Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The House of Windsor

ENS reports that the self-proclaimed "Windsor Bishops" of the Episcopal Church are meeting for a second time at Camp Allen, Texas, a short month before the Primates gather in Dar es Salaam.

I'm having a hard time reading what this is really about through all the smoke. But I'm suspicious.

In our world of spin, saying something that isn't true -- but still emotionally appealing -- loudly enough and frequently enough helps engender it with "truthiness," a word apparently invented by Stephen Colbert and that tops the list of new additions to the English language in 2006. The Windsor Report has now become a favorite touchstone for many living along the fault zones of the Anglican Communion -- as though it had the weight of canon law. Appeals to its overblown authority are happening left, right, and center. In their September letter, the "Windsor Bishops" lived into this truthiness by articulating their intention to conform to every suggested provision of the Report.

The bishops meeting at Camp Allen argue that they are gathering yet again to continue the discussion begun by the Windsor Report. But The Episcopal Church is already clearly a party to the ongoing discussion through the House of Bishops, General Convention, and the Instruments of Communion. As Mark Harris writes, this past summer, General Convention passed no fewer than six resolutions in response.

So why is this extra meeting needed for some of our bishops?

Amongst those who gathered at the first "Windsor Bishops" meeting last autumn include those who have at least called for "alternative primatial oversight" if they have not been openly fomenting schism as of late. They include some of the so-called network bishops: Robert Duncan, Jack Iker, Keith Ackerman, and, yes, John-David Schofield, who just led the Diocese of San Joaquin to take a first vote to out themselves from The Episcopal Church.

San Joaquin's vote occurred only a few months after +Schofield had signed a letter to the greater House of Bishops from the "Windsor Bishops." This letter included the following:
We have gathered with a common desire to work for the unity of the Church.
Makes my head swim.

Also in the letter, the "Windsor Bishops" articulated a desire to see the Episcopal Church's "adherence" to the provisions of the Windsor Report, believing it to be the only way forward for the Anglican Communion. And they clearly indicated that the decisions of General Convention 2006 did not satisfy them.

Well, they satisfied no one. Welcome to the Church, right?

But back to the rationale for the January meeting, +Jack Iker opines:
We are approaching a critical junction in the life of our church and the life of our Communion. Our discussions are both timely and of extraordinary importance.
That sounds a bit self-important to me. Coming from another bishop, I could shrug it off. Bishops are known, of course, to make self-important statements on occasion. But +Iker, an avowed network member and in charge of another diocese edging towards schism, has a track record for both self-important statements and actions, some of which aren't pretty, and some of which have been patently offensive.

Here are two of my thoughts in response to his assertion:

A critical junction can occur naturally in community life.

It can also be forced.

Texas Bishop John Wimberly is quoted in the ENS report as saying,
. . .the purpose of the gathering is not to form another 'group' or to issue proclamations, but to continue the conversation as requested in the Windsor Report.
I think he protests too much. They already issued a proclamation to the House of Bishops back in September. Or maybe a letter isn't a proclamation. My mistake?

But yes, another group is being formed here, Wimberly's statement notwithstanding. This group is what they call themselves: Windsor Bishops. They have flown in bishops from other provinces, tried to get as close as possible with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and they meet outside the ordinary jurisdictional structures of The Episcopal Church and then issue a statement.

This time, in addition to Archbishop Drexel Gomez of the West Indies and
Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt of the Diocese of Winchester (Church of England), they reportedly bring in Tanzania's Archbishop, Donald Mtetamela.

The House of Bishops in Tanzania recently anathematized The Episcopal Church, our Presiding Bishop, and a large number of Anglican Provinces. . . in one "foul swoop" as my grandmother used to say.

Forgive me, but I am indeed suspicious. Are these meetings at Camp Allen genuine discussions for the good of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, or just another ploy to lend "network bishops" and flying archbishops a platform to further their schismatic agendas?

In an effort to sound welcoming, the "Windsor Bishops"
invite "others who share our concern and position to join us in our common work on behalf of the church."

Concern for the communion isn't enough. It seems a "position" must be taken, too. Tobias Haller has a name for this: Unity By Division.


The smoke seems thick.

Time for less truthiness and more truth, in my view.

I guess we'll have to wait and see what the "House of Windsor" cooks up.


addenda: Two more takes from Mark Harris and Fr. Jake

Update on January 6th: The Living Church reports that the meeting end without issuing a statement.

