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Polite rebuke

Religion | Anglican commission mildly taps radical bishops on the wrist

Issue: "2004 Election: Clinch time," Oct. 30, 2004

Pickings were slim for conservatives in the long-awaited Lambeth Commission's "Windsor Report" on the crisis in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

They had wanted to see the predominantly liberal U.S. Episcopal Church (ECUSA) "disciplined" for consecrating as bishop last year V. Gene Robinson, a homosexual living with his male partner, and for allowing same-sex blessings under official ECUSA auspices. Instead, liberal bishops in ECUSA got off with little more than a mild tap on the wrist, and Bishop Robinson kept his job.

The conservatives also had wanted approval of a plan that would allow conservative congregations to receive spiritual oversight by biblically faithful bishops, regardless of diocesan boundaries. The report rejected such a plan and accused overseas bishops who had come to the aid of North American conservatives of contributing to disunity.

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It called for a moratorium on any further interventions, including declarations of broken or impaired communion with ECUSA (as 18 mostly African provinces, representing the vast majority of the world's Anglicans, have done so far).

One of those overseas leaders, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, the world's largest Anglican province, fired back. "Why, throughout the document, is there such a marked contrast between the language used against those who are subverting the faith and that used against those of us, from the global south, who are trying to bring the church back to the Bible?" he said. "Where is the language of rebuke for those who are promoting sexual sins as holy and acceptable behavior? The imbalance is bewildering."

Yet conservatives cheered some of the report's points. One of them: Scripture should be taken seriously, not relativized so that it becomes "simply an echo of our own voice."

Released in London on Oct. 18, the report was the work of the international 17-member Lambeth Commission, chaired by Archbishop of Ireland Robin Eames and composed of both liberals and conservatives. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, titular head of the world's 77 million Anglicans (including 2.4 million U.S. Episcopalians), appointed the commission a year ago amid wide unrest over the Robinson consecration. The panel's mandate was to try to figure out ways to keep the Communion together.

In a preface to the report, Archbishop Eames explained that because each of the 38 Anglican provinces is autonomous, the Communion has little enforcement power. The tone of the report reflected this concern, he suggested.

Many press accounts said the commission had called on ECUSA to apologize for its actions. But this word doesn't appear in the report. Instead, using polite British English, the Lambeth panel said, for example: "We recommend that the Episcopal Church be invited to express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of [Bishop Robinson], and for the consequences which followed, and that such an expression of regret would represent the desire of [ECUSA] to remain within the communion."

In similar fashion, it called for a moratorium on any further consecrations of bishops living in same-sex unions, and a moratorium on same-sex blessings performed by both American and Canadian bishops. Pending such expressions of regret, the report "invited" affected bishops to "consider" staying away from representative Anglican functions.

The report also asked ECUSA to explain "from within the sources of authority that we as Anglicans have received in Scripture, the apostolic tradition, and reasoned reflection, how a person living in a same-gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ." (A supporting document appended to the report highlights the overwhelming support by the world's Anglican bishops of a 1998 measure that rejected homosexual conduct as "incompatible with Scripture.")

The report proposed the adoption of a "core covenant" that would spell out boundaries of Anglican belief and ask all bishops to sign.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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