Much Ado About Something

So today was the big day in the Episcopal Church with Archbishop Eames’ Lambeth Commission on Communion Windsor Report being published. With the big debate between “orthodox” Anglicans on the one hand and the “renegade” Episcopal Church in the USA (ECUSA) over the consecration of an openly gay Bishop and parts of the Anglican Church of Canada over blessing same sex unions.

This was meant to be the showdown.

Well, not really. First, it’s an advisory panel, not a judge and jury, and second, in the Anglican Communion a showdown isn’t exactly the Sharks and the Jets. Well, maybe it is, come to think of it, with lots of dancing and a good soundtrack but not much actual blood.

I’m not sure what people expected, but a committee put together to attempt to reconcile two extremes is, by definition, going to end up somewhere in the middle. It is also bound to please neither extreme. Another important thing to bear in mind was that the Commission was not asked to define whether ordaining gay bishops was good, bad or indifferent, merely to explore the impaired nature of communion that occurs when one part of a body acts completely against the desires of another part. So understanding that as a starting point, what did we get?

Here’s what I consider a pretty good summary. But never mind that, here’s my take.

First, ECUSA got slapped on the wrist for ordaining Gene Robinson despite the clear understanding that this would upset a large number of conservative Anglicans around the world. The report calls for an apology, oops, I mean “expression of regret” from all those who participated in the ordination. Pretty much the minimum penalty expected. if they don't apologize then they are expected to do the honorable thing (big in old school Britain) and not participate in broader Anglican affairs.

Second, and very interesting, the conservative US dioceses and parishes that solicited alternative oversight from foreign conservative bishops (notably some ultra conservative Africans), and these alternative oversight bishops themselves were also slapped for crossing the boundaries of polity. I don’t think they were expecting that at all.

Finally, for those conservative dioceses and parishes who have pretty much declared themselves apart from ECUSA, the DEPO (Diocesan Episcopal Pastoral Oversight) model of alternative oversight defined by ECUSA was affirmed as the better model, over the AEO (alternative Episcopal Oversight) model preferred by the breakaway conservative groups. This is not unexpected, as the DEPO model insists the local bishop, no matter how estranged from a parish, remain in the oversight loop and alternative oversight remain as close to home as possible. The latter model is pretty much “anything goes” including flying African bishops.

If all this sounds arcane, convoluted and unfathomable, welcome to the Anglican Communion. It’s our core competency.

And now the reaction begins. Of the major players, first to respond was ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. To be honest I didn’t think any of the main protagonists would comment in any meaningful way immediately. I expected the usual platitudes thanking the commission for their hard work, yada yada yada. In amongst all that though, Griswold definitely held the ECUSA ground.
“as Presiding Bishop I am obliged to affirm the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church and in all orders of ministry”

“The Report calls our Communion to reconciliation, which does not mean the reduction of differences to a single point of view.”
This is certainly no rolling over and playing dead. Griswold continues:
“Therefore, we regret how difficult and painful actions of our church have been in many provinces of our Communion, and the negative repercussions that have been felt by brother and sister Anglicans.”
This is the new 21st Century non-apology, of course: “I’m sorry you were hurt by what we did” rather than “we’re sorry for doing it”. Does this satisfy the Commission’s call for an expression of regret? While I feel strongly that this kind of apology is usually weaseling out of a real apology, in this case I’m not sure it’s inappropriate. Apparently his detractors call him Obi-Wan ("These are not the gay bishops you are looking for...") Which is interesting, because wouldn't that make Bishop Duncan Darth Vader?

Next to chip in was the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada, perpetrators of the same sex union liturgies. Much like Griswold, Michael Ingham, Bishop of New Westminster, is sorry they were misunderstood. He is also quick to point out that the interfering bishops were slapped upside the head too. And is that a blithe "in your face!" invitation to peruse the New Westminster website featuring the same sex union liturgies that are the bone of contention?

Last to weigh in was the conservative Bishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Communion Network. Typical of his extremist rhetoric is the statement,
“We must not allow a desire to hold the church family together to allow us to maintain the fatal disease that grips ECUSA and by association, the Anglican Communion.”
It seems to me that Griswold and Ingham are more willing to continue in dialogue without retreating from the position they are in. For Duncan, the ACN and his former organization the AAC (an unhappy divorce, by all accounts), nothing short of total victory will suffice and dialogue isn’t really on their agenda.

All in all an interesting day with a long journey in front of us.

So where do you come down on this?
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