The Windsor Report 2004
On public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions
- Recent developments within the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church (USA), which both took synodical action to authorise public Rites for the Blessing of same sex unions, are one of the presenting causes for the current tensions within the Anglican Communion, and thus it is part of the mandate of the Lambeth Commission to address this issue.
- The synod of the diocese of New Westminster in 1998 approved a resolution to develop a public Rite for the Blessing of same sex unions. The diocesan bishop withheld his consent. In 1999, the bishop commissioned theological and canonical evaluations of the proposal, and these reports were all available on the diocesan website, but there is no record of any formal attempt to consult the wider province or Communion on the theological issues, or to delay processes to allow such consultation to take place, beyond participation in an emergency debate at ACC-12 in Hong Kong in September 2002. Indeed, despite the statement of the Lambeth Conference in 1998 that it could not “advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions”, the conclusions of the Cadman Report was that this was not a matter of theology but of pastoral care, and competent of resolution at the diocesan level. The Task Force on Jurisdiction, which was established by the Canadian General Synod at the request of the House of Bishops, concluded in 2003 that “when jurisdiction in a contentious matter is not specified, it will be decided at the highest level that has the will to decide it”. After withholding consent to the synodical resolution again in 2001, the bishop did give consent when it was approved for the third time in 2002. The first such public Rite was held in 2003, a few days after the meeting of the primates in Gramado.
- Without commenting on the constitutional propriety of steps that have been taken, we would want to observe that normally in the churches of the Communion there is not unqualified freedom on the part of any bishop or diocese to authorise liturgical texts if they are likely to be inconsistent with the norms of liturgical and doctrinal usage extant in the province's Book of Common Prayer or other provincially authorised texts.
- In the Canadian church, a process of discernment is underway to ascertain to what extent the blessing of same sex unions is a doctrinal matter, thus requiring, constitutionally, decisions at least at the national level. At its meeting in June 2004, the Canadian General Synod referred the question of whether or not the matter of same sex blessings is a matter of doctrine to the Canadian Primate's Theological Commission, whose report will be considered throughout the church before the question returns to the General Synod meeting of 2007. The Canadian General Synod in June also adopted as part of a larger resolution that it affirmed “the integrity and sanctity of committed same sex relationships”. While this statement has been viewed by some as a change of teaching on the part of the Anglican Church of Canada, the reference to the Theological Commission includes a review of the theology behind this statement and thus the main thrust of action by the General Synod is to defer decisions until 2007 until due consultation can take place.
- Within the Episcopal Church (USA), the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops concluded as late as March 2003, that
“Because at this time we are nowhere near consensus in the Church regarding the blessing of homosexual relationships, we cannot recommend authorizing the development of new rites for such blessings. For these reasons, we urge the greatest caution as the Church continues to seek the mind of Christ in these matters.”
but in August of that year, the 74th General Convention commended the development of public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions as being within the bounds of the Episcopal Church (USA)'s common life (see , paragraphs 27 and 123) without formal theological justification or consultation in the Communion.
- The clear and repeated statements of the Instruments of Unity have also been to advise against the development and approval of such rites. Whilst proponents of actions in the Diocese of New Westminster and the Episcopal Church (USA) may argue that such advice has only moral authority, we believe that it must be recognised that actions to move towards the authorisation of such rites in the face of opposition from the wider Anglican Communion constitutes a denial of the bonds of Communion. In order for these bonds to be properly acknowledged and addressed, the churches proposing to take action must be able, as a beginning, to demonstrate to the rest of the Communion why their proposal meets the criteria of scripture, tradition and reason. In order to be received as a legitimate development of the tradition, it must be possible to demonstrate how public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions would constitute growth in harmony with the apostolic tradition as it has been received.
- Whilst there have been the beginnings of such demonstration, at present it would be true to say that very many people within the Communion fail to see how the authorisation of such a rite is compatible with the teaching of scripture, tradition and reason. In such circumstances, it should not be surprising that such developments are seen by some as surrendering to the spirit of the age rather than an authentic development of the gospel.
- We believe that to proceed unilaterally with the authorisation of public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions at this time goes against the formally expressed opinions of the Instruments of Unity and therefore constitutes action in breach of the legitimate application of the Christian faith as the churches of the Anglican Communion have received it, and of bonds of affection in the life of the Communion, especially the principle of interdependence. For the sake of our common life, we call upon all bishops of the Anglican Communion to honour the Primates' Pastoral Letter of May 2003, by not proceeding to authorise public Rites of Blessing for same sex unions. The primates stated then:
“The question of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites.
This is distinct from the duty of pastoral care that is laid upon all Christians to respond with love and understanding to people of all sexual orientations. As recognised in the booklet True Union, it is necessary to maintain a breadth of private response to situations of individual pastoral care.”
- While we recognise that the Episcopal Church (USA) has by action of Convention made provision for the development of public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions, the decision to authorise rests with diocesan bishops. Because of the serious repercussions in the Communion, we call for a moratorium on all such public Rites, and recommend that bishops who have authorised such rites in the United States and Canada be invited to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorisation. Pending such expression of regret, we recommend that such bishops be invited to consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion. We recommend that provinces take responsibility for endeavouring to ensure commitment on the part of their bishops to the common life of the Communion on this matter.
- We urge all provinces that are engaged in processes of discernment regarding the blessing of same sex unions to engage the Communion in continuing study of biblical and theological rationale for and against such unions. Such a process of study and reflection needs to include clarification regarding the distinction, if such exists, between same sex unions and same sex marriage. This call for continuing study does not imply approval of such proposals.
- We remind all in the Communion that Lambeth Resolution 1.10 calls for an ongoing process of listening and discernment, and that Christians of good will need to be prepared to engage honestly and frankly with each other on issues relating to human sexuality. It is vital that the Communion establish processes and structures to facilitate ongoing discussion. One of the deepest realities that the Communion faces is continuing difference on the presenting issue of ministry by and to persons who openly engage in sexually active homosexual relationships. Whilst this report criticises those who have propagated change without sufficient regard to the common life of the Communion, it has to be recognised that debate on this issue cannot be closed whilst sincerely but radically different positions continue to be held across the Communion. The later sections of Lambeth Resolution 1.10 cannot be ignored any more than the first section, as the primates have noted. Moreover, any demonising of homosexual persons, or their ill treatment, is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care. We urge provinces to be pro-active in support of the call of Lambeth Resolution 64 (1988) for them to “reassess, in the light of … study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude toward persons of homosexual orientation”.