I am hosting this essay written by Bryan Taylor, a lay man in the Diocese of Fort Worth, because he raises interesting points about Bishop Don Wimberly's meeting at Camp Allen.
Reconciliation Doublespeak: Factionalism Unites
by Bryan Taylor
Like Peter Parker waking up as Spiderman after being bitten by a genetically engineered spider, the Windsor Report has acquired special super-powers and skipped over years if not decades of evolution to become Some Great Thing. Forget the process of reception so carefully described in the first Eames Commission Report and reiterated in the Windsor Report itself. In a matter of a few months, it has gone from a report with an invitation into a process and recommendations for going forward, to a dogmatic formula and a set of demands which may be used (selectively) for judging entire churches as well as various bishops, dioceses and so on, based on their "compliance" or lack thereof. Shazzam! A report wakes up as Holy Writ!
Episcopalians who love their church and who live in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth are used to having our bishop Jack Iker supported in almost every depressing particular by our neighboring Bishop James Stanton of Dallas. Imagine our shock when another neighbor of ours, Don Wimberly of Texas, was found propping up our Jack and doing it under the dubious rubric of "Windsor-compliant" bishops! Read Iker's statement in The Living Church (17 July 2006). It's not about Windsor for him, except coincidentally; it's still all about women!
But Bishop Wimberly and a lot of others are worked up about Windsor. On August 11th ENS reported that Bishop Wimberly had issued invitations for a consultation for bishops (only) to be held 19-22 September at Camp Allen. He stated, "It remains my intention to stay within the Episcopal Church and a part of the Anglican Communion even though I don't believe General Convention's response to the Windsor Report was sufficient." He further claimed to have "invited a number of bishops (representing a diversity of opinions) who are firmly committed to the Windsor Report . . . "
But how diverse is this group, and how serious about reconciliation can it really be?
In the April 2006 Texas Episcopalian, Bishop Wimberly wrote, "Scripture doesn't let me off the hook as a Christian by allowing me to alienate those who don't agree with me. I have always tried to reach out to those who agree with me and those who do not because we are One in the body of Christ. There can be no disagreement about this. The Windsor Report says clearly that the Scriptures speak about unity and mission. This must remain our focus as One Church. It would be easy if we could open our Bibles and have Jesus answer the issue of sexuality for us but he didn't." ("The Scriptures and Anglicanism, Part II")
But Bishop Wimberly’s proposed consultation is deeply flawed and ought to be rejected.
First, Bishop Wimberly has elevated not only the Windsor Report but a number of other very recent documents to an exclusionary, dogmatic status. He has leapt over any seemly or judicious process of reception as to their value and concluded they are the basis for reconciliation and the confessional admission price for participating in his discussion group.
In order to be invited, or to invite oneself, other bishops must agree that Lambeth 1.10, the Windsor Report, and the Dromantine Primates' Communique are doctrinally binding and the means--apparently the only means--forward. Implicit, too, is an acceptance of the notion that there'll be an Anglican Covenant ("Thresholds for an Anglican Covenant" is one of the five points on the meeting's agenda), and the even more novel idea of a two-tier Anglican Communion made up of "constituent" provinces in good standing and second-class "associates."
Any bishop who starts deciding who has a place at the table to discuss unity and reconciliation based on these premises is ignoring the very innovative and novel nature of these documents and their recommendations, and making them into super-dogmatic "tests of fellowship." He's also ignoring what the Archbishop of Canterbury himself said were the limits of what he could do, and the amount of time it necessarily would take--years, not months--to flesh out all these proposals. How does that promote unity and reconciliation?
Secondly, Bishop Wimberly's paradigm is sharply at odds with what he wrote in April and his stated intentions for this Camp Allen gathering. I agree that the Gospel does not allow us to alienate those who don't agree with us, if we understand "alienate" in the more precise sense of making someone a stranger, an alien to our fellowship, excluded from our processes. But by making these premises conditional for any other bishops to participate in the Camp Allen consultation, he has deliberately and very concretely excluded all bishops who have reservations about the status he assigns these recent pronouncements (all from outside, "alien" to, our polity), including the very bishops he disagrees with. Apparently the reconciliation of Jack Iker is vitally important, while the reconciliation of "Windsor non-compliant" bishops is irrelevant.