Update on January 8th: ENS offers a longer report about the meeting.



4 comments:

Marshall said...

I understand your questions, Richard. At the same time, these gatherings seem so far to include more bishops who, while on the conservative side of moderate, have no interest in leaving The Episcopal Church. Indeed, they've outnumbered the APO crowd, and have matched the Network crowd. And, yes, we can wonder about the difference between "letter" and "proclamation" or "communique;" but I'd rather something come out from the whole group, rather than depend on Iker's or Stanton's or Duncan's statements about what was discussed.

I think, ultimately, this group will fall apart. The majority will continue as loyal opposition in TEC, working within a long process for considering "the highest level of communion possible" for the Communion. Those who can't wait, won't. The majority might even slow the minority down for a while, but I don't expect it to be for long.

On a side note, the Kansas City Star did a full page spread on "truthiness" and on news stories in 2006 that illustrated it.

R said...

Marshall,

Thanks for the visit and posting your thoughts. I indeed hope you are right.

My suspicions aside, there are some bishops who appear to have attended the latest Camp Allen meeting whom, while they may hold positions I disagree with, I trust as members of the "loyal opposition."

My hope is that they will continue to participate at all levels of the conversation -- particularly in engaging with those with whom they disagree, so that The Episcopal Church may retain a high level of theological diversity in its discourse. . . and that the provinces of the Anglican Communion may witness that The Episcopal Church, while it has made some challenging decisions recently, remains welcoming to all who wish to remain at table. That, I think, is ultimately Christian and transformative.

Perhaps, as you seem to suggest, that will also blunt some of the polemical and dismissive language that has been coming out of a few provinces as of late.

I am especially concerned about the objectification of LGBT Christians and all the subtle and overt ways they continue to be marginalized in the current debates and conversations, particularly by Anglican bishops and archbishops.

They are not issues. They are God's people.

Preston said...

Hey Richard - nice to find your blog.

My understanding is that these 'Windsor bishops' are bishops willing to engage the Windsor Report on the terms of the Report itself, which asks for certain actions to cease in order to build a space where more people can meet. Windsor set certain terms to the conversation. GC certainly did continue the conversation, but on it's own parochial terms, not on Windsor terms. As much as GC or TEC might not like the terms, it is, in the words of one theologian, the only poker game in town - there is no other communion level way forward.

I think that +Mark McDonald adding his name to the list was very important - a man very sympathetic to LGBT issues yet willing to attempt to create this space.

R said...

Preston,

So good to hear from you! It is my understanding that Mark MacDonald did not participate in the second meeting.

My concern remains, as it seems to me there are bishops participating who are not abiding by all provisions of the Windsor Report, either. They are supporting and abetting cross-provincial primates and bishops in Episcopal dioceses without our Presiding Bishop's or local bishops' involvement or consent. I think Fr. Jake makes this point pretty clearly.

I'm not entirely clear what you mean by GC's parochial terms. GC is, by nature, a parochial entity, as are all governing councils at the provincial level in the Anglican Communion.

In addition to our parochial institutions issuing responses, we remain involved with the Anglican Communion through the standard Instruments of Communion, albeit hindered by the demand that we voluntarily withdraw from the ACC, etc., at Dromantine.

Moreover, a true listening process would involve those at the center of the controversy, namely +Gene Robinson and bishops who supported and were present at his consecration. To his credit, the ABC has met with +Robinson and others, as part of the process.

But the "Windsor Bishops" have made it pretty clear that +Gene Robinson would not be invited to their gatherings. The involvement of Tanzania's Archbishop following the decision of Tanzania's House of Bishops pretty much shuts the door, it seems to me.

Frankly, this all starts to look like a fait accompli to me after awhile.

The WR calls for a process. Nobody's abiding completely with the terms.

So a small group of bishops decide to get together anyway to meet and forward the discussion, calling themselves "Windsor-compliant." But members of the church at the center of the discussion aren't present.

A better approach, it seems to me, would have been to have a more thorough-going and larger-based discussion spearheaded by the House of Bishops at our PB at the earliest opportunity.

The WR may be the "only game in town." But just because it is doesn't necessarily make it a good game.

I'm really starting to wonder who's kidding whom at this point about this process.