The Windsor Report 2004

Illness: The surface symptoms

  1. The precedent that could have been set by this procedure has not, unfortunately, been followed in the matters currently before the Communion. This, we conclude, lies at the heart of the problems we currently face. Before we offer some diagnosis of our situation, we must summarise the presenting symptoms.

  2. Two sets of interrelated questions have arisen in several provinces of the Communion: whether or not it is legitimate for the church to bless the committed, exclusive and faithful relationships of same sex couples, and whether or not it is appropriate to ordain, and/or consecrate to the episcopate, persons living in a sexual relationship with a partner of the same sex. These matters are highly sensitive and emotionally charged, and come in the wake of various other related debates in the Communion, in relation (for instance) to polygamy and to the remarriage of divorced persons. Experimentation with blessings of same sex relationships had begun as early as 1973 within North America. Granted that local churches are often best placed to respond to pastoral needs within their own context and to understand the issues that arise in their particular culture, no part of the church can ignore its life in communion with the rest. What is done in one place can and does affect all. In March 2003, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA), when considering the question of the ordination of unmarried, non-celibate persons, heterosexual or homosexual, offered for study and reflection by the Episcopal Church (USA) these words from the report of its Theology Committee:
    “Sexual discipline and holiness of life must be very serious considerations for bishops, Standing Committees, and Commissions on Ministry as they discern what constitutes “a wholesome example to all people” (BCP 544). We affirm the responsibility of Dioceses to discern and raise up fit persons for the ministry of word and sacrament to build up the body of Christ in that place. We call on bishops and Standing Committees to be respectful of the ways in which decisions made in one Diocese have ramifications on others. We remind all that ordination is for the whole Church.” [4]
  3. The strong reaction across the Communion to synodical decisions taken in the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster has confirmed the Episcopal Church's fears, and undercuts any argument that such decisions are purely local.

  4. In the context of continuing debate, the Lambeth Conference discussed matters relating to homosexuality and issued resolutions in 1978 and 1988[5]. At the Conference of 1998, extensive study and discussion by one subsection produced a report, following which a resolution was debated and eventually passed by the vast majority of bishops as Resolution 1.10[6]. There has been some controversy about the way in which this resolution was arrived at and voted upon. But the primates unanimously upheld the resolution as the standard of Anglican teaching on the matter in their statement of October 16, 2003:
    “We also re-affirm the resolutions made by the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on issues of human sexuality as having moral force and commanding the respect of the Communion as its present position on these issues.”[7]
    This statement was in harmony with the position adopted by the primates to issues of human sexuality in their Pastoral Letter following their meeting in Gramado in May 2003[8]. This commitment to Lambeth Resolution 1.10 as the current position of the Anglican Communion was also reflected in a letter written to the primates by Archbishop Rowan Williams on the announcement of his nomination to the See of Canterbury[9]. In the years following the Lambeth Conference the Archbishop of Canterbury invited a small number of bishops from around the Communion for International Conversations on Human Sexuality, which set a high standard for how these matters could be discussed in charity and with reason.

  5. It should be clearly understood that this Commission has not been asked to continue this conversation, nor comment on or reconsider either the Lambeth Resolution or the Primates' Statement. Further serious Communion-wide discussion of the relevant issues is clearly needed as a matter of urgency, but that is not part of our mandate.

  6. Nevertheless, the primates singled out synodical actions that have been taken in one diocese and one province which have gone against both the letter and the spirit of the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference, reiterated, as they are, by the Primates' Meeting. The synod of the Diocese of New Westminster has requested the Bishop to provide and authorise a public Rite of Blessing for same sex unions; the Bishop has complied, and such services have gone ahead. The Episcopal Church (USA) has given its consent to, and proceeded with the consecration of, the person elected as Bishop of New Hampshire, a divorced man openly acknowledged to be living in a sexually active and committed same sex relationship, despite the primates describing that forthcoming consecration as one which might “tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level”[10]. The same General Convention which gave consent to this election also decided to allow experimentation with public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions[11]. Many of those which have begun to be celebrated are similar to those authorised in New Westminster. We should also note that, after this Commission had already been set up, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada passed a resolution affirming “the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships”[12]. Further details of these developments are given later in this Report at paragraphs 137-139.

  7. The overwhelming response from other Christians both inside and outside the Anglican family has been to regard these developments as departures from genuine, apostolic Christian faith. Granted, some churches in other denominations have made provision, or are considering making such provision, for the ordination of persons in sexually active same-sex relationships, offering arguments based on modern scientific proposals about sexual attraction, and corresponding, in their proposals, to changes and innovations in civil law in some of the relevant countries[13]. But condemnation has come from the Russian Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, as well as a statement from the Roman Catholic church that such moves create “new and serious difficulties” to ecumenical relationships[14]. Within our own Communion, some eighteen of the thirty-eight provinces of the Anglican Communion, or their primates on their behalf, have issued statements which indicate, in a variety of ways, their basic belief that the developments in North America are “contrary to biblical teaching” and as such unacceptable[15].

  8. Unfortunately, reaction has not been confined to statements of disagreement and opposition. Three elements of the reaction need to be noted as they themselves are now part of the problem we face:

    1. Several provinces and dioceses in the Communion have included in their reactions to developments in New Hampshire, either by primatial announcement or by synodical vote, a declaration that a state of either impaired or broken communion[16] now exists between them and those who have taken the actions in the Episcopal Church (USA) described above[17]. Whilst these declarations may express natural frustrations and conscientious reactions to abnormal circumstances, they have left many Anglicans without a clear sense of who is now in communion with whom (personally and ecclesially). In addition, there are question marks over their ecclesiological legitimacy (for many, they represent an exercise in unilateralism counter to the communion principle of interdependence) as well as the constitutional authority under which some were issued (impaired communion is not a generally recognised canonical category).

    2. Within the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Diocese of New Westminster themselves, several moves have been made by dissenting parishes and groups to distance themselves, in a variety of ways, from the dioceses, bishops and provinces within which they are geographically located. In some cases this has involved them in appealing for help to the Archbishop of Canterbury; in others, in seeking episcopal oversight by bishops or archbishops from other dioceses and/or provinces. In many cases, it has simply meant bewilderment and uncertainty as to the present and future Anglican status of those who dissent to the innovations.

    3. Some Archbishops from elsewhere in the Communion have, both by taking initiatives, and by responding to invitations from clergy purporting to place themselves under their jurisdictions, entered parts of the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada and exercised episcopal functions without the consent of the relevant diocesan bishop. This goes not only against traditional and often-repeated Anglican practice (as reaffirmed most recently by, for example, resolutions at Lambeth 1988 and 1998[18]), but also against some of the longest-standing regulations of the early undivided church (Canon 8 of Nicaea). These actions are not purely reactions to recent events, though that has been their main character. In some cases they build on earlier attempts at unilateral action against bishops whose theology and/or practice was perceived to be out of line with traditional Anglican and Christian teaching, or even to set up would-be “orthodox” structures or “mission churches” for their own sake, e.g. the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA).

  9. By whatever route, all these developments have now contributed materially to a tit-for-tat stand-off in which, tragically in line with analogous political disasters in the wider world, each side now accuses the other of atrocities, and blames the other for the need to react further in turn. These are the problems which have presented themselves to the Communion as a whole; which necessitated a special meeting of the primates in October 2003; and which have resulted in the establishment of the Lambeth Commission. We must now probe deeper to discern the symptoms underlying these problems.