Anglican Covenant

The Windsor Report

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The Windsor Report was published in October 2004. It was produced by the Eames Commission, set up by the Primates' Meeting of 2003, to respond to the threats to split the Anglican Communion.

There are strong indications that it was the work of people who knew what answers they were expected to produce, and arranged the arguments to suit.

It was not within the Commission's terms of reference to discuss the ethics of same-sex partnerships; but instead of keeping an open mind it presupposed that the matter had been settled in the negative, and blamed the North American provinces for the controversy:

The Communion has... made its collective position clear on the issue of ordaining those who are involved in same gender unions; and this has been reiterated by the primates through their endorsement of the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution. By electing and confirming such a candidate in the face of the concerns expressed by the wider Communion, the Episcopal Church (USA) has caused deep offence to many faithful Anglican Christians both in its own church and in other parts of the Communion (§127).

The Report emphasizes the importance of unity. 'Provincial autonomy', it declares, 'was framed by Anglican interdependence on matters of deep theological concern to the whole Communion' (§21).

But are gay bishops a matter of deep theological concern? Why cannot provinces agree to differ about them? The Report accepts that Christian doctrines do not have to stay the same for all time; theology can, and does, develop. Agreed methods for making judgements are therefore needed (§32). New developments have been subjected to a process of reception; that is, they are tested by how the faithful receive them. It describes the process in three stages: theological debate, formal action, and increased consultation (§68). However, it continues that

The doctrine of reception only makes sense if the proposals concern matters on which the Church has not so far made up its mind. It cannot be applied in the case of actions which are explicitly against the current teaching of the Anglican Communion as a whole, and/or of individual provinces. No province, diocese or parish has the right to introduce a novelty which goes against such teaching and excuse it on the grounds that it has simply been put forward for reception (§69).

This position is in fact an extreme one. The reference to 'the current teaching of the Anglican Communion' reveals a nest of vipers. The Report was written at a time when it was clear to all that the Anglican Communion did not have a common mind on the matter. 'The current teaching' was, in fact, nothing but the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution!

This is the basis on which the Windsor Report proposes that the Covenant should 'make explicit and forceful the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the churches of the Communion' (§118). One wonders what kind of loyalty and affection needs legislation to enforce it!

Worse still, the Report offers no credible account of how the Anglican Communion, once it has made up its mind, can ever change it. There have been many changes in the past and there will no doubt be many in the future.

This is the basis on which the Windsor Report offers not a necessary response to a controversy but a programme of centralisation, a move towards a hierarchy with power to compel. It describes relationships between Anglicans as being of

'covenantal affection'; that is, our mutual affection is not subject to whim and mood, but involves us in a covenant relation of binding mutual promises, with God in Christ and with one another (§45).

Thus the idea of a Covenant, first proposed in the Windsor Report, was there set firmly in the context of canon law and the belief that a common canon law could itself be a unifying force in Anglicanism. The proposed Covenant set out to transfer the idea of 'covenantal affection' onto paper and into political reality.

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