Saturday, June 25, 2005

A Letter to the Authors of "Understanding the Windsor Report"

TO: Ian Douglas and Paul Zahl

Dear Ian and Paul,

I read "Understanding the Windsor Report" on a transatlantic flight, on my way to England to meet my first grandchild, who is stubbornly refusing to be born anywhere close to her due date! The personal significance of the months of my daughter's pregnancy have taken me by surprise, a chapter change that has been further accentuated by the fact that I am on the verge of my 60th birthday.

Like both of you I am a lifelong Anglican, having been baptized in December 1945 in a parish church built on a spot where Romans had baptized their children. Despite my Church of England roots, three decades of my ordained life have been usefully spent in the Episcopal Church, but the period since GC2003 has been exquisitely painful as any I have endured.

More heat than light has been generated during this time, and it seems we have descended into an uncontainable kind of corporate lunacy. I have known each of you for a long time, and we have labored at times alongside one another, so it is a delight in the midst of such discomfort to see two men who I respect engaged in a conversation that is both readable, and which sheds some light into our unhappy state.

I bought "Understanding the Windsor Report" because I felt it my duty to do so, and reckoned I would scan it quickly, find a few some bon mots to squirrel away for future use, then shelve it. Instead I found myself treated to an erudite but accessible rehearsal of our present state of affairs following the publication of the Windsor Report, that is been both engaging and edifying. In the contributions that each of you makes I have been educated and challenged, and if there were nothing else of any substance, we would be beneficiaries because you have given us is an example of how to engage in debate forthrightly and with grace. Yet
there is a lot more to the book than this.

One of the horrors of these last two years has been the venom with which we have fought our way through these difficulties. Friendships have been severed forever, and I find myself regularly close to tears as faithful pastors and laity, men and women who have loved the Episcopal Church, have been forced to decide that they can no longer remain here. Some friends have left for AMiA, others have left for Rome, others for other traditions, taking with them both talent and some of the wholeness
of the Episcopal Church -- as well as breaking lines of communication with those of us they now consider part of their past.

Like Paul Zahl, I feel totally marginalized in ECUSA -- sometimes with anguish, and sometimes with relief. I once engaged in the wider life of ECUSA, but for several years now that has been impossible for my voice is not valued by those who hold power because although a mainstream Anglican being obedient to his ordination vows, I represent a theological viewpoint considered either dinosauric and objectionable.
Needless to say, because we evangelicals, charismatics, and catholics have been on the perimeter for such a long time, as Paul points out (page 124), we have become increasingly angular, grouchy, and difficult to live with. "The church has essentially said to us, de facto, Depart for me, I never knew thee" (page 125). Yet for many of us there is nowhere else to go.

While your conversation does not solve this problem, Ian to his credit does not dismiss the discomfort in which so many of us orthodox types find ourselves in the cavalier manner we have been treated to by so many others. For this I am profoundly grateful. I wonder whether this is because Ian is a global Christian, not entirely trapped in the cultural Americocentricity of the "left wing" of the Episcopal Church.

Probably the greatest contribution the pair of you have made in discussing the Windsor Report is to model a way of relating to one another in the midst of so much distress. In terms of my own reception of Windsor, I have found myself somewhere between Paul and Ian. I am not as negative about the Report as Paul, but I do not see all the positives that Ian seems to believe are there.

Each of you make a strong case, I believe, against the creeping prelacy that mars contemporary Anglicanism, and I agree with you that bolstering the episcopate in a more "catholic" manner is not the solution to this problem, what Paul describes as "the parts of the report that want to depict bishops as God's utter gift to the cosmos" (Page52).

Both the weaknesses and the strengths of the Windsor Report and its various suggested courses of action are nicely unwrapped in your conversation, especially its failure to represent theological and ecclesiastical heritage of Anglicanism summarized by the Lambeth-Chicago Quadrilateral. While it was inevitable that the product of such a diverse group of commissioners was not going to be acceptable in its entirity to any of us, you have done an admirable job finding weaknesses in their handling of Scripture, their structural and canonical attempts to fill the breaches, and their failure to address the presenting issue of homosexuality with the honestly and openness that one would have liked.

