ECUSA Head: Preliminary Response to Windsor Report Incomplete

Members of the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) Executive Council encouraged “all congregations, dioceses and provinces of the church to take time to read and discuss the [Windsor] report,” in a statement released on Nov. 4, 2004. The statement was made during the Oct. 31-Nov. 4 meeting of the Council in Boise, Idaho, during which the governing individuals of the 2.2 million-member ECUSA discussed critical issues pertinent to the denomination.

"It is especially important that people in all orders of ministry contribute to the church's reflection—lay persons as well as deacons, priests and bishops," the council said. "The consultations of the coming months are just the beginning of our church's reception of the Windsor Report, for the principal response should be made by the 2006 General Convention."

The Windsor Report, released on Oct. 18 by the Lambeth Commission, tackles the divisive issue of homosexuality in the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the ECUSA takes part. Reactions to the yearlong report have been mixed: conservatives, led by bishops in Africa, generally criticized the report for its lenient take on the ECUSA’s 2003 decision to ordain an openly homosexual man as bishop. Moderates and liberals accepted the report’s finding and thanked the members of the Lambeth Commission for their hard work. Despite all differences, all factions of the Communion agreed more time is needed to fully understand and appreciate the impact of the report.

“As the Episcopal Church begins to receive the Windsor Report of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, we invite all congregations, dioceses and provinces of the church to take time to read and discuss the report. The church needs to explore the Commission's vision of how we are called to a deeper communion with one another as a reflection of the inner communion of the triune God. The church also needs to reflect on the Commission's recommendations about how the Anglican Communion might function amid differing views,” the ECUSA statement read.

Meanwhile, the Presiding Bishop of the ECUSA, the Bishop Frank Griswold, took pains to explain the need for further reflection on the Report.

Griswold, head of the ECUSA, has been criticized for his initial reply to the Report, during which he suggested the ECUSA would not change its position on homosexuality.

“Given the emphasis of the Report on difficulties presented by our differing understandings of homosexuality, as Presiding Bishop I am obliged to affirm the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church and in all orders of ministry," he said in an Oct. 18 statement. "Other Provinces are also blessed by the lives and ministry of homosexual persons. I regret that there are places within our Communion where it is unsafe for them to speak out of the truth of who they are.”

According to the Episcopal News Service (ENS), Griswold reminded the council at the opening service of the weeklong meeting that the Windsor Report should be taken a “a process, not an immediate series of responses" and noted that "some have unfortunately taken as a total response" his first reaction to the report on the day of its release.

"Responses before February [the Primates' Meeting] are premature," Griswold said. "It is important that urgency not capture us as we reflect on a long process which invites us to consider problematic questions in terms of our Anglican self-understanding,” he was quoted as saying on Oct. 31.

The Executive Council’s statement took note of Griswold’s intention to overview the general reflections of the entire church before appointing a group to represent the ECUSA in an Anglican-wide Windsor Report gathering.

“The Presiding Bishop would like to be informed by these deliberations as he meets with the Primates in February. We affirm his intention to appoint a group to respond to the Windsor Report's invitation that the Episcopal Church explain the rationale for consecrating a bishop living in a same-gender relationship,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, the Bishop James Tengatenga of Southern Malawi, a member of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Reference Group that will monitor the reception of the Windsor Report 2004, explained why the ECUSA must be humble in its response to the Report.

According to the ENS, Tengatenga said there are two styles of thinking that dominate the debate over the Windsor report: American individualism and African communitarianism.

America's political and cultural hegemony on the international scene, he said, makes it even more difficult for Africans to face the Episcopal Church's actions with equanimity.

"When the Gospel came to us it came in the cloak of Victorian England, so the Gospel had Victorian baggage with it. But unfortunately, so it seems to us, the canon of the kind of baggage that the Gospel should carry was closed at the Victorian age. So when it comes in contact with the African, Africanness can no longer be admitted into the canon of the baggage of the Gospel—or at least how the Gospel begins to affect and help us interpret, or how our culture and our Africanness began to help us interpret and understand Scripture and theology as well," Tengatenga observed. "And so when the present crisis comes on, and the American church says 'We are doing what we are doing because we are responding to our very cultural context, which requires us to be informed and to interpret Scripture according to culture' -- we say, 'Wait a minute. What makes your culture that important and mine not?'"

Late last month, the African Anglican bishops released a statement rejecting the Windsor Report’s suggestion that they “express regret” for breaking communion with the ECUSA.

“To call on us to “express regret” and reassert our commitment to the Communion is offensive in light of our earlier statements. If the Episcopal Church USA had not willfully “torn the fabric of our communion at its deepest level” our actions would not have been necessary,” they wrote in the Oct. 29 statement.

The African bishops also called on the ECUSA to “take seriously the need for “repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation enjoined on us by Christ,” in their statement.

Tengatenga took note of such differing viewpoints as he called on the American church to “find a way of responding humbly and responsibly” to the Report.

"I think the Windsor Report is asking so many things of the American church, some of which are not written -- some of which are simply understood by others who read it; we all read it differently," he concluded. "I don't know what that may be, but the question is, will the American church find a way of responding humbly and responsibly even to the unwritten assumptions that come out as people interpret it?”