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Louie & Ernest Clay-Crew
Married February 2, 1974


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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church

Anglican Covenant Process, by Bishop David Russell (Grahamstown, SA): Louie Crew's Anglican Pages (Unofficial)

The Anglican Covenant Process and
the theological ethics of committed same-sex partnerships
Raising concerns and questions        by Bishop David Russell, Bishop of Grahamstown, South Africa (Retired)           April 2007
1)  Windsor Commission’ avoids discussion on theological merits of the issues
The election and consecration of Gene Robinson in ECUSA, together with decisions taken by the Diocese of New Westminster (Canada) – both in connection with same-sex partnerships, led to the appointment of the Commission which produced the Windsor Report, and the subsequent process leading to the appointment of the Covenant Design Group (Note 1) . Yet the Commission responsible for the Report was specifically not asked to deal with the theological issues involved: “We repeat that we have not been invited and are not intending to comment or make recommendations on the theological and ethical matters concerning the practice of same sex relations and the blessing or ordination or consecration of those who engage in them”. (Windsor para 43). At that juncture when the Commission was appointed, it might have been considered a wise approach, but to continue to avoid dealing directly with the ‘merits of the case’ has become increasingly extraordinary, and a failure of mutual responsibility.
2)  Supporters of Resolution 1.10 set on excluding ECUSA and Canadian Province
For those who support the Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998), there is apparently no felt need for any more discussion. For them the primary purpose of the ‘Windsor - Covenant process’ is to create procedures and structures in the Communion which will lead to the exclusion of ECUSA and Canada, ‘unless they repent’, and which in addition will effectively turn Resolution 1.10 into a fixed law of the Communion. This is their agenda. And this they wish to achieve without any further Communion debate on the theological and hermeneutical merits of the issues involved.
3)  The ‘Covenant Process’ is by-passing the crucial theological and hermeneutical debate
To set up procedures and structures in the Communion for the purpose of effectively excluding ECUSA and the Canadian Province (Note 2), without acknowledging any need for further theological and hermeneutical debate, is surely extraordinary. The ‘Covenant process’ is ducking the fundamental questions:
   1) How does God intend us to express his gift of our sexuality in the
      discipline of love?
   2) How does God intend us to approach, understand, and interpret the Scriptures   
        in order to discern his heart and mind?
The Covenant process is, in practice, by-passing these questions, acting on the implicit assumption that we already have the answers – that they are known and must be obeyed; so all we need to do is to set up the slow inexorable process of exclusion of those who question the traditional understanding of the answers. The Primates are demanding that ECUSA give assurances that they will cease giving any sanction to practices which go against Resolution 1.10 (Lambeth 1998) (Note 3), and the Archbishop of Canterbury in his letter to the Primates (5thMar 07) refers again to this requirement.
What has happened to the vital consideration of issues raised in the Windsor Report concerning ‘essentials and non-essentials’ (‘adiaphora’) – core doctrines as opposed to other teaching? (Windsor paras 36f, 49, 87f). All this is in practice being put to one side.  Why are we not, as a Communion seeking to find common ground regarding methods and principles of biblical interpretation, which are common to those involved in biblical scholarship across denominational boundaries? Or at very least clarify where we differ in regard to our hermeneutical criteria? Instead we are avoiding these crucial matters.
4)  Covenant Design sets up procedures for exclusion
This is no exaggeration, because it must be known that ECUSA and the Canadian Province cannot be expected to ‘back down’ from the convictions that they have come to over decades, in their understanding, in good faith, of how the Holy Spirit has led them in seeking answers to the above two fundamental questions. Yet Section 6 of the Draft Covenant makes clear provision for their exclusion if they fail to ‘fall in line’: note the injunction “to heedthe counsel of the Instruments of Communion (para 4) and the reference to the Primates as giving direction (para 5.3). But far more specific is para 6, of this section: “where member churches choose not to fulfil the substance of the covenant as understood by the Councils of the Instruments of Communion, we will consider that such churches will have relinquished for themselves the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose, and a process of restoration and renewal will be required to re-establish their covenant relationship with other member churches.” To what else can this possibly refer, but to excluding Provinces which believe they are called to affirm committed same-sex partnerships?  And yet this is being proposed while avoiding any further rigorous theological and hermeneutical debate on the matter, let alone a serious listening to our gay brothers and sisters in the Communion who long to be affirmed in their committed partnerships.
5)  The Communion needs to acknowledge the reality of a re-assessment of certain teachings
Concerning the two crucial questions which connect us all in this wrestling debate, there are two realities: there is the reality of the traditional teaching which the majority still hold to, and there is the reality of a reassessment of the traditional teaching which many believe to be prompted by the Holy Spirit.  It is these realities which need to be respected. It is the challenge of the above two questions which need to be addressed. How can the Communion set in motion what is in practice a ‘process of exclusion’ when the theological and hermeneutical questions are at best being shelved, if not  being deliberately avoided.
