The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has offered some reflections on the Episcopal Church's General Convention which was held 8-17 July 2009 in Anaheim, California, USA. They are already provoking controversy and mixed reactions.
Once again, pastoral and theological responses to sexuality and the blessing of same-sex relationships are at the centre of the disagreement.
Dr Williams, who attended convention for the first two days and met with a cross section of the Episcopal Church, said in his 27 July reflections, "No one could be in any doubt about the eagerness of the bishops and deputies of the Episcopal Church at the General Convention to affirm their concern about the wider Anglican Communion."
However, Dr Williams noted "that a realistic assessment of what convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed."
He was referring to the passage of two resolutions (D025 and C056) which focused on issues of human sexuality and the Episcopal Church's commitment to the Anglican Communion.
Resolution D025 affirms "that God has called and may call" gay and lesbian people "to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church."
Resolution C056 calls for the collection and development of theological resources for the blessing of same-gender blessings and allows bishops to provide "a generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church."
Dr Williams said on 27 July that "the repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour, although a significant minority of bishops has just as clearly expressed its intention to remain with the consensus of the communion."
The two presiding officers of General Convention wrote to Williams offering explanations of both resolutions. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson said they understand Resolution D025, in particular, to be "more descriptive than prescriptive in nature."
Regarding both resolutions, the presiding officers said: "It is not our desire to give offence. We remain keenly aware of the concerns and sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in other churches across the communion."
In his reflections, Dr Williams said, "The statement that the resolutions are essentially 'descriptive' is helpful, but unlikely to allay anxieties."
Williams also offered some thoughts about the future of the Anglican Communion, its response to LGBT Christians and same-sex unions and his hopes for the proposed Anglican covenant.
While Dr Williams underscored that "no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people," he also noted that the issue "is not simply about civil liberties or human dignity or even about pastoral sensitivity to the freedom of individual Christians to form their consciences on this matter. It is about whether the church is free to recognize same-sex unions by means of public blessings that are seen as being, at the very least, analogous to Christian marriage."
Dr Williams concludes that blessings for same-gender unions cannot, at present, have "the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the communion as a whole," because "a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding."
Finally, Dr Williams upholds the proposed Anglican covenant as a way for the communion to maintain unity amid different viewpoints on human sexuality issues and theological interpretations.
The covenant, Dr Williams says, "seek structures that will express the need for mutual recognisability, mutual consultation and some shared processes of decision-making. They are emphatically not about centralization but about mutual responsibility. They look to the possibility of a freely chosen commitment to sharing discernment (and also to a mutual respect for the integrity of each province, which is the point of the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions). They remain the only proposals we are likely to see that address some of the risks and confusions already detailed, encouraging us to act and decide in ways that are not simply local."
Dr Williams acknowledged that the covenant has been criticized as "exclusive" in intent. But, he said, its aim "is not to shut anyone out - rather, in words used last year at the Lambeth Conference, to intensify existing relationships."
The full text of Williams' reflections is available here: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2502
With kind acknowledgements to the Episcopal News Service
Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow, is published by Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia.