The good ship Anglican, as Archbishop Robin Eames acknowledges in his preface to the Windsor Report, appears to many observers "to be set on a voyage of self-destruction." Indeed, Eames admits that "if realistic and visionary ways cannot be agreed to meet the levels of disagreement at present or to reach consensus on structures for encouraging greater understanding and communion in the future it is doubtful if the Anglican Communion can continue in its present form."
The aim of the Lambeth Commission on Communion chaired by Eames was to make proposals that might keep the ship afloat. It released its report at St. Paul's Cathedral on October 18, 2004, in a tumult of media speculation, Internet acrimony, and lawsuits over church property in American courts. The ninety-three-page report comes in four main parts. The purpose of the first two is to consider the nature of the Communion and of the threats it faces; the third and fourth sections address the future function of the Communion's four "instruments of unity" and offer specific proposals for negotiating the dangerous straits in which Anglicans now find themselves.
The Windsor Report succeeds at making no one entirely happy yet leaving everyone with something worth pondering. While it has been rejected as wrongheaded by, for example, retired American bishop John Spong on the one hand and Nigerian primate Peter Akinola on the other, it has been welcomed--albeit cautiously--by many on both sides of the dispute about homosexuality that has engulfed the Communion. Much now depends on the way it is received and deployed by those with decision-making power, and especially by the primates who meet in February to respond to it.
A careful reading of the report makes plain that the Spongs have better reason to be displeased than the Akinolas. The Commission did not address the issue of homosexuality but instead examined the Anglican understanding of communion and its attendant view of authority and responsibility. In attempting to articulate that understanding, the report applies Anglicanism's understanding of itself as an ecclesial community at once catholic and protestant. And both strands of this analysis--the appeals to tradition and to Scripture--are deftly woven together into a rational repudiation of the actions of the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) and of the Diocese of New Westminster in British Columbia that have occasioned the crisis. It is made entirely clear that these actions--the unilateral consecration of an openly gay bishop and the official...