Resolutions and the Windsor Moratoria

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Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

At its recently concluded General Convention, The Episcopal Church passed resolutions that are widely regarded as repudiations of prior commitments to the Windsor moratoria that have been officially implemented by the Anglican Communion. Apparently reacting to the swift denunciation of these actions by many in the Communion, various constituencies in TEC are now scrambling to re-interpret General Convention’s actions. ENS withdrew and revised its story about a key vote and Convention participants have produced wildly inconsistent, if equally far-fetched, interpretations of what took place. Integrity continues to claim, however, that this Convention was a “virtual clean sweep” for their side.


There are now multiple conflicting interpretations of the relationship of Resolution D025 to Resolution B033 and the Windsor moratorium on episcopal elections. During the debate on D025 in the House of Bishops, the Presiding Bishop stated (in response to a leading question from Bishop Gulick) that the moratorium would remain in effect until another gay bishop was consecrated. Bishop Gulick has since repeated this claim himself. In any sense in which this is true at all, it is merely a trivial tautology and therefore of no empirical significance or interest. The Windsor Report was not asking TEC to refrain from consecrating another gay bishop only until such time as they consecrate another gay bishop. It was asking TEC to commit not to do so.

A few days later, in their joint letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies stated that “Some are concerned that the adoption of Resolution D025 has effectively repealed Resolution B033. That is not the case. This General Convention has not repealed Resolution B033. It remains to be seen how Resolution B033 will be understood and interpreted in light of Resolution D025.”

Note that this letter makes no mention at all of a moratorium. It neither claims that one is still in place or even that one was ever in place. It only refers to the relationship between D025 and B033, and in that context makes the claim that B033 will be interpreted in light of the later D025, not vice versa. The joint letter thus gives D025 priority over B033. Time will tell, they say, whether B033 will either be re-interpreted or treated as repealed. But it is the status of B033 that is up for grabs, not D025.

The Presiding Bishop’s assistant for ecumenical matters, Bishop Epting is among those taking the tack of re-interpreting B033:

The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops’ passage of resolution D025 does not overturn last General Convention’s call for care and “restraint.” That last resolution (B033) was never a “moratorium” on the ordination and consecration of gay and lesbian persons. It counseled care in approving any bishops whose “manner of life” would cause additional strain on the Anglican Communion.

Quite apart from the press’s  (including Episcopal News Service) usual misunderstanding of  such things, D025 simply re-asserts what has always been true — the ordination process in The Episcopal Church is governed by the Constitution and Canons of this church.

It would be perfectly possible for a bishop to have voted for D025 and still withhold consent for the election of any bishop-elect.

In other words, the Epting defense is that B033 is not repealed because it was never a moratorium to begin with. This points out the flaw in the D025/B033 shell game that is now the party line of TEC progressives. It “preserves” B033 by acknowledging that TEC was never in compliance with the Windsor request anyway. It thereby constitutes a stunning betrayal of the Communion bodies that bent over backwards at the cost of their own credibility to find in B033 the moratorium that the Windsor Report and consecutive Primates’ Meetings requested.

Note that the Windsor Report requested in paragraph 134 that:

the Episcopal Church (USA) be invited to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.

The Primates’ Meeting at Dromantine formalized this request and asked that TEC (and the Anglican Church of Canada) “respond through their relevant constitutional bodies.” Neither the Windsor Report nor the Primates specified that the moratorium needed to be incorporated into canon law; only that the commitment to “effect” the moratorium be given by the relevant constitutional body.

In TEC’s case, a moratorium could have been effected by passing a canon at General Convention, but that was not done. Indeed, it was never proposed. Instead, B033 was merely a resolution requesting restraint. But in TEC’s case, a moratorium could also be effected by a commitment by the constitutional bodies responsible for giving consents to episcopal elections, bishops with jurisdiction and standing committees. The Communion bodies did TEC a great favor by interpreting B033 in precisely this fashion. B033 complied with the Windsor request, they said, because it was a commitment by a majority of bishops with jurisdiction to withhold consent. Thus, the widely-criticized “Sub-Group Report” issued before the Primates’ Meeting in Dar es Salaam found TEC in compliance on this front based on its conclusion that:

In voting for this resolution, the majority of bishops with jurisdiction have indicated that they will refuse consent in future to the consecration of a bishop whose manner of life challenges the wider church and leads to further strains on Communion. This represents a significant shift from the position which applied in 2003. It was noted that a small number of bishops indicated that they would not abide by the resolution of General Convention, but in supporting the resolution the majority of bishops have committed themselves to the recommendations of the Windsor Report…. The group believes therefore that General Convention has complied in this resolution with the request of the Primates. (Emphasis added.)

The compliance with the Windsor request was found therefore not in the canonical enforceability of B033 but in the commitment of a majority of bishops with jurisdiction to a moratorium. And that commitment was manifested by their vote on B033.

In New Orleans in September 2007, the House of Bishops confirmed this interpretation of B033 by endorsing the Sub-group Report:

The House of Bishops concurs with Resolution EC011 of the Executive Council. This Resolution commends the Report of the Communion Sub-Group of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates of the Anglican Communion as an accurate evaluation of Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention, calling upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”[1] The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains. (Emphasis added.)

