Today the presentation by Bruce MacPherson, Bishop of Western Louisiana, President of Province IV of the Episcopal Church (most the Southeastern United States) and President of the Presiding Bishop’s Council of Advice, to the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania became available on the web. (Acknowledgement to dailyepiscopalian and to Stand Firm.) It is an interesting document, and deserves close reading. And after close reading, these are some interesting points that stand out to me.
First, Bishop MacPherson cites the Windsor Report with some frequency as authoritative. He does not cite any subsequent documents. Notably, he does not cite the Communique from the Primates’ Meeting in Dromantine. Considering the level of authority that some frequently attribute to the Dromantine statement, this is interesting.
Second, Bishop MacPherson describes his constituency (the “Windsor Bishops”) as “about twenty-four other diocesan bishops who share a common support and commitment to the process in which the Windsor Reports invites the Church to share in a journey leading to the development of a "common Anglican Covenant." [WR117.p48]” These bishops “desire to remain a part of The Episcopal Church, but in full communion with you and the Archbishop of Canterbury.” So, presumably these bishops are not interested in the first instance in leaving the Episcopal Church. Notably, “the majority of those identified as [Windsor bishops], support the ordination of women as deacons, presbyters and bishops.”
Third, “We have declared ourselves "Windsor Bishops" because we continue to believe that the Windsor Report contains a proper outline of our common faith and the basis for the healing of our common life.” This is, I think, an understanding of the Windsor Report that I have not heard anywhere else. While many appreciate what it says about interpretation of Scripture and about the Anglican tradition, I have not heard anyone else speak of it as a confessional statement in its own right.
Fourth, these bishops also “share a deep concern that should the General Convention of the Church elect to not participate in the Covenant process, and therefore "choose to walk apart," then we pray there will be a structure that will permit those who desire to remain "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion and in communion with the See of Canterbury," to be a part of this process.” Thus, it is the Covenant Process that they see as the best way forward.
Fifth, they are “deeply concerned with the substantial loss of many lifelong faithful Episcopalians, and the increasing number of congregations that are seeking the leadership and oversight of bishops in other Provinces of the Communion.” Specifically, he notes that the Windsor Report “calls for "a moratorium on any further interventions." [WR 155.p59]” To that end, “we are committed to working with the bishops of The Episcopal Church, and in those cases where a congregation has placed itself under a bishop of another province, to make provision for the present needs of the congregation.” In no small part, this is to find a solution within the Episcopal Church, without requiring outside intervention: “We must provide care for our own, and endeavour to find solutions to some of our problems.”
Sixth, there is one mention of Lambeth Resolution 1998-1.10, but with a particular emphasis:
To live into this, we are committed to the acceptance and support of the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, and the call for an ongoing process of listening and discernment. In each of our respective settings, we have endeavoured to ensure a place for gays and lesbians to worship and be nurtured in their faith journey, and our concern for them as members of the Body of Christ is sought to be a fulfillment of our Baptismal Covenant.
In the context of this presentation to this audience, emphasizing the listening process and inclusion instead of the notorious “standard of teaching” is striking.
So, Bishop MacPherson has seemed to describe a group of bishops on the conservative side of moderate. They’re not interested in leaving the Episcopal Church, and to keep others from leaving the Episcopal Church to seek foreign intervention, they are willing to offer themselves to provide pastoral oversight. While they “are concerned” about actions of General Convention, they have commitments to listening to GLBT Episcopalians and responding to them within the terms of the Baptismal Covenant. They place great importance on the Windsor Report (and perhaps not on the Dromantine Communique), and believe the future will be best established through development of an Anglican Covenant. Participating in the Covenant process, as opposed to permanent moratoria on consents or on same-sex blessings, is for them the critical criterion to measure whether the Episcopal Church is choosing to “walk apart.”
This is an interesting description indeed. We do not know, of course, to what extent the other “Windsor Bishops” would explicitly agree with this description. I certainly don’t know what to make of the description of the Windsor Report as “a proper outline of our common faith.” At the same time, it is a position that appears different than that of those bishops who have already spoken of “alternative primatial oversight,” as well as from the majority of the House of Bishops. It deserve careful attention to see how this is lived out in the meeting of the House of Bishops. And if these bishops are to express a “loyal opposition” within the Episcopal Church, there is much in this statement by which we might measure their commitment.