A Proposal to the House of Bishops from Bishop John Howe
To My Fellow Bishops: We are deeply, tragically, horribly "stuck," not only in The Episcopal Church, but in the Anglican Communion as a whole. In the past three days we have heard again what we already knew, that we have damaged our relationships with many parts of the Communion by failing to give sufficient attention to "common discernment," and by moving ahead with decisions in the area of human sexuality before the rest of the Anglican family is able to accept those decisions. It is clear that the great majority of our Bishops cannot retreat from what they believe to be not only a matter of justice, but a "Gospel imperative." But, in the light of that, we are squandering members, finances, and energy in our deadlock. What we need is a comprehensive solution that will end the international interventions, end the defections, end the property disputes, end the litigation, and end the ravaging of our witness and mission to the outside world simultaneously. I believe there is such a solution, but it will require great sacrifice on all sides.
I propose that we:
1) Put the Resolution of the "Windsor Bishops" to a vote. It calls for full compliance with the requests of the Primates in their Communique from Tanzania last February.
2) Those who cannot, for conscience' sake, abide by the acknowledged teaching and discipline of the Communion (Lambeth I:10) will then voluntarily withdraw (at least temporarily) from the official councils of the Communion (as per Professor Katherine Grieb's much appreciated proposal to us in March at Camp Allen ).
3) Those committed to the Communion's teaching and discipline will continue their participation in the councils of the Communion.
4) Perhaps we will then adopt the Archbishop of Canterbury's terminology of "constituent" and "associate" membership for our dioceses. "Constituent" = fully Windsor-compliant. "Associate" = committed to remaining Anglican, but unable to accept the Windsor proposals.
5) Those congregations and clergy which are in "associate" dioceses, who wish to continue in "constituent" membership will be transferred to the oversight and care of "constituent" dioceses and Bishops - and vice-versa.
6) We will then request the Primates who have established extra-geographical oversight in this country to give that up, and fold any congregations under their care back into "constituent" dioceses.
7) We will endeavor to fold any American clergy who have been consecrated by international jurisdictions into Suffragan and Assistant Episcopal positions in "constituent" dioceses.
8) Without relinquishing their membership in The Episcopal Church, the "constituent" dioceses will elect their own Coordinator, and function as a parallel provincial entity for a period of 5 years (or perhaps 6 = two General Conventions, or 10 = the next Lambeth Conference).
9) After 5, 6, or 10 years we determine whether or not a "new consensus" has emerged within the Anglican Communion, and in the light of that determination -
10) We either recombine as a single jurisdiction, or we fully separate.
Warmest regards in our Lord,
The Right Rev. John W. Howe
Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida ___________________________________________________________________
For those who do not know, before he was a bishop, John Howe was the well known Rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Virginia, during which time he was the director of the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life (NOEL), and in that role deserved credit for his pro-life work; a fact I will not forget. Nonetheless, my disagreements with him date back to his extremely Protestant book, Our Anglican Heritage, and have continued to grow due to his support of women's "ordination," and his sadly compromised vote on sexual morality in the Episcopal Church's General Convention of 2000 (concerning the measure that left it up to each Diocesan Ordinary to determine his own policy on the blessing of same sex unions). When he says, "It is clear that the great majority of our Bishops cannot retreat from what they believe to be not only a matter of justice, but a 'Gospel imperative,' " he is being altogether too polite to those who teach that the Church must include "gays and lesbians" by affirming a life of willful sin, without regard to the need for repentance and the healing that only Christ gives to those who truly ask for it.
In Bishop Howe's proposal above we see the desperate measures of Evangelicals and other conservatives in the Episcopal Church who want to hold their national church together, and want to prevent it from being forced out of the world wide Anglican Communion. Not that the Archbishop of Canterbury is really willing to do the things he was promising only last year when he saw no way to keep the Episcopal Church in the AC. His trip to the United States, and his spineless compromise at every turn from the time he got here, have all been proof that Archbishop Rowan Williams is the one man who can hold a debate on any issue without an opponent. Just put two podiums on a stage, and let him walk back and forth between them, and the debate can proceed. Nonetheless, the African Primates, the Primate of the Southern Cone, and others, will stick to their guns, and insist on the terms of the Windsor Report and of the Dar es Salaam Communigue. So, while the boneless wonder makes nice with the apostates, the swords are being sharpened nonetheless. I mean swords of division. After all the dust settles, the Anglican Communion will never be the same, for it will no longer have even the appearance of collegiality and union.
What does this mean for those of us who stand on the 1977 Affirmation of St. Louis? It means that we really have to clarify our evangelistic priorities. As people leave the Anglican Communion (a likelihood for which we must prepare whether it happens in big numbers or not), we must not provide reasons why they should pass us by and look for options in Protestantism, Rome or Orthodoxy. Neither should we give them reason to feel a need strictly for other Anglican options such as the AMiA, and other bodies that remain compromised on various issues.
We see a blind spot in the Low Church defections from the Anglican Communion. But they see one in us.
Their major blind spot is women's "ordination." In the case of the AMiA, I have made it clear on this blog, consistently, that to the degree we marginalize them we only help solidify them in their Protestantism (speaking in Anglican terms, of course). Their study of women's "ordination" was clearly honest, and not agenda driven, which is why they came close to the right decision. They no longer have any women serving as priests, and they have a clear understanding that such a thing must not be allowed again; for this we can give thanks and we credit the Holy Spirit for opening their eyes. But, they lack still a true understanding of Holy Orders (indeed, not even knowing that Holy Orders is a sacrament), and so they "ordain" women to the Diaconate. 1
But, the Evangelical defectors from the AC, and some still in the AC, have every right to mention a possible blind spot of ours: Are we truly evangelistic? Do our churches reach out to everybody, including the unchurched? I believe that a good number do; but on the whole we are not addressing this as much as we should (by the way, where is Ohio Anglican lately? He was always good at reminding us that this is important).
Our blind spot is the one we must think about the most, because it is ours. This is a time of opportunity, but it is a time of peril. If, indeed, a large defection from the official Anglican Communion is going to happen, we can reach out to those in the waters and give them a life boat- more than that, the home they need- or we can become irrelevant like never before. Also, we can ignore the Anglican Communion in its mess and confusion, and continue to keep ourselves "pure" from its imperfections, or we can be part of the discussion, and so help restore true orthodoxy to any of them who still have ears to hear. We can try to restore the Anglican Way of Faith and practice to Anglicans, which is nothing more or less than the Catholic and Evangelical Christianity of the Fathers.
1. I posted a piece about Holy Orders in January that I recommend for those who want to think seriously about the theology of the priesthood. See it here.