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Introduction, The Windsor Report: Communion, Structure, and Covenant

Ellen K. Wondra

The Windsor Report challenges Anglican ecclesiology on multiple fronts. Autonomy and interdependence; worldwide structures and contextualized mission; episcopacy and the ministry of the baptized; centralized accountability and dispersed authority: these matters and more are brought to the fore by the Windsor Report and by the events and discussions that prompted it.

This issue of the Anglican Theological Review presents essays on these topics by authors taking a wide range of stands and writing from a variety of theological perspectives, mirroring in part the diversity of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. Though differing in their assessment of the current situation, the helpfulness of the Windsor Report, and the prospects for the Anglican Communion, all of the authors are demonstrably committed to the unity of their own churches and of the Anglican Communion worldwide.

The challenges set by the Windsor Report are not new. Nor do they seem susceptible to any permanent resolution. Paul Marshall notes “the curious vocation of the churches in Canada and the United States to forge paths for the evolution of the Anglican heritage.” From North America have come the beginnings of Anglicanism’s synodical structure with its strong lay voice; the missionary focus of episcopacy; the first efforts for formal establishment of full communion among Anglicans; and the first experience of church as separate from state. Such precedents cast a different light on the current Anglican crisis than does the Windsor Report. Losing sight of these contributions, as Marshall suggests the Report does, can cost the Communion dearly in times that creativity is needed--times such as these.

George Sumner finds North American modernity less admirable because of its “surrender of claims to ultimate truth.” Relativism reduces truth to cultural specificity, so that it is no longer possible to adduce grounds for distinction and judgment. Sumner urges a return to catholicity grounded in “the specific claims Christians make.” The Windsor Report embraces catholicity in its “act of judgment and discernment” that thinks “with the tradition.” The Anglican tradition is marked by a minimum of doctrinal definition and formal magisterial structure, and so “an inherently conservative doctrinal model” is necessary. And this the Windsor Report presents, in Sumner’s view.

But does the Windsor Report resort too much to structure, and too little to relationships? Ian Douglas argues that by taking an “instrumentalist” approach, the Windsor Report misses the significance of the missiological orientation it embraces early in the document. Unity for the sake of God’s mission of reconciliation comes about through relationships that cross lines of theological, sociocultural, and ecclesiological difference to reach for reconciliation and restoration.

Like Douglas, Paul Zahl is critical of the Windsor Report’s attempt to contain difference rather than exploring it. By refusing to engage the presenting issue of human sexuality, the Report ducks the substantive issue, setting aside core gospel issues in favor of process. This is nothing other than doublespeak that may be characteristic of “Anglicanism qua Anglicanism.” Ultimately, for Zahl, the current crisis calls into question “the Anglican project as a whole.” Authentic reconciliation cannot take place unless chief points of difference are brought out into the open. “Facing both ways” prevents this from happening.

Steven Charleston sees the Windsor Report as “an opportunity for genuine reconciliation” only if we are willing to stand on the “soft” but common ground of processes in which members of the church take personal responsibility for one another. From this vantage, the Windsor Report is best read in light of what serves, heals, and welcomes not “us” but “them”--those with whom we disagree and from whom we are alienated, no matter who “they” are. Gospel narratives of servanthood, forgiveness, and discernment shed a different light on the Report which, Charleston notes, has much to teach about the dangers and opportunities of Christians seeking shared understanding and communal life.

Charleston’s essay lays the groundwork for considering the contrasting roles of covenant and contract in ecclesial life and thought. Contracts deal with facts, and little more. Covenants, on the other hand, also deal with extenuating circumstances, with particularities, and with matters of equity that go beyond the stated facts of a case. Katherine Grieb examines the tensions between law and equity inherent in covenant, tensions the Windsor Report attempts to maintain in a productive way. The Windsor Report follows Paul’s work on unity, rightly locating authority with God, and stressing the value of “the hard work of staying in communion.” But resorting to strengthened structures seems to counter this grounding biblical vision. “More structure by itself does not automatically solve the problem of lawlessness,” Grieb argues. A covenantal relationship where moral authority is highly valued, and where “speaking the truth in love” is more desirable than polemics, provides fertile ground where bonds of affection can sink deep roots and endure.

In a similar vein, Harold Lewis notes the importance of covenant in framing our lives sacramentally and relationally. Until recently, covenant has held Anglicanism together, despite the many challenges facing it (not the least being the provincialism of many North Americans). However, a shift to law and contract has taken place (and with it the “centralized curialization” of Anglicanism), giving evidence of distrust and unwillingness to tolerate difference and disagreement. But, Lewis reminds us, appealing only to contract or law may well indicate that the battle for workable relationships has already been lost, and with it the capaciousness found in Anglicanism since Hooker.

Ephraim Radner likewise addresses the tensions inherent in covenant relationships, with particular attention to the Windsor Report’s proposed Anglican Covenant. The Episcopal Church’s commitments to unhindered autonomy and exercise of conscience (similar to those advocated by John Milton in Areopagitica) distorts its “prelatical” heritage, with its emphasis on the freedom-in-community of the early church. The proposed Anglican Covenant holds together autonomy and community and maintains Anglicanism’s commitment to episcopal focus within the context of consultation. Finally, Radner says, the covenant points to “the divine character of freedom exercised in mutual subjection for the sake of unity, in the character of

 
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