Saturday, January 06, 2007

Another Take on Windsor

(by the Reverend Bill Coats)

[Editor's note: This essay was submitted while the Camp Allen meeting was still in progress. No effort has been made to revise the verb tenses now that the meeting has adjourned.]

Much of protest politics has always involved a heavy dose of theater. This is because in the absence of real power one turns to ceremony and symbol as a kind of latent hope for the future.

So it is with the meeting called by Bishop Wimberly of Texas to whom an assortment of "protest" figures have been invited. Among those attending is Bishop Mtetemela of Tanzania, one of the hardliners who won't meet with our Presiding Bishop; Bishop Wimberly characterizes him as a moderate in that wonderful world of Alice in which words can mean anything you want.

Many of the bishops in attendance refer to themselves as "Windsor Bishops." This refers to the report now almost two years old which, in nuanced language, asked the Episcopal Church to apologize for its consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, encouraged listening throughout the Communion, and cautioned against cross-provincial interventions by bishops. The "Windsor Bishops" characteristically and predictably will not consider the latter features of Windsor; in true cherry-picking style, they will concentrate on the Episcopal Church and its response to the call for expressions of regret. They have already found this wanting, which makes the meeting redundant; but meetings among conservatives have become de rigueur, a kind of bi-monthly round-up which makes up for the reality that, in fact, nothing is happening to their liking. So why not meet and denounce somebody? And we know who that "somebody" is.

The meeting will be held with one of those slightly wobbly blessings that the Archbishop of Canterbury customarily gives whenever one or more of our disenchanted bishops want to have a meeting. What else can he do? They are bishops, after all, and it is a free county and a free church (unless Bishops Akinola and Duncan get their way). Of course Canterbury’s cordial message is immediately translated by our friends as a kind of imprimatur. This elevation of every word from Canterbury into approval of not only meetings but outcomes has been standard fare for some time among our conservative friends, for whom simple or nuanced language is no barrier to ideological construction.

The claim is made that Windsor and those who sign on to it constitute "the way forward" for the Communion. In reality, nothing of the sort is true. The main ingredient of Windsor was its suggestion of an Anglican Covenant which, it is hoped, would be something around which the Communion could rally and which would offer a way for the Communion to function. The Covenant process has been underway for over a year; a committee is at work on its construction. In that sense, Windsor has done its work and is now a thing of the past.

Why, then, keep naming and claiming it? Well, it serves a number of purposes other than those for which it was designed.

First, it allows all those unhappy with the Episcopal Church to continue to excoriate and vilify us.

Second, for those who have not yet made up their minds whether or not to leave, it allows them to continue the fantasy that their "compliance" to Windsor will truly affect matters. This, of course, is ludicrous. There is no chance whatsoever the Episcopal Church somehow (through another General Convention? by a statement from Bishop Schori?) is going to "repent in sackcloth and ashes" over the consecration of Robinson. To continue to beat this drum has now become absurd. But still there seems to be a perception that if you stamp your feet and say "Windsor" … somehow you are still in the church even if in time you may leave. In this sense you have here a fictional construct.

Third, and either more ominously or more hopefully, "Windsor" has become a call word of the secessionists. They have acted precipitously in forming another jurisdiction in the United States and have a good deal of support overseas. They have become impatient with the Covenant process and hence with the real substance of the Windsor Report. They are in full withdrawal mode and want to keep the momentum up. So they call to their friends like Bishop Wimberly, "Windsor!" – and in this call they are really saying "Come with us."

So whatever is said about Windsor, let there be no mistake: it no longer has anything to do with Windsor. It is, as I said, theater.

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