This is not a move to foster reconciliation; it is a move to foment factionalism. It does not seek to find common ground in the center and build outward. It seeks rather to consolidate the adherents of one position into a body that intends to act as broker for the entire Church. The common ground is a distressingly situational kind of purity test for getting to participate in the discussion at all. This is not Anglicanism as it has been historically understood.
And where is this all going anyway? One only has to look at the rest of the agenda, as reported by ENS, which calls for:
* "development of a leadership council for links with Canterbury and the Meeting of Primates," implying that none of our existing structures can do this.
* "a commitment to common action," which might mean lobbying and organizing for General Convention and such, or it might mean far more.
* discussion of "thresholds for an Anglican Covenant"
and last, and most troubling,
* CARE OF CLERGY AND PARISHES NOT REPRESENTED BY "WINDSOR BISHOPS" (All caps not in original.)
Here we have a presupposition that clergy and parishes need help of some kind of "care" if their bishops aren't "Windsor-compliant." This already has been the excuse for interventions by foreign bishops and retired bishops in some of our dioceses in recent years. These have been roundly condemned by Lambeth, Windsor, the House of Bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and violate our traditional understandings of episcopacy going back to Nicea.
And why do we need another "leadership council for links with Canterbury and the Primates"? Are the House of Bishops, the Executive Council, and other interim bodies of the General Convention not up to the task of developing proposals for an Anglican Covenant? After all, they have been elected to represent the Episcopal Church's interests with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Anglicans abroad.
We enjoy a very open, democratic polity in the Episcopal Church. It may be imperfect and slower than we might wish, but those of us who understand it, cherish it. Although we don't express it as overtly, we cherish in that polity the principles enshrined in our American Bill of Rights: freedom of speech, association and assembly, of the press, of worship. We want a free marketplace of ideas. Therefore we have always had an array of parachurch organizations of all sorts, but many of a fairly explicit political nature. A democratic system can tolerate, indeed it must tolerate, organizations that lobby for and against important issues facing the Church. We have had Episcopal Church Women, Episcopal Women's Caucus, Integrity, the Prayer Book Society, the Urban Bishops Caucus, the Irenaeus Fellowship and many others besides, at all points on the spectrum. They come and they go. As long as their efforts are directed at the legitimate decision-making bodies of our Church, their presence can be tolerated and even affirmed.
But they have gone out of bounds when their overt or covert purposes involve the undermining of our constitutional order and our decision-making institutions in favor of structures or processes that better suit them, on whatever basis.
In short, Bishop Wimberly's "Windsor-compliant" consultation is proposed as an alternative to BOTH the legitimate structures of our polity AND the pre-schismatic structures of the Anglican Communion Network. If the latter is an insurrection (they have used the term "guerilla war"), this looks like the prelude to a coup. It doesn't set up a rival body outside the Episcopal Church, it sets up one within, empowering itself to be the legitimate "Windsor-compliant" broker, effectively dealing out our Presiding Bishop, General Convention, the rest of the Bishops and everyone else until they've made a deal we'll all have to accept. This is unity and reconciliation?
Whatever his true motivation and intentions, Bishop Wimberly is playing the wrong game on the wrong field. This consultation ought not be held on the terms set forth. Bishops who support the integrity of their church should stay away, and the people should ignore its pronouncements if they are at all consistent with these deeply flawed premises.
And one last thing. There's a complaint before the Title IV Review Committee against Bishop John-David Schofield of San Joaquin. The same charges could certainly be made against Bishop Iker and others, and very possibly will be. According to the canons, any eventual sanctions in such a case must be approved by the three most senior bishops with jurisdiction, and Bishop Wimberly is one of those three. (ENS 31 July 2006) His impartiality is brought into serious doubt by his support of Bishop Iker at the meeting in NYC this week (or anywhere else), and by the terms he has set for his Camp Allen meeting. He should therefore choose: either cancel the consultation and refrain from participating in activities with Iker and the other Network bishops, or publicly pledge NOW to recuse himself from the disciplinary process, if these complaints move forward.