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From the Bishop

BISHOP IKER'S REPORT
on the Response of the House of Bishops
to the Windsor Report

At the conclusion of an all-day special meeting of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church to respond to the Windsor Report, it was decided that little would be said, and even less would be done, to try to resolve the crisis that divides us. In a nutshell, the Bishops expressed their desire to remain full members of the Anglican Communion, while continuing to reject the clear teaching of the Communion on matters of sexual morality.

Two controversial decisions of the 2003 General Convention have fractured the unity of the Anglican Communion and placed our future in peril. At issue are the approval given by the Episcopal Church to consecrate a practicing homosexual, who lives with another man, to serve as the Bishop of New Hampshire and the okay that was given for the blessing of same sex unions. Both actions are clear violations of the position taken by the world-wide Anglican Communion that rejects “homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” and thus advises against the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of those involved in same-gender unions. (Lambeth Conference 1998, Resolution 1.10) As a result, 22 of the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion have declared that they are in impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church, and last fall the Archbishop of Canterbury convened a special meeting of the Primates to address the crisis. They appointed a special commission to look at the controversy and to recommend ways to maintain "the highest level of communion possible" in the midst of these critical differences. Those recommendations are contained in the Windsor Report 2004.

The Bishops of this Church met last week in the Salt Lake City where most of our time was spent in small groups and then "expanded groups," discussing what we liked and didn’t like in the Report, what we agreed with and disagreed with, what needed "more conversation," and so on. Then we met in plenary sessions to hear reports on what the other groups thought. At times the conversation was tense and emotional, as deep differences were expressed. We attempted to be honest and to respect those who disagreed with us.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Bishops issued a statement called A Word to the Church. The most positive aspect of this carefully worded document is an “expression of regret,” which is one of the first actions called for by the Windsor Report. But don’t be misled by what the statement says the Bishops regret and what they do not regret. They regret “the pain, the hurt, and the damage caused” to others in the Anglican Communion by what we have done. However, they do not regret the actions taken that caused the alienation and division in the first place. ‘We want to remain a part of the Communion, but we intend to keep on doing what we have been doing.’ It is sort of like a man apologizing to his wife for having had an adulterous affair, and asking her forgiveness, but then continuing on with the illicit affair anyway.

In addition to an expression of regret, the other two major recommendations for the Episcopal Church as called for by the Windsor Report were:

  1. “a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges” (paragraph 134) and
  2. a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions (paragraphs 143 and 144)

These two proposals were discussed by the Bishops at some length, but no decision was made on the requested moratoria. Don’t hold your breath. It isn’t going to happen. Oh yes, the House will “continue conversation” about this at our next meeting in March, having given the rather lame excuse that “we have not had sufficient time” to decide on moratoria at this time and that “we do not wish to act in haste.” From my perspective, this simply is a delay tactic meant to stall and put off any final decision until after the Primates’ Meeting at the end of February, where the response of the Episcopal Church will be under review.

Some urged a moratorium on the ordination of practicing homosexuals as bishops until 2006, when the next General Convention meets. Others said we should have a moratorium until the General Convention of 2009, which follows the next Lambeth Conference of all Anglican Bishops in 2008. Other bishops felt that if we were going to have any moratorium at all then it should be on all consecrations, not just for newly-elected bishops who were living in same-sex partnerships. It was pointed out that the Presiding Bishop has already appointed a committee to make our case to the rest of the Communion on the theological rationale for how “a person living in a same gender union may be eligible to lead the flock of Christ.” (paragraph 135) But what the Windsor Report calls for is a moratorium on such consecrations “until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.”

Many indignant voices demanded an immediate moratorium on bishops crossing diocesan boundaries to perform confirmations without the invitation of the bishop of that diocese, pointing this out as one of the recommendations of the Windsor Report. What they failed to acknowledge is that such boundary crossings have taken place as emergency pastoral measures, as a result of certain bishops having violated the teaching of the Scriptures about standards of sexual morality and the blessing of same sex unions. That is what led to the interventions in the first place, not a total disregard for ecclesiastical protocol.

Near the end of the discussion, one person questioned how we could make any decisions at all in response to the Windsor Report since the recommendations must first go to the Primates themselves at their meeting next month, where they could be changed. The Presiding Bishop agreed and said he hoped we would not reach conclusions at this time. Sure enough, that’s what the Bishops decided, and they issued “A Word to the Church” the next morning. It is a carefully-worded document designed to say the right things while continuing to do what we have done. Meanwhile, ‘Keep them talking. Remain in conversation. We are still considering these matters. We need more time,’ and so on and so on.

It is interesting to note that the Bishops of the Church of England were meeting to consider the Windsor Report at the same time as our meeting was taking place, but they did not have the same difficulty in making decisions about it. They endorsed the recommendations of the Report and encouraged the Primates’ Meeting to implement them.

I agree with my English brethren. I do not believe that more time is needed to discuss the recommendations of the Windsor Report. We are either going to implement them and abide by them or we are not. The Report is an invitation to seek ways of reconciliation, to heal our divisions, in the hope of preserving the unity of the Anglican Communion. To refuse to implement these recommendations is to choose to walk apart from the Communion. It is for this reason that at the end of last week’s meeting, I joined several other Bishops in signing a document entitled “A Statement of Acceptance of and Submission to the Windsor Report 2004.” It has been sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Primates of the Communion for consideration at their meeting in Ireland on Feb. 20 - 26, 2005. Please pray for them, that they may be given wisdom and courage as they seek to preserve our unity in faith and in mission. We intend to stand with them and to follow their Godly counsel.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth

January 17. 2005