Ian rightly speaks in a reconciliatory mode, calling upon us to see how much we belong to one another in relation to the Father in the family of God, and that if we are to experience the fullness that God desires for us, then we must recogize that there are treasures that we all bring to the table. The problem with this is that Ian seems to expect more from the maintaining of relationships than relationships are able to deliver.

I would also add that despite his own drenching in the history and substance of Anglicanism, he does not seem eager to accept the given boundaries of faith that are there within the Holy Scriptures and the manner in which the church has historically handled them. While confessing that he is not a biblical scholar, he does little to justify his unwillingness to take seriously the prohibitions of the Scriptures when it comes to sexuality, and he is strangely willing to draw upon extraneous contemporary "findings," in order to justify his position.

This sits uncomfortably for me when viewed alongside his enthusiastic affirmation of the missiological imperative that is at the heart of being believers. While the raison d'etre of the church might be the fulfilling of the missio Dei, I am baffled by his willingness to then support an understanding of humanity that has wrought such strife within the church. Not only has the missiological component of Anglicanism been lost amidst the internecine feuding that is tearing us apart, but
by adhering inflexibly to a highly questionable agenda, this has done terrible damage in the short, medium, and long-term to the mission of the church, doing irreparable harm to the Gospel around the world and the Communion he loves.

While I accept that one of the challenges before Anglicans worldwide, as it is before others, is how to be faithful and welcoming among the vast diversity of cultures, the puzzle is why this contemporary tolerance of what Ian admits Scripture regards as questionable sexuality should be accepted as a diverse culture that is appropriately tolerated in the heartland of the church. Ian raises the question that Windsor, I think, challenges us to answer as to what are the limits of acceptable
diversity within the church? It is not only an issues of biblical hermeneutics, but of anthropological understanding, and where truth draws boundaries.

What is interesting is that I find myself more in Ian's comfort zone about the Windsor Reports approach to Scripture than Paul. Paul has misgivings. Having pondered his assertion that the report is unwilling to listen to the clarity of the Scriptural message, I think that he is more right than I might have earlier accepted, especially regarding what the Bible teaches about the nature and practice of our sexuality. This is not something I had properly picked up on my reading of the Report. I agree with him, although I do share with him and Ian that hermeneutics
and the place of the Holy Spirit in the reading and interpretation of God's will must be major items on the agenda in the days ahead.

Paul is right to assert that "the burden of proof is on the people who wish to change the inherited teaching" (Page 37), and I can only say that Ian displays lamentable weakness in responding to such a challenge as do most he make the case for the position he holds. For several years now I have been looking in vain for those on the "revisionist" side of this issue to come up with an approach that really holds water in light of the whole array of evidence, and so far they have failed to do so. The case is based, as Paul points out, on an almost uncritical
acceptance of the drift of postmodern culture.

Ian, who can be so astute, drifts with his EDS colleagues in this matter. While he admits that there is no case for same-sex elationships and the leadership of actively homosexual persons in the church, it just will not do to say that we now know better than they did in the past, or that the sort of homosexuality that we talk about today is not addressed in the Bible.

What I brought away from reading this delightful conversation is a shared sense with you both of distrust for creeping prelacy, and also a willingness to accept that we need to go back and rethink what we mean by "Instruments of Unity," and how these relate to our historic doctrinal and ecclesial heritage. It also has me thinking afresh about whether I like the gradual centralizing of Anglicanism that is taking
place, although while with Ian I affirm the individual identities of each province, I wonder whether the folks on "his side" who have pressed their agenda to the point where they are the ones who have compromised this.

Yes, you have given me lots to think about and I am profoundly grateful. Thank you both for writing this book, it is a real blessing.

In Christ,

Richard Kew

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