Primus of Scotland (one of Inclusive Church’s Patrons) observed recently that the attendance by the Archbishop of the West Indies at extra-provincial consecrations removed any remaining credibility from the Covenant negotiations. It is hard to see how anything meaningful would be gained by extending discussions on the Covenant as proposed.
Some perspective is needed. The moratorium undertaken by TEC could usefully be extended to the conservative groups. We have too much posturing and politicking and too little listening. The responses made have been scarcely biblical; commentators would do well to reflect on Acts 15 and Galatians 3.Conservative groups need, somehow, to find a way to acknowledge that those of us who seek a more inclusive church are motivated by our profound and committed love for Jesus Christ. We seek a deeper understanding of the work of the Spirit in the world, now, today. We are committed to the Gospel as it has been received in our tradition, and we will carry on preaching this Gospel.
Some people – for example, those who have signed the Anglican Communion Institute’s recent statement– appear to have decided to remain within the Communion rather than wandering into the wilderness alongside Anglican Mainstream and “Common Cause”. We welcome their decision. But they should understand that there are consequences which come with that. It is a reasonable expectation that senior clergy – which includes Bishops in the Church of England - will show loyalty to the Archbishop of Canterbury; will accept the results of due process; and will work with those results creatively. The loyalty demonstrated by many of the objectors is at best vestigial.
We hope that the dust will be allowed to settle, and that conservative groups will, sooner rather than later, recognise that a serious and meaningful engagement with their brothers and sisters across the Communion is the only way forward. In the words of the JSC: “The process of mutual listening and conversation needs to be intensified. It is only by living in communion that we can live out our vocation to be Communion.”
Inclusive Church has organised a conference - Drenched in Grace – for 21st – 23rd November 2007 as part of our commitment to a renewed confidence in the Anglican way. Excellent speakers from New Zealand, the US and the UK will address questions of biblical interpretation, tradition and culture. We believe it will be an inspiring conference offering hope to all who celebrate classical Anglican theology. For further information visit www.inclusivechurch.net