Two observations on the developments surrounding the sub-group’s report, and neither is very pleasant:
First, the Archbishop of Canterbury has shown his hand, and it is a willingness to embrace a deception on behalf of the Episcopal Church. Until he admits the falsehoods in the report and repents of his embrace of them, he should not be considered an honest broker by conservatives.
Second, a group of communion conservatives is attempting to spin the sub-group report as a victory for conservatives. They may mean well, but the effect is still spin, and it’s no more palatable coming from conservatives than it is coming from liberals.
Let me begin with the archbishop. No matter what happens at the meeting in Tanzania from here on - no matter how far Rowan Williams distances himself from the sub-group report, no matter how high his iron-to-velvet ratio, no matter, even, if he helps effect what we all agree amounts to severe discipline for TEC - the Archbishop of Canterbury will have shown himself willing to endorse a list of claims that aren’t just false, but which he knows to be false. This is a statement on his leadership, certainly, but more than that, it’s a statement on his character.
That a committee of Anglicans could come up with something so ridiculously wrong is not surprising in the least. What is surprising - shocking, actually - is that Rowan Williams, a man (we’re continually being told) of towering intellect, would present it to the primates with a straight face. Did he remove his name from it? Present it with a caveat - “The report you’re about to hear has been made obsolete by events that have transpired since its creation”? No. He delivered the report to the primates fully intending, it would seem, to present it as the truth about the Episcopal Church’s response to Windsor.
Orthodox Anglicans, then, if they want to proceed through this crisis with a minimum of false hopes and as clear a picture as possible of what they might expect from their leaders, have little choice but to come to terms with the fact that Rowan Williams is not on our side. Yes, I know that sounds simplistic - we’ll hear that he’s ‘on the side of communion’ and other platitudes, but let’s dispense with that right now: He is on the side of accommodating heresy in the form of TEC’s “innovations,” and on the side of coddling those who have treated this communion with appalling contempt.
Now on to that group of communion conservatives. Many are pointing out that the report is months old, as though its time spent sitting on the shelf necessarily makes it less relevant to the proceedings in Tanzania. By extension, they imply, ++Rowan’s presentation of it to the primates should be seen as nothing more than a hollow bureaucratic gesture, something we should wink at in order to move on to the next phase, whatever that is, during which we will - surely - get the substantive action we’ve all been insisting we must get. To get there from here, though, they have no choice but to admit that Williams must be untruthful now in order for our side to emerge victorious later. I reject that completely. No victory for the truth can be built on an untruth.
The report isn’t false because it has been overtaken by events - because what it contains was once true, and things that have transpired since its creation have now made it false. It is not like a pre-World War I map, with different lines and names all over Europe and the Middle East. The report is false because it was a lie to begin with. Look no further than any of the debates surrounding the Windsor Report for proof that the Episcopal Church never wanted to endorse Windsor, and in fact went out of its way to excise Windsor language from the resolutions it finally managed to pass. Rather, it is like a map of the world that shows Italy bordering Alaska. It never correctly depicted reality, and it never will; and attempts to turn it into something the orthodox can find hope in only lend conservative credence to its assertions. To the extent conservatives say, “yes, the report is a blatant lie… but we think we’ve found some things in it we can work with,” they serve our Worthy Opponents’ goal of getting this “fact on the ground.” It certainly dilutes Windsor to the point of irrelevance. Their efforts threaten to turn the sub-group report not into the laughable charade it is, but into a reference document. As has been pointed out, it’s too clever by half on the part of conservatives to think they can one day box the Episcopal Church into being legitimately Windsor-compliant by endorsing the illegitimate claims of compliance in the sub-group’s report. I’ll thank Messrs. Uffman, Harding, Wells and Martin to stop trying to put lipstick on this pig.
Ever since GC06, the operating assumption has been that Rowan Williams and the other primates would have to decide what to do with an Episcopal Church that rejected the terms of the Windsor Report at its General Convention. Remember that this assumption was not just something on which the right had hung its hat - it was also the operating assumption of moderates, and even of much of the left.
That is the question we all - conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike - thought the primates would be wrestling with in Tanzania. The conservatives (correctly) said that non-compliance with Windsor must mean discipline for TEC, or else the moment was lost, and the communion would have no hope of creating or enforcing a meaningful covenant. Liberals (correctly) said that Windsor never prescribed ejection or diminishment in the event of non-compliance. Which side would win out, or whether a compromise could be reached - was what we were headed to Tanzania to decide.
Instead, what we’ve gotten is the assertion - made by no less a figure than Rowan Williams - that compliance is, except for a minor quibble about same-sex blessings, not the question at all. While he hasn’t (and will never) say what the question now really is, it is in fact, “What do conservative Anglicans do now that the Archbishop of Canterbury has backed an outrageous falsehood?”
The Anglican Church of Nigeria announced just days before the primates’ meeting began that it intended to adhere to “The Road to Lambeth”. Rowan Williams’ support of the sub-group’s report is nothing less than a gauntlet thrown down to Akinola. If Akinola, and the Global South primates who have up to now supported the position of discipline against an apostate TEC, emerge from Tanzania without that discipline in place, then The Road to Lambeth was a bluff, and the Anglican Communion will never be able to enforce limits on what is done in the name of Canterbury-led Anglicanism. This is the communion’s Bishop Pike moment, and if it fails to enforce discipline at this time, and in the face of this challenge, its future will be Pike writ large, and we all know where that leads.