6)  The Lambeth tradition of evolving teaching
It will be said by some that Lambeth has spoken, and that therefore there is no need for further debate, and that the ‘exclusion process’ can continue. This is a serious distortion of how we, as a  Communion, have traditionally dealt with a number of ethical issues. Those in touch with the debate will know of the decades long process it took for the bishops at Lambeth to evolve their ethical teaching on contraception: 1920 – strongly condemned; 1930 now allowed. The Church Times was shocked, describing it as “an enormous concession to the spirit and perhaps the practice of the modern world which is by no means guided in its conduct by the Christian Faith. It certainly involves a startling departure from the traditional teaching of the Catholic moralists” (Note 4). Familiar language in today’s debate?  Far more significant than the debate around the use of contraception, are of course the debates in our time around both the ordination of women, and remarriage after divorce. Lambeth and the Communion have been on a journey concerning  these issues and we are still journeying. It simply will not do therefore to say that ‘because Lambeth has spoken’ the debate is foreclosed, and all that remains is for discipline to be applied. It is a misuse of the way Lambeth teaching has been allowed to evolve over time.  Why can we not journey in a similar way on the issues surrounding the ethics of same-sex relationships? Why ‘no more discussion’, but instead the push for procedures and structures of exclusion? 
7)  Dealing with the issue of women bishops
The ‘Grindrod Report’ on the question of the election and consecration of women to the episcopate “presented two options to Lambeth in 1988: the first, to counsel restraint in the hope that the moral authority inherent in a gathering of all the bishops of the Communion would find a response at a provincial level. Second, if a province went ahead, persuaded by compelling doctrinal reasons by its experience of women in the priesthood and by the demands of mission in its region, and with the overwhelming support of the dioceses, such a step should be offered for reception within in the Anglican Communion”.(Windsor para 18)
“In response, Resolution 1 of Lambeth 1988 stated: “ That each province respect the decision and attitudes of other provinces in the ordination and consecration of women to the episcopate, without such respect necessarily indicating acceptance of the principles involved, maintaining the highest possible degree of communion with the provinces which differ” (Windsor para 19)
Here is a model we can take up and apply to the issue of committed same-sex partnerships in our congregations.
8)  Covenant process presuming too quickly how the Spirit is leading us
The tone and emphasis particularly in Section 6 of the draft, together with the kind of procedures and structures envisaged which open the way to exclude those Provinces who do not fall in line, are deeply disturbing. If this kind of Covenant had been in place before certain Provinces were ordaining women, and before certain Provinces were consecrating women bishops, one might well wonder whether the Holy Spirit, in leading the Communion, would ever have ‘made it through the hoops’ of the conserving and conservative ‘requirements’ and ‘understandings’ of this draft?
9)  Call for mutual respect for each other’s faith and integrity amidst painful diversity
In the process of handling the ‘two realities’ of differing understandings of the theological ethics and biblical hermeneutics concerning committed same-sex partnerships in our congregations, it is hoped that the bishops at Lambeth in 2008 will commit the Communion afresh to further theological and biblical discernment and study. This would be in keeping with the Lambeth tradition – being slow to exclude, but ready to listen, and ready also to bear and suffer the painful diversity that exists across the Communion.  
There are huge contrasts of culture and custom which we need to acknowledge and respect. There are many dioceses and provinces which do not believe that they are being called by God at this time to accept women for ordination. Many women are deeply hurt by this, and find it deeply unacceptable. Likewise there are dioceses and provinces which are open and ready to accept gays and lesbians as full and welcome members, and who believe the our Lord would want to support them in their faithful relationships. Yet many members of our Communion are hurt by this practice, and also find it deeply unacceptable.


What are we to do?  Must we reject brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we disagree deeply and conscientiously? Is this what Jesus wants us to do? Should we not try to accept one another in our serious disagreements, holding to the integrity of our differing convictions, but trusting that each of us is truly wanting and seeking to follow Jesus, according to our understandings of his Word revealed by the Spirit in the Scriptures and in our life in God?
1. Lambeth Commission on Communion para 1, Windsor Report p8
2. The Anglican Church of Nigeria has, from its perspective, been consistent in its position by including the Church of England in its strictures concerning departures from biblical norms regarding the pastoral handling of committed gay partnerships among laity and clergy. If certain Instruments of Unity in the Anglican Communion proceed with the process of excluding ECUSA for failure to fall into line, one wonders what the implications might be for present practice in the C of E.
3. Communique of the Primates Meeting 19th Feb 2007 – section headed “On Clarifying Response to Windsor
4. Quoted from “Seeking the Truth in Love” by Michael Doe, DLT, London, 2000 p50

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