In evaluating the House of Bishops’ response after New Orleans, the Communion’s Joint Standing Committee concluded TEC had complied with the Windsor request solely on the basis that it had endorsed the Sub-Group’s conclusions:

By confirming the interpretation of the Communion Sub-Group and quoting it explicitly, as well as making the explicit acknowledgement in the last sentence of their text that Resolution B033 does refer to “non-celibate gay and lesbian persons”, the Episcopal House of Bishops is answering the question of the Primates positively. They confirm the understanding of the sub-group that restraint is exercised in a precise way “by not consenting”, and that this specifically includes “non-celibate gay and lesbian persons”. They have therefore clearly affirmed that the Communion Sub-Group were correct in interpreting Resolution B033 as meeting the request of the Windsor Report.

As this review shows, the significance to the communion of B033 was the “commitment” manifested by bishops with jurisdiction by their votes to “effect a moratorium” by withholding consent. One can readily see that this was the most favorable interpretation one could possibly give to TEC’s actions in 2006 in passing B033.

Those who gave TEC this benefit of the doubt have now been rewarded with D025 and the claim that no harm has been done because B033 never was a moratorium anyway. Yet those same bishops (including Bp. Epting) concurred in the HOB statement at New Orleans that B033 complied with Windsor and effected a moratorium. We now have the Presiding Bishop (among others) saying the moratorium is still in effect, her ecumenical assistant saying (contrary to what he said at New Orleans) that it was never in effect, the two presiding officers jointly saying only time will tell, but D025 takes precedence and virtually everyone lauding themselves for their “honesty.”

In fact, B033 never was a de jure moratorium, but it could be construed (as the Communion bodies graciously did) as a commitment by bishops with jurisdiction to effect a moratorium. But under this most favorable possible interpretation, that commitment by bishops has now been repudiated by D025. In that resolution, an overwhelming majority of bishops, including bishops with jurisdiction, committed to opening all orders of ministry to partnered homosexuals and accepted a resolution that was explicitly based in its own official Explanation on the claim that homosexual relationships reflect “holy love” and that these “standards” should provide “guidance for access to the discernment process for ordination to the episcopate.” The only conclusion that can be drawn from this vote is that the commitment to effect a moratorium manifested only by the votes for B033 has been repudiated by the very different commitment manifested by the votes for D025. A vote endorsing D025 and the standards articulated in its Explanation is not a commitment to effect a moratorium. It quite obviously is the contrary and is why Integrity regards this convention as a “virtual clean sweep.” A minority of bishops remain committed to B033, but they no longer are the majority the Sub-Group and Joint Standing Committee concluded was sufficient to effect the Windsor moratorium.


Similar efforts are underway to obscure the effect of Resolution C056, which approved dioceses’ blessings of same sex unions and began the development of church-wide liturgies. This is a subject with a lengthy history and public record.

In 2003, General Convention by resolution C051 acknowledged that liturgies blessing same sex unions were in use in TEC: “we recognize that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.”

The Sub-Group Report found that such public liturgies were in use in several TEC dioceses and concluded: “We do not see how bishops who continue to act in a way which diverges from the common life of the Communion can be fully incorporated into its ongoing life. This is therefore a question which needs to be addressed urgently by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.”

In New Orleans, the House of Bishops acknowledged that some, but not a majority, of bishops “make allowance for the blessing of same sex unions.”

In light of this record over several years of acknowledgement of public liturgies of blessing, the language in C056 encouraging bishops to offer “generous pastoral response”—not “private [pastoral] response” as contemplated by the Primates—can only be construed as endorsement by the General Convention of the well-known public liturgies of blessing that have long been acknowledged to be in use in TEC dioceses. That this endorsement was given with obvious cunning and craft is not a point in its favor.

In other words, C056 is the endorsement by TEC as a whole of those bishops who act in violation of the second of the Windsor moratoria. The Archbishop of Canterbury has indicated that it is public liturgies of blessing, not just approval of rites, that are implicated by the second Windsor moratorium. The post-New Orleans Joint Standing Committee report, which was accepted by TEC’s Presiding Bishop, a member of that committee, made this explicit:

It needs to be made clear however that we believe that the celebration of a public liturgy which includes a blessing on a same-sex union is not within the breadth of private pastoral response envisaged by the Primates in their Pastoral Letter of 2003, and that the undertaking made by the bishops in New Orleans is understood to mean that the use of any such rites or liturgies will not in future have the bishop’s authority “until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action”, a qualification which is in line with the limits that the Constitution of The Episcopal Church places upon the bishops (emphasis added).”

The Windsor Continuation Group Report released earlier this year concluded that those dioceses that were “actively pursuing” public rites of blessing had “only the passive consent of General Convention, which has until now refused to take positive steps toward the recognition of such Rites.” The WCG was willing to conclude the second moratorium was “significantly” holding because it found that the public blessings could not “be characterized as a determined movement by the whole Church to see such Rites firmly established in the life of the Church.”

C056 quite obviously is a repudiation of the New Orleans undertaking as understood by the Joint Standing Committee and is the “determined movement” by the whole church the WCG did not find earlier this year. C056 made no effort to discourage the long-acknowledged and ongoing public blessings, and no one suggested for a minute that they were not what was being encouraged as a “generous pastoral response.”

Whatever one makes of the resolutions of the last two General Conventions, it is clear that TEC has now charted its own course and no longer considers itself bound by previous undertakings and Communion moratoria.

July 21 2009 09:45 am